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October 1979 Index

Bulletins Index

Caithness Field Club

Caithness Field Club Bulletin
1979 - October

Bulletin Index

Vol. 2 No. 6 October 1979

Articles for the Bulletin

Articles of local interest are always being sought for publication in the Bulletin. Items of news of interest to members are also welcomed. All articles for the next edition are required by March 1980.

Chairman's Remarks

David Oliver has been the mainstay of the Club in the post of Secretary for the past two years, and has passed this burden on to George Watson. I am sure that I can extend sincere thanks to David on behalf of the members for his valuable work. He is still a member of the committee and pulling his weight there with customary enthusiasm. The main part of the managing the Wick part of the club now falls to Norman Izzett as Vice-Chairman.

A letter from Friends of the Earth arrived recently, asking for a mention in our Bulletin. It brought to mind the thought that the Club has never deeply involved itself in matters of conservation. We leave town planning to the Wick and Thurso Societies and have lost touch with the Regional Planning Committee since it went to Inverness. The Scottish Wildlife Trust have a rather scant membership in the county which does what it can in wildlife conservation. At the time of the enquiry into the planning application by the Chicago Bridge Company to alter drastically the Dunnet Bay area, our committee were divided fairly evenly for and against the application, and the pressure applied by members was equally divided. On topics of the day such as seal culling, the destruction of the nitrogen balance in the Wick river valley by artificial fertilisers, uranium mining in Caithness, afforestation, exploratory drilling at Altnabreac, etc. we have not been pressed by members to adopt any particular attitude. Such attitudes are indeed only valuable if they represent the earnest and reasonably unanimous view of the members. I suspect that the members have a keen interest in their environment, but will find that direct support of conservation societies more appropriate than through such a diverse body as the Field Club.

The 1979-80 Committee

Honorary Vice-Presidents: Miss M. McCallum-Webster; Mr. J. I. Bramman; Mr. R. Cant; Mr. D. B. Miller; Mr. D. Omand; Mr. J. Saxon; Mr. E. Talbot.

Chairman: Mr. J. K. Butler, 15 Brims Road, Thurso. Thurso 3549

Vice-Chairman: Mr. N. Izzett, Fairfield, Broadhaven, Wick. Wick 2059

Secretary; Mr. G. Watson, 14 St. Andrew's Drive, Thurso.

Treasurer: Mr. B. Hughes, 101 Pennyland Drive, Thurso. Thurso 3411

Committee Members: Miss J. Ramsay, Mr. G. Leet, Mr. D. Oliver, Dr. P. Chare.

Bulletin Editor: Dr. P. Chare.

Publications Managers: Mr. J. K. Butler, Miss J. Ryrie, Miss J. Ramsay

Publicity: Mr. B. Hughes, Mr. D. Oliver

Press Writer: Miss J. Ryrie.

Botany Group

The group met on three occasions during the summer, visiting the Todholes part of Thurso riverside, a section of the Dunbeath river valley and the Taldale area of Forss. This allowed a good range of habitats to be seen including riverside, birchwood, rocky outcrop and open moorland.

Buildings and Settlements Group

Substantial progress has been made in building up a picture of the settlement at Broubster from 1841 onwards, but it is proving difficult to get details of the clearances themselves around 1838- 40, or of the state of the settlement before these events. Three meetings are planned for the winter season; these will be on Monday, 26th November, Monday 21st January, Monday 24th March. For further details contact J. K. Butler, Thurso 3549.

Turn Right at Land's End

On Thursday 15th November in the Assembly Rooms, Wick, John N. Merrill will be lecturing on his 1978 British Coastal Walk. The illustrated lecture, using twin projectors, is the story of the walk - the hardships, gale-force winds, blizzards, and the stirring beauty of the west coast of Scotland, and finally the east coast of Britain. At the halfway point Mr. Merrill suffered a fatigue fracture which involved a five-week layoff.

The title of his lecture, like his book, is "Turn Right at Land's End". There will be on display all the equipment he used on the walk.

For further information or tickets (which cost 1 each) please contact the treasurer Mr. B. Hughes, Thurso 3411.

Annual Dinner

This year the venue is the Station Hotel, Wick on Friday, 16th November. The cost of tickets will be 5.75 including bus travel along the Wick-Halkirk-Thurso route. Tickets obtainable from committee members.

The Rules and Ethics of Collecting - A note by Jack Saxon

During Victorian times collecting was an international pastime and large private and public collections were amassed by methods we would currently deplore. The collectors were often supported by the most eminent of men and by the most respected institutions. Art treasures were removed from sites of ancient civilizations and living species were hunted, sometimes to extinction. The world then woke up to what had happened and slowly but surely consciences were stirred until we became perhaps over-conservation-conscious.

There is one area, however, where conservation has been the poor relation and that is in the earth sciences. We are only now beginning to realise that conservation of our geological sites is necessary. The Geologist's Association has pointed. the way with the publication of a guide to the rules and ethics of collecting. Naturally asking permission to visit a site and following the country code are high on the list but specifically we are asked not to take the fossils in situ. These should be preserved in the way an archaeological site is preserved. A rock face is a clear record of a sedimentary process and the fossils in situ show the ecology of the system and how it evolved over a measurable period of time. Universities, too, are exhorted not to collect teaching material but to use casts of type material for teaching purposes.

People belonging to learned societies honour these codes of practice to a large extent though there are noteable exceptions. That group of people known as Rock Hounds, like those who go treasure-hunting with metal detectors, usually have no scruples concerning conservation and these are a growing menace to our sites of Special Scientific Importance. The third threat to conservation are the professional collectors who are in the rock business for hard cash.

Five or six years ago collecting parties in Europe "discovered" Scotland. Since that time the numbers have been growing and they are often equipped with the most modern tools and equipment with which to strip a geological site in a few hours or a day or two at most. I have been campaigning for a stop to be put to this practice but, up to the present, these raids on geological sites have aroused little public outcry. Meanwhile literally tons of important and valuable fossils, rocks and minerals have been stripped from our geological sites and shipped out by the vanload into Europe. This material is lost to science and irreparable damage has been done.

I would like to quote one brief example which took place at Easter in 1979. Two private collectors from West Germany visited Achanarras, with permission to search the quarry spoil and to take one specimen of any species. They actually opened up a new quarry and deliberately destroyed important fossils which were not considered collectable. They then went to Quoyloo in Orkney and were seen to be quarrying on a grand scale by my colleague Dr. Graham-Smith. Their permit was to take one fossil only. Dr. Graham-Smith challenged them but got nowhere. He then reported the matter to the quarry owner. A few days later they entered the famous Silurian site at Lesmahagow where they were arrested, charged with stealing and causing damage, found guilty and admonished. The report stated that they were equipped with a compressor and pneumatic tools, rock-cutting saws and heavy quarrying equipment.

Scheduling a site as an SSSI does not give the site any automatic protection. Indeed it may even draw attention to its existence. It is therefore up to organisations such as Geological Societies and Field Clubs to educate their members in the ethics of collecting and act as watch-dogs in their own areas. Unfortunately the Orkney Field Club took exception to Dr. Graham-Smith interfering in what they regarded as a local matter. Certainly it is necessary to treat each violation of the codes of conduct for collectors as local affairs but it is necessary to mount the campaign at national or international level as well.

Perhaps the time has come for a change in the law. This has happened in southern Africa and in parts of the Americas where it has been found necessary to prevent the wholesale removal of fossils, rocks and minerals. In the meantime it is necessary to take whatever steps we can locally to put an end to this irresponsible and greedy collecting. The first parties usually arrive a little before Easter and work over the Easter period. The next wave arrives in July and August. It is clearly a profitable holiday jaunt.

The prime target in Caithness is Achanarras quarry. It is clearly sign-posted in English regarding the penalties for collecting. It is also sign-posted in French and German forbidding entry and collecting. The permit also spells out the rules for collecting.

If we could bring only one or two parties before the Sheriff Court it might serve as an effective deterrant. To do this requires the co-operation of the police and the judiciary. The imposition of fines may be no deterrent since they can be paid off by selling a few specimens. A much more swingeing punishment would be the confiscation of their specimens and possibly also their quarrying equipment.

I would like therefore to ask the Field Club members to co-operate in policing Achanarras quarry during the several weeks when it is most at risk. If, in addition, they have any influence with people who reside in the areas around this quarry or other exposures, they are requested to use their influence in getting them to inform the police of any apparent illegal entry. This is the manner in which the two West Germans were caught at Lesmahagow. In addition any person with influence with the police or the Procurator Fiscal's office should try to bring this despicable practice to their notice. Most of the collectors are well aware that they are violating the codes of practice and are collecting like fury whilst the bonanza lasts. Please do what you can to preserve our past of the benefit of our future.

Winter Programme 1979

October 24th Wick Assembly Rooms ) Vegetational History of the North - Dr. T. Keatinge
October 25th Thurso )
November 14th Wick Assembly Rooms Evolution of Stone Tools - J. Wilson
December 5th Wick Assembly Rooms ) Thomas Telford - J. Porter
December 6th Thurso )
January 9th Wick Assembly Rooms ) Potatoes Old and New - J. Dunnet
January 10th Thurso )
February 13th Thurso Joint Meeting with SOC: Canadian Birds - D. Smith
February 20th Wick Assembly Rooms Joint Meeting with Wick Society
March 12th Wick Assembly Rooms ) Offa's Dyke - J . Bramman
March 13th Thurso )
April 17th Thurso A. G. M.
The Scottish Antarctic Expedition -
Professor R. Miller

The SOC are holding two lectures which may be of interest to Field Club members.

December 19th Island Life & Inner Hebridean Wild Life T. Johnson-Ferguson
March 12th Birds of Skye and the Outer Hebrides A. Curry