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Caithness Field Club Bulletins

Caithness Fossil Group

Caithness Fossil Group is a voluntary organisation which came into being when we erroneously thought Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) was downgrading Achanarras - they only removed it from the list of National Nature Reserves - all they were doing was a little managerial clean up which did not threaten the technical and legal support they give to the site.  The formation of the Group was welcomed by SNH as a demonstration of local interest in things geological in the North.

Actually the interest has been intense and extremely productive in the person of Jack Saxon for at least 40 years.  He is the first contact for both academics and enthusiasts coming to Caithness from the UK and abroad, and the Group is proud to have him as President.

Since formation the Group has been involved in two educational projects ;- a leaflet aimed at the Tourist sector anda large colourful poster suitable for schools and colleges; both of these are available free of  charge to interested organisations and individuals.  The leaflet was distributed to museums, libraries and the Tourist Information offices.  The poster is being sent to all schools in the Highland Council on the instruction of Bruce  Robertson the Director of Education.  The next project is to help SNH improve the permit system for access to Achanarras quarry.

Caithness Fossil Group is able to assist SNH in seeking to protect the fossil sites of the county from irresponsible collectors, and also to continue to help in projects to increase public awareness of the value of  this resource particularly for education, tourism and scientific investigation.

The Group operates with financial support for its endeavours form local industry, CASE and Scottish Natural Heritage, and with technical support from SNH and its advisors.  We would also like to think we helped SNH reach a decision to erect signs on the A9 at Spittal indicating the route to Achanarras.


The Devonian rocks of the North of Scotland are one of the three outstanding sites in the world for the study of the fossil fish of the period (the others are at Canowindra in New South Wales and Miguasha in Quebec).  The fish bed horizons contain specimens of a wide variety of fresh water fishes from the time when the evolution of the first four limbed creatures becomes noticeable.  The Achanarras beds, named after the quarry where they were first discovered, have been studied in their exposures throughout the NORTH FROM THE TIME OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY STONEMASON HUGH MILLER and are still providing new fossil information on fish and other animals unique to this area. They do in fact contain more genera and species than the rocks at Miguasha.

Jack Saxon the noted local expert had guided many scientific parties in investigations both on the mainland and across in Orkney.  He has the honour of having one of the fossil fish named after him.  With his encouragement the Caithness Fossil Group has been formed to promote and protect the valuable geological resource of the Devonian rocks in the county of Caithness.  The Group hopes to be able to help the local farmer and Scottish Natural Heritage in encouraging those who wish to engage in Responsible Collecting.  Control of collecting is the responsibility of SNH and they are to instal a new permit system that does not entail a visit to their office at Golspie when tourists follow the new road signs to the quarry gates.

Cyril Digby-Grant