Fossil collecting & SSSIs

Scotland’s most scientifically important fossil localities have statutory protection through designation as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Achanarras Quarry pictured here, is one such example. SSSI designation helps protect sites from human activities that may damage the geological and palaeontological interest.

Achanarras Quarry near Thurso in Caithness – one of Scotland’s most important fossil localities. Achanarras is owned by Scottish Natural Heritage and is managed for conservation, research and amateur fossil collecting. © Scottish Natural Heritage.

One of the primary causes of special site damage and loss in Scotland is through burial by various means. The burial of sites generally takes place at inland sites through in-filling of quarries as part of waste-disposal plans. Pre-existing restoration plans for quarry sites can also result in in-filling, battering, grading and planting of vegetation on fossiliferous rock faces. At coastal locations, sea defence, coast protection works and coastal road development result in schemes involving the building of rock armour berms, gabion banks and wave-return walls.

It is possible to collect fossils from some special sites, provided you adhere to the best practice set out in the Scottish Fossil Code. However, there are some SSSI that contain fossil resources of extremely limited extent or that contain exceptionally rare and scientifically valuable fossils, which are vulnerable even to responsible amateur collecting. In order to safeguard the fossil resource for future generations, amateur collecting at a few particularly vulnerable SSSI is not permitted.