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Recognising Scotland’s Geological Heritage: Introducing the “Scottish Geology Trust”

Hutton’s unconformity at Siccar Point

The purpose of this brief note is to get your feedback on an exciting development in the support for Scottish Geology, the creation of “The Scottish Geology Trust”.

Scotland past, present and future are intimately linked to geology. The beauty of the country stems from its long geological history with continental collisions raising mountains chains of Himalayan proportions, meteor impacts, rifting, volcanism and glaciation. It is truly a land of ice and fire. The prosperity past and present is largely or partly derived from its geology, for instance today, most of Scotland’s main industries rely on an understanding of the physical processes of our planet. This understanding is very important for the renewables industry, agriculture, life sciences, oil and gas, mining, forestry, tourism and even whisky. The geography and history have also shaped to an extraordinary extent by the geology of Scotland.

Against this background it is surprising that so little is generally known about its importance. Few of the many visitors to the Highlands who marvel at the landscape know much of the reasons why it exists or how it came about. Within the pre-university education system, mention of geology is disappearing, the future impacts of this on our workforce are concerning.

Rather than being celebrated for its value to landscape, industry and culture, geology has become tainted in many people’s minds by its connection to extractive industries while overlooking the importance to resources needed for renewables such as geothermal power or the need for lithium and other rare metals. Crucially, knowledge of the physical processes that make our planet work are fundamental to understanding issues of climate change.

Geology is very much a forgotten science in Scotland below degree level, this despite the major role Scotland played in the emergence of geology as a science e.g. James Hutton, Lyell, Murchison, Holmes, etc. Key conservation sites are substandard, for example, Fossil Grove in Glasgow is an outstanding geological site of national and international importance that has been seriously neglected. Siccar Point is a geological site which is regarded nationally and internationally as iconic. Glen Roy with its superb parallel roads, although designated as a National Nature Reserve, languishes with little development.

Scottish Geoparks do not receive any government funding and have been asked to make themselves “self sufficient”. With over 50,000 visitors to their visitor centres per year and at least 400,000 visits to their landscapes, they are very much where geology meets the general public. There have been education initiatives, such as the “Geobus” by St Andrews University. This was a project involving taking a travelling lab to schools and taking school pupils to geological sites where they were taught about what they saw. This project was very successful but had to be abandoned for lack of funding.

Despite industry being short of young geologists and engineers, financial support from industry in the form of grants and donations which once could have been relied on has now disappeared.

The situation continues to deteriorate with Geoparks increasingly struggling to survive. This sorry state demands action given the proud role Scottish geologists have played in the development of the science and the given that with some justification one can claim Scotland is its geology. In the absence of any central initiatives or interest, a group of concerned individuals supported by the Scottish Geological Societies and others such as the PESGB have begun work to create a new national charity “The Scottish Geology Trust”.  This exciting development followed three workshops where it became clear that there was a strong ground swell of opinion that the charity was needed. The charity aims to help provide funding and support for geological education, geoparks and geoconservation. In detail it will:

1.     To promote the role and value of Scotland’s geology by increasing recognition of the importance of geology in Scotland and its contribution to sustainable economic development, including tourism, the responsible utilisation of natural resources, water supply and safe disposal of waste, and its role in underpinning our landscape, heritage and supporting biodiversity; to encourage promotion of geological sites of local, national and international importance.

2. To encourage geoconservation and the best stewardship possible of Scotland’s geological sites of local, national and international importance; to support local communities and organisations to achieve this including by coordinating activities and sharing information on best practice.

3. To encourage exploration, understanding and enjoyment of geology as a science; to support learning about geology and landscape in schools and colleges and a better understanding amongst the general public; to encourage industry and university sectors to support geological education and providing resources to help inspire enlightenment in the next generation of geoscientists and engineers;

4. To promote the cultural value of Scotland’s geology, by creating a sense of place, and its importance in public health and well-being and to collaborate with others on geology related projects engaging the arts.

We are currently making a proposal to the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR) to register the charity.

We are really interested in getting your feedback on these aims. If you, like us, are passionate about this new development then we are also looking for volunteers and supporters to carry it forward. Please feel free to contact us via Scottish.Geology.Trust@gmail.com.

Search for Scotland’s 1.2-billion-year-old meteorite impact crater

The Stac Fada Member is an intriguing layer of rock in the North West Highlands UNESCO Global Geopark in northern Scotland. This unusual rock layer lies within a sequence of ancient sandstone and mudstone, part of the Torridonian Sandstone that formed more than 1000 million years ago. The layer has been interpreted as a meteorite impact blanket, but the site of the crater is as yet uncertain. Two recent papers argue for two different locations – one sited to the east, near the town of Lairg and the other to the south-west, under what is now the Minch seaway. The controversy is outlined in this recent EOS article ….

The Search for the Impact That Cratered Ancient Scotland

Save Charles Lyell’s notebooks

Charles Lyell (1797-1875) is well known as a key figure in history of science, particularly for his part in the Darwinian evolutionary debates and in convincing readers of the significance of ‘deep time’. During the past decade, Lyell’s geographical theory of climate and his subdivision of recent geological strata have gained renewed attention in connection with discussions of climate change and the Anthropocene. The Lyell archive is almost certainly the most important manuscript collection relating to nineteenth century science still in private hands. At its core are 294 notebooks, which provide a daily record of Lyell’s private thoughts, travels, field observations and conversations.

The notebooks, have been put up for sale, but the UK government has imposed a temporary export ban to enable fundraising to purchase these remarkable documents, conserve them, and make them available on-line for free to the public. The University of Edinburgh Library, which already has the largest collection of Lyell material, is organising the campaign.

The sum required is £1,444,000; major donors have already pledged more than a third of the total needed. If significant public interest can be demonstrated by 15 July, the sale can be delayed until October.

https://www.ed.ac.uk/giving/save-lyell-notebooks

History of Geology Group in Edinburgh 11-12 July 2019

The History of Geology Group (HOGG) of the Geological Society of London and the Edinburgh Geological Society are organising an open meeting, Aspects of the History of Geology in Scotland and the North of England, at Surgeons’ Hall, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh. This meeting will include a programme of talks on Thursday 11 July, followed by optional field visits on Friday 12 July.

Friday’s field visits will feature a morning stroll in the Old Town, and an afternoon stroll in the New Town, each two hours long and visiting sites of interest to historians of geology, with the spotlight on James Hutton.

Visit the HOGG website at https://historyofgeologygroup.co.uk/scotland for further details. Booking in advance is essential, payment can be made by PayPal. The conference fee of £40 includes lunch, morning and afternoon refreshments, and an abstracts booklet. The meeting is open to all, you don’t need to be a member of HOGG or EGS to attend.

Lochaber Geopark – Geotours 2019

Lochaber Geopark is proud to present its programme of field excursions for 2019. Geotours are led by local geologists and take you to locations of outstanding scenery and impressive geological history. We offer a large range of Geotours from half-day up to 5 days in length. The rocks of Lochaber cover nearly 3 billion years of earth’s history, including two periods of mountain building and volcanic activity that marked the opening of the North Atlantic. The tours will link our wonderful scenery to this majestic history.

There are tours planned throughout the summer and it is also possible to arrange a custom geotour for small groups.

To see the programme, and to book a Geotour, visit the Lochaber Geopark website here: https://lochabergeopark.org.uk/product-category/geotours/

Geoweek – Active Geoscience 4-12 May 2019

GeoWeek is a new initiative that aims to promote ‘active geoscience’ via a nine-day ‘week’ of fieldwork activities taking place across the UK between 4 and 12 May 2019.

GeoWeek seeks to introduce as many members of the public to geoscience as possible, mainly through outdoor activities such as urban, rural or coastal fieldwork. We hope you or your group will set up a field visit during the nine-day ‘week’.

There are several events already planned in Scotland, including guided walks and a Geosail! Find out more at the Geoweek website.

Meteorite impact layer on the island of Skye

Thin section view of the meteorite ejecta deposit on Skye. Image: Simon Drake

In a paper published in Geology in December 2017, Simon Drake, Andy Beard and colleagues announced the discovery of remarkable new evidence of a meteor impact in Scotland. They found a one-metre thick ejacta layer immediately below the first layers of Palaeogene lava in south Skye, which were erupted about 61 million years ago. This layer contains very unusual unmelted crystals from the actual meteorite, albeit tiny crsytals that can only be viewed using a microscope. This is the first recorded occurrence of vanadium-rich osbornite (TiVN) on Earth, this has previously been reported as dust from comet Wild 2, but on Skye it is found as an unmelted phase.

This remarkable discovery raises intriguing questions about the start of volcanic activity on Skye and other locations along the west coast of Scotland, one of Scotland’s most important geological episodes that contributes much to the landscape of the Hebrides.

Read more about the science behind this discovery – Geoscientist magazine of the Geological Society, April 2018.

It is very depressing therefore that this narrow and scientifically unique layer has been targeted by mineral collectors, who have used a small digger to remove part of the exposure. More than 400 fist-sized pieces of loose rock have also been taken. There are plans now to protect the site behind glass, so that the exposure can still be viewed.

BBC News – Meteorite hunters dig up 60 million-year-old site in Skye.

New dino footprints on the Scottish mainland

Neil Clark, paleontologist at the Huterian, University of Glasgow has announced the discovery of some exciting new dinosaur footprints near Inverness, the first recorded discovery of footprints on the Scottish mainland.

The footprints date from the mid Jurassic, 170 million years ago, and since these are the first footprints from the Moray Basin to the east of Scotland they are likely help to build a clearer picture of dinosaurs living in Scotland at that time.

Neil has started a crowd funding campaign to raise £5,000 to undertake mapping of new footprint localities and discover more in new locations around Scotland.

Angus Coastal Festival 7-17 September 2018

The very first Angus Coastal Festival will highlight some of the hidden – and not so hidden – corners, encouraging you to look deeper and take home some special memories, whether your home is nearby or many miles away. Everyone is welcome to join in the events, from spotting wildlife with youngsters, enjoying a guided cycle ride, joining the beach cleans being organised by local communities all-round the coast, listening to a myriad of talks or enjoying the exhibitions.

Arbroath coast. Photo: Angus Miller

Included in the programme are several coast tours and geology walks that will allow you to find out more about the wonderful geology of this area.

Download the programme (pdf file) | Tayside Geodiversity

Summer geology

51 Best Places to see Scotland's GeologyScotland is enjoying unbelievable weather, what a great time to get out and explore our fantastic geology, landscapes and culture. But where to start?!

The 51 Best Places to see Scotland’s Geology will give you an idea of some of the variety that Scotland has to offer, from waterfalls and crags to entire islands. There’s something for everyone!

Scotland’s four Geoparks are bursting with activity. There are visitor centres to enjoy, coffee to be drunk, and lots of information and events:

Shetland UNESCO Global GeoparkShetland Nature Festival 28 July – 5 August 2018
North West Highlands UNESCO Global Geopark – field days, summer geotours, Deep Time walks
Lochaber Geopark – Darwin’s Rest Coffee Shop in Roybridge and the Geopark Visitor Centre on the High Street, Fort William
Arran Geopark

And Scotland’s Geological Societies have a range of summer field trips for members and anyone interested in geology: Edinburgh Geological Society | Geological Society of Glasgow | Aberdeen Geological Society | Highland Geological Society | Open University Geological Society – East Scotland | Open University Geological Society – West Scotland