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.

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