Internationally Scotland is important for its fossil heritage. New finds add to our record of past life and environments on planet Earth and help us understand the rapidly changing world that we live in today.
The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 required Scottish Natural Heritage, now known as NatureScot, to prepare the Scottish Fossil Code. The requirement is in recognition of the value and vulnerability of Scotland’s fossil heritage and that legislative measures alone cannot entirely safeguard the fossil heritage.
The Code provides essential information on the nature of Scotland’s fossil heritage and the need for its appropriate management and safeguard. It is aimed at everyone with an interest and involvement in the fossil heritage and outlines the roles and responsibilities of those that own and utilise palaeontological resources. It therefore applies to owners and managers of fossil localities and those that collect, study and curate fossils including palaeontological researchers, amateur collectors and researchers to school students and those with a commercial interest.
The Code recognises fossil collecting as an essential activity providing the raw material and data for the science of palaeontology as well as being an educational and recreational hobby. It therefore provides recommendations concerning the collection of fossil specimens in Scotland, irrespective of where they occur, with the objective of ensuring that collecting is undertaken responsibly in accordance with the law. Just as importantly the Code also provides information, guidance and best practice in the identification, conservation, acquisition, sale, careful storage and donation of specimens. In doing so it aims to ensure that Scotland’s fossil-bearing resources and collections are managed in such a way that they will be useful to future generations.
As well as benefitting Scotland’s fossils, both in collections and that still await discovery, it is hoped that the Scottish Fossil Code will enhance public interest and awareness of Scotland’s fossil heritage.
HOW THE SCOTTISH FOSSIL CODE IS ORGANISED
- Part 1 – an introduction to fossils and the fossil heritage of Scotland, outlining their importance and use. The threats to the fossil heritage are described as are the means employed to conserve it.
- Part 2 – legal information and guidance concerning the ownership, collecting and sale of fossils.
- Part 3 – guidance and best practice for the responsible collecting and care of fossils including advice on donating specimens.
- Part 4 – guidance and best practice for owners and managers of fossil localities, specialists and other groups with a particular involvement in Scotland’s fossil heritage.
- Appendix – information on museum and other public collections.
PART 1: INTRODUCTION TO SCOTLAND’S FOSSIL HERITAGE AND HOW IT IS USED
1.1 What is a fossil?
Historically, the word ‘fossil’ was applied to anything dug up out of the ground. Thus, mineral deposits and archaeological relics were referred to as ‘fossil’. However, since the early 19th century, the term has become exclusively applied to the remains of ancient life.
Palaeontology is the study of fossils; it may be defined as the study of life forms that existed in past geological periods, as represented by fossilised remains of plants and animals. Geologists, specifically palaeontologists, utilise and study fossils.
For the purposes of the Code the great majority of fossils can be defined simply as ‘the remains of, or traces made by, an ancient animal, plant or other organism preserved in rock’. There are basically two types of fossils:
Body fossils – representing the whole or parts of an actual animal or plant. The actual original material of the organism, such as shell, bone and wood, may be preserved as it is, or altered physically and chemically by rock-forming processes (fossilised) to another substance. Even if only an impression or cast of the object is preserved, it is still a fossil.
Trace fossils – the evidence of the activity of an organism. These include fossil footprints and trackways made by animals such as dinosaurs and scorpions; burrows made by worms and many other animals; and even fossil excrement (coprolites).
The fossilization of an organism or its traces is an unlikely process which occurs only in certain geological circumstances. Therefore all fossils may be regarded as special.
Most fossils that are collected are ‘macrofossils’, those large enough to be seen without the use of a microscope. However, many sedimentary rocks, especially limestone and shale, contain numerous ‘microfossils’, some of which are only fractions of a millimetre in length, that require specialist extraction and study techniques. Chalk, for example, consists almost entirely of microfossils.
Objects known as ‘pseudofossils’ are pieces of rock, or patterns within rock, that superficially resemble an organism. Many pseudofossils are rocks weathered by chance into a shape resembling an organism, or are chemically produced features in rocks, or marks made on rocks by modern organisms. All fossil collectors find objects that may be identified as pseudofossils.
1.2 Where fossils are found
Scotland’s land surface is underlain by a complex patchwork of rock types of different ages. Large areas are formed from igneous rocks (derived from molten rock) and metamorphic rocks (rocks altered by heat and pressure) which are normally unfossiliferous. A few fossils occur in rocks associated with volcanic activity, and are preserved in ash, or in some exceptionally rare cases lava. However, nearly half of the 78,000 km2 land surface of Scotland is underlain by sedimentary rock and it is in these rocks that Scotland’s fossil heritage is found.
Sedimentary rocks generally form from the accumulation of layers of sediments such as sand and mud, within a variety of environments such as oceans, tropical seas, rivers, lakes and deserts that have existed through geological time. Fossils are the remains of life that lived in these environments.
Rocks that were originally deposited in marine conditions are generally more fossiliferous than those deposited on land, and limestones are generally more fossiliferous than sandstones. There are many fossiliferous localities in Scotland. The distribution of sedimentary rocks of different ages is shown on geological maps, and descriptions of fossil localities are given in some geological field guides. Information is also available through websites and museums.
Fossils might in principle be found in any outcrop of sedimentary rock, but the most productive localities, where rock is typically more exposed, are:
- coastal exposures on foreshores;
- natural outcrops associated with streams, rivers and hills; and
- quarries and other man-made exposures.
Some of Scotland’s rocks of Precambrian age yield fossils, but the majority occur in rocks of Cambrian to Quaternary age. Marine fossils from Carboniferous limestones of the Midland Valley of Scotland are among the most commonly found Scottish fossils. These include brachiopod shells and corals found in locations such as the Fife coast, Ayrshire and East Lothian. Fossils from the Jurassic Period include those of marine animals such as ammonites and belemnites and are reasonably common in certain areas of Skye and the north-east coast of Scotland in the vicinity of Brora and Helmsdale. Fossil fish remains, dating from the Devonian Period are common in some areas of Caithness and Orkney.
1.3 How fossils are preserved and classified
Fossils are preserved in a wide variety of ways. The rock-forming processes, by which most fossils are preserved, can take place gradually over millions of years. This is a continuous process, and the point at which an object becomes a fossil can be the subject of debate based on a number of criteria such as the decay of organic matter, the point at which organic material is replaced by minerals (mineralised), and its age. On rare occasions fossils may be preserved by catastrophic events such as volcanic ash falls.
The process of fossilisation involves initial burial of the object beneath successive layers of sediment. Eventually the object may become buried over a time period, that may span millions of years, tens to thousands of metres below the surface. During burial, processes involving circulating ground water and elevated temperature and pressure, turns the sediment to rock and the object becomes fossilised. In most situations for a buried fossil to be found, the rocks have to go through tectonic uplift and erosion so that the fossil-bearing rock is exposed at the Earth’s surface.
Examples of preservation:
Relatively unaltered – for example insects preserved in amber.
Physically altered – for example shells crushed in shale, fossil fish in Caithness flagstone.
Chemically altered – the organic material may be replaced by minerals (petrifaction), or minerals may fill spaces in the organic structure (permineralization). The internal structure in, for example, shell, wood or bone, may not be preserved if the object is replaced by a new mineral. The most commonly observed examples are the petrifaction of wood by silica or calcium carbonate, and the replacement of shell material by calcium carbonate (calcite), iron sulphide (pyrite) or silica (for example quartz, flint, or chert).
It is important to be able to recognise features of physical and chemical preservation, since these have an important bearing on the methods used to extract and clean the fossil, and may affect the conditions in which it needs to be kept.
The word ‘rock’ in the above definitions includes not only hard (‘lithified’) rocks that require a hammer to break them, but also poorly consolidated clays and sands. The remains of animals and trees within peat, soil, and other unconsolidated material, that date from the last Ice Age to fairly recent times, may still be regarded as fossils.
Fossils are classified in the same manner as modern animals, and are scientifically described, and given binomial formal scientific (Latin) names. Thus, Homo sapiens is the formal scientific name applied to human beings. Very few fossils have been given common names, hence fossils are generally referred to by their formal scientific names. Most palaeontology textbooks are organised according to biological classification.
1.4 When a fossil is an archaeological find
Although animal and plant remains in peat, soil and other unconsolidated material may be regarded as fossils, when such finds are associated with archaeological sites, they are, for the purposes of this Code considered archaeological finds. They are therefore excluded from the Scottish Fossil Code, even though some processes of fossilisation may have taken place after burial.
Archaeological finds comprise all human artefacts and other objects made or modified by people, including natural objects altered by human action such as bones that had been cut or worked in any way. Archaeological finds are specifically covered by the Scots common law of Treasure Trove and bona vacantia (the legal name for 'ownerless goods'), under which the Crown has the right to all such finds irrespective of material, age, origin, location or context. They must therefore be reported to the Treasure Trove Secretariat c/o National Museums Scotland. Doubtful cases must also be reported, as failure to report is an offence.
The Scottish Fossil Code also excludes all human remains, as they have special legal status. These are not ‘collectable’, cannot be owned as property, and must be treated with the respect afforded them under the law.
1.5 The nature of the fossil resource
In general terms Scotland’s fossil resource can be regarded as vast. The natural processes of weathering and erosion, such as occur at the coast, and human activities, for example quarrying, continue to reveal new fossil-bearing rocks. Together, these processes provide opportunities for the discovery and collection of fossil material.
A layer of rock that represents and preserves the floor of an ancient sea can provide a huge resource of fossilised marine creatures. However, not all fossil-bearing resources are that extensive. The remains of some ancient environments such as hot springs or lagoons, preserved as localised layers in the rock record are, by their nature, of limited extent. The fossil resource within rocks only accessible in a disused quarry or coastal cliff, where there are low rates of erosion, can also be regarded as limited. There are also many situations where the fossils themselves are naturally rare.
1.6 The scientific importance of the fossil heritage
Scotland has a remarkable variety of fossiliferous rocks. In what is a relatively small area, there are fossils representing all the periods of geological time from the Precambrian to the Quaternary, spanning more than 1,200 million years of Earth’s history.
Some of the major geological events that shaped Scotland are documented by fossil assemblages. The similarity of Cambrian fossils in the North West Highlands with those in North America show that the two areas were once geographically very close to each other. The fossil record of Ordovician and Silurian marine animals in the Midland Valley of Scotland and the Southern Uplands shows that they were mixing with other populations of marine creatures from opposite sides of a closing ocean, as plate tectonics brought slices of the crust that forms Scotland’s foundations together. During ocean closure, sediments from the ocean floor were uplifted and now form the Southern Uplands. An understanding of precisely how and when this occurred, and therefore how the evolution of the Southern Uplands took place, has been achieved partly through the study of fossilised planktonic organisms known as graptolites.
Scottish fossils have, in such ways, played an important role in the interpretation of the succession of changing geographies and environments that existed throughout Scotland’s long and varied geological history. Fossils are also used to date rock sequences and enable correlation with other areas of the world allowing Scotland’s geological history to be tied into the global story.
Historically, Scotland was at the cutting edge of geology when the science developed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The early Scottish geologists James Hutton, Charles Lyell, Roderick Murchison, James Nicol, Hugh Miller and others established basic geological principles based on rocks and fossils from Scottish localities and made them widely known to the general public. These fossil localities are of historical and cultural importance to the world as well as being scientifically valuable.
1.7 Scotland’s world-class fossil heritage
Scotland has many world-class fossil localities. Examples of exceptional Scottish fossils include:
- Extraordinary Silurian water scorpions and other arthropods of Lesmahagow.
- Perfectly preserved small plants and animals in an Early Devonian hot spring deposit at Rhynie, Aberdeenshire, representing the world’s earliest and most complete terrestrial wetland ecosystem.
- Middle Devonian fossil fish of Caithness, Orkney, Shetland and the Moray Firth, which lived in a vast freshwater lake that once covered the area.
- Fossilised shrimp-like crustaceans of Lower Carboniferous age, superbly preserved at Gullane, East Lothian.
- The first complete remains of a fish-like organism known as the ‘conodont animal’; a formerly enigmatic organism only known by its microscopic teeth, found in Carboniferous rocks at Granton, near Edinburgh.
- One of the most important fossil shark localities in the world found in Carboniferous rocks at Bearsden in Glasgow.
- Stands of Carboniferous fossil tree stumps in Victoria Park, Glasgow, and at Saltcoats on the Ayrshire coast, which are fragments of equatorial coal forests.
- Bones, moulds and trackways of Permian and Triassic reptiles that lived around desert sand dunes in what is now the Elgin area.
- Middle Jurassic dinosaur, pterosaur and mammal remains of Skye.
- Exceptionally well preserved leaves of Palaeogene age on Mull and Skye from trees that were living in a warm climate as the North Atlantic Ocean was opening.
- The remains of animals, including polar bear, in the caves of Assynt, dating from the end of the last glaciation.
These are just a few of the fossil highlights scattered in space and time through the long geological history of Scotland. All of these locations are of great significance from the perspective of understanding the evolution of life on Earth and in the historical development of geology.
1.8 Where to collect fossils in Scotland
Providing specific advice on localities where fossils may be collected is beyond the statutory direction given to prepare this Code. Geodiversity Conservation Groups and Geological Societies may be able to offer advice and recommendations on where fossils may be found in your local area. Advice may be available on-line posted by groups and commercial organisations. However, care should be taken to ensure that following advice and recommendations, from such sources, is not at odds with the guidance and best practice outlined in this Code.
NatureScot owns Achanarras Quarry in Caithness where the opportunity to collect fossils is available to all provided the on-site guidance is adhered to and any fossils that are collected are not sold.
1.9 How fossils are used
Scotland’s fossil heritage is an important scientific, economic, educational and leisure resource which has a wide range of users including research scientists, students, school pupils, amateur collectors, commercial collectors and the general public.
1.9.1 Scientific research and display
Scientific palaeontological research is active in Scotland, involving universities, museums, the British Geological Survey, and amateur and commercial collectors. There is little doubt that much fossil material awaits discovery and description in Scotland with new scientific techniques such as CT scanning being utilised to investigate fossil finds. Fossil discoveries are described in scientific journals such as the Scottish Journal of Geology and the Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and particularly spectacular finds are frequently reported in the media. On behalf of the public, museums collect and purchase fossils for research and display.
Fossils are used in teaching from primary school to postgraduate education and lifelong learning. Schools, colleges, universities and museums all have roles to play in geological education involving the use of fossil specimens. Educational themes include the use of fossils in demonstrating the evidence for biological evolution; dating and correlating rocks in different places; and interpreting ancient environments and their ecologies and geographies (palaeoecology and palaeogeography). The process of forming a documented scientific collection is also an educational exercise.
1.9.3 Recreational collecting
Fossil collecting as a hobby is an enjoyable, rewarding and increasingly popular leisure occupation that can contribute to the science of palaeontology. Involvement ranges from those who make chance finds, to those who research fossil localities and make journeys specifically for fossil collecting. Such recreational ‘field collecting’ is educational, and finds of scientific value are frequent. The more enthusiastic collectors maintain labelled collections of their finds, and seek professional advice on identification. There are also ‘assemblers of collections of fossils’, sometimes referred to as ‘cabinet collectors’, who choose not to undertake field collecting themselves, their collections being made through purchase and/or gift and exchange.
International interest in Scotland’s fossil heritage results in tourist visits from the rest of the UK and from overseas. Tourists visit museums to view displays, and some visit fossil localities to collect. Some locations offer spectacular fossils still in the situation where they were discovered, such as the fossil tree stumps at Fossil Grove in Glasgow’s Victoria Park, MacCulloch’s Tree on the west coast of Mull, and the reptile footprints and trackways near Elgin.
There is a worldwide market in fossils. Scottish fossils form part of that market, with specimens being extracted and then sold commercially, both in the UK and abroad. Currently, there are no figures available on the value of the fossil ‘industry’ to the Scottish economy.
Rare and unusual fossils may command a high price in the world of collectors and museums, and may also have a high scientific value to researchers. Common fossils such as ammonites, belemnites and brachiopods may sell for a few pounds, with larger, well-preserved and prepared specimens commanding higher prices (tens to hundreds of pounds) according to rarity and quality. Common Scottish fish fossils can be bought for less than £50, but rare fish, amphibians and reptiles can sell for many thousands of pounds depending on condition. Costs also reflect the labour and skill in preparing fossils for research and display; the commercial value of the most common fossils may be below the cost of collection, when time and travel are considered.
Many large and visually impressive fossils sold for large sums are not necessarily rare, and if locality details are missing, they are of diminished scientific value. Some insignificant-looking fossils, on the other hand, may have a high scientific value, but small commercial value.
Commercial collectors provide museums, universities and educational outlets with an opportunity to purchase fossil material. Most commercial collectors are skilled and responsible and provide a service to science, to other collectors and the general public.
1.10 Threats to Scotland’s fossil heritage
Scotland’s fossil heritage is an irreplaceable and non-renewable resource that has been millions of years in the making. Consequently, if not properly looked after and managed, it is vulnerable to being damaged and destroyed. There are six principal threats: natural erosion, climate change, quarrying, land-use change, irresponsible collecting and the neglect of collected specimens.
1.10.1 Natural erosion and climate change
In certain areas, particularly sea and river cliffs, weathering and erosion can reveal fossil material. However, the natural mechanisms that uncover fossils in the first instance also damage and destroy them. In these cases, it is argued that the responsible collection of newly exposed fossils, especially if loose, is highly desirable and of conservation value, since without collection the fossils would inevitably only become weathered, eroded and lost.
Sea level rise, driven by a warming climate, is likely to lead to the loss, through submergence, of fossil resources within intertidal areas. Human activity to combat the effects of rising sea level could lead to coast protection works that may involve the building of rock armour berms, gabion banks and wave-return walls exacerbating pressure on palaeontological resources. Such development could have the impact of obscuring rock exposures and preventing access for research, education and collecting.
Commercial quarrying of a fossil-bearing rock, a limestone for example, is the other main means by which new fossil material is revealed, but it can also be a threat. However, this is the nature of quarrying, and in many cases the loss of fossils during the lifetime of a quarry is not significant as the resource being quarried is vast and therefore some of it will survive for research and educational purposes. There are however some rare situations where quarrying could lead to the loss of a fossil-bearing rock layer that has only a very limited extent.
The importance of quarrying to palaeontology is highlighted by the fact that many extremely important fossil discoveries are made in active quarries. It is also reflected in the considerable number of disused quarries which are now geological sites protected by statute. In many instances quarrying, like natural erosion, is valuable in renewing exposures of fossil bearing rock and making available previously inaccessible rock sections.
1.10.3 Land-use change
One of the primary causes of losing fossil localities in Scotland is through changes in land-use. The infilling of quarries, river valleys and disused railway cuttings with waste, are means by which fossil localities become obscured, buried and lost.
Similarly the afforestation of hillsides and river banks with conifers and woodland regeneration, undertaken without due consideration for fossil-bearing resources, can lead to the prevention of access and the accumulation of plant debris that in time can lead to soil formation and rock outcrops becoming lost from view. Regeneration of woodland to help combat rising CO2 levels and promote gains in biodiversity, if not carefully managed, could in some instances exacerbate pressure at some palaeontological localities.
1.10.4 Irresponsible collecting
In some circumstances, fossil collecting may not be harmful to fossil resources and fossil localities. This is particularly true where the fossils are relatively common or the locations in which they are found are subject to high levels of natural or artificial degradation, such as coastal cliffs that are being eroded rapidly or large quarries that are being actively worked. In such situations collecting fossil specimens, that might otherwise be destroyed, can benefit our understanding of geology provided that they are properly documented and made available for study. Collecting also helps prevent fossil locations becoming neglected and overgrown. Ongoing fossil collecting can therefore be a valuable activity in the management and safeguarding of our fossil heritage.
However, some localities are highly sensitive to certain fossil collecting activities, and if these activities are not carefully managed, the scientific value of the resource can be damaged and, in the worst case, destroyed. Locations where there is either a limited fossil-bearing resource, or the fossils are exceptionally rare, are particularly vulnerable and susceptible to damage. Such locations include disused limestone and building stone quarries in the Midland Valley of Scotland and Caithness, which may date back to the 19th century and have an important role in the development of palaeontological science. Other sensitive locations include slowly eroding coastal cliffs, such as occur on Skye, and situations where fossils exposed at the surface are used for educational field demonstrations. Locations where the fossil-bearing resource is extremely limited in extent may be regarded as finite, and therefore particularly vulnerable to irresponsible collecting. These include fossil-bearing cave deposits.
Mechanical diggers, rock saws, and even explosives have all been used to collect fossils in Scotland, to the benefit of palaeontological research. However, in the hands of irresponsible collectors, such equipment can cause enormous damage and can threaten to annihilate vulnerable fossil-bearing resources and the fossils they contain. Excavation by collectors at river and coastal exposures can cause undermining, resulting in the collapse of rock faces, and burial of fossil-bearing layers.
When rare and particularly significant fossils are collected by inexperienced and/or irresponsible people, the fossils can lose their geological context and much of their value as objects of study. The collectors may not recognise the importance of a find, or fail to record essential information at the locality.
Irresponsible fossil collecting may be therefore be considered as collecting that is inappropriate for the nature, scale and rarity of the fossil-bearing resource and its fossil content leading to unjustifiable damage and destruction. Collecting without adherence to this Code may be viewed as irresponsible.
1.10.5 Neglect of collected specimens
The failure to adequately care for collected specimens and collections as a whole can result in their deterioration and loss. This threat to the fossil heritage is not peculiar to specimens and collections in the possession of amateur collectors, since inadequacies in funding and staffing can threaten curated museum-based and research collections.
1.11 Conserving Scotland’s fossil heritage
The landscape and its underlying geology comprise a fundamental part of the natural heritage underpinning Scotland’s biodiversity. Although they give the impression that they are solid and fixed for all time, they are vulnerable to development pressures and changes in land-use. Scotland’s irreplaceable geological heritage, including fossil resources, have to be adequately conserved and managed wisely for the benefit of future generations.
In an effort to conserve and afford protection to the geological heritage of Britain, the then Nature Conservancy Council undertook the Geological Conservation Review (GCR). This project, which began in 1977 and was completed in 1990, used the highest scientific standards to identify systematically the key Earth science sites in Britain. Together these GCR sites reflect the range and diversity of Great Britain’s geological heritage and demonstrate the geological history and development of the country.
Each site selected for the GCR is of at least national importance for geological heritage conservation, and many of the sites are of international importance. In Scotland, the GCR process selected 804 sites, of which 84 were selected specifically for their fossil fauna and flora. An additional 107 sites selected to represent various periods in Scotland’s geological history contain fossil-bearing rocks.
In time the list of Scotland’s GCR sites will be reviewed. It is expected that some new palaeontological sites will be added to the register, as new discoveries are made. A public record of all Scotland’s palaeontological GCR sites is available through the published Geological Conservation Review Series.
Most GCR sites in Scotland have statutory protection, designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) affording them protection from damaging activities.
PART 2: FOSSILS AND THE LAW: OWNERSHIP, ACCESS AND CONSERVATION
The fossil heritage of Scotland, like any other aspect of our natural and cultural heritage, is owned and managed property some of which, given its national or global importance, has statutory protection. This part of the Code outlines key legalities governing how fossil resources and specimens are considered. This encompasses fossil resource and specimen ownership, protected site management, access to land for the purpose of seeing fossils and also for their excavation, collection, removal and sale in accordance with the law. It also addresses instances where collecting is not permitted and how to deal with collections that are no longer required. Recommendations and best practice are also provided for the purchase of fossil material, and what ought to be done in the event of witnessing damaging fossil collecting.
2.1 Ownership of Scotland’s fossils
From the legal perspective, fossils in Scotland are treated as ‘minerals’ in the legal sense of the word. ‘Minerals’ also include coal, building stone and other substances in or under the land obtainable by underground or surface working. Scotland’s fossil resources are therefore owned in law by the relevant owners of mineral rights, be they private, public, voluntary sector or Crown Estate Scotland.
It is important to note that the owner of mineral rights over an area of land may not necessarily be the owner or even the occupier or manager of the land. The situation can arise where a fossil locality on an area of farmland may be owned by one person, the mineral rights and thus the fossils are owned by another, and the land itself is occupied and managed by yet another.
In Scotland the ownership of sea-cliffs and the intertidal zone, including beaches, may reside with Crown Estate Scotland, a local authority or an individual.
Be aware that in Scotland all fossils, in whatever situation they occur, either loose or part of bedrock exposure, are owned property.
2.2 Accessing land to visit fossil resources and collect fossils
Visiting fossil localities in the countryside to see and collect fossils involves accessing land owned by an individual or an organisation. Under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, everyone has access rights over most land and inland water in Scotland, for recreational purposes, some educational and commercial purposes, and for crossing from place to place. However, access rights come with responsibilities and are conditional on those taking access doing so responsibly. Having the right to take access over land does not mean that people have the right to extract or remove fossils, which are the property of the owner of the mineral rights associated with the land. The Land Reform Act specifically excludes being on or crossing land for the purpose of taking anything away for commercial use or for profit.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code provides guidance on the responsibilities of the public and owners and managers of land in relation to public access.
Consult the Scottish Outdoor Access Code prior to accessing land to view or collect fossils.
Access rights do not extend to works locations such as working quarries and mines, building or civil engineering sites, and railway and motorway cuttings. Access to these places can be dangerous and is restricted by law.
You must have appropriate authority to access locations such as working quarries and mines, building or civil engineering sites, and railway and motorway cuttings.
2.3 Permission to collect and keep fossil specimens
In practice, common fossils and small geological specimens have traditionally been collected without permission and usually without hindrance. However, from a legal perspective it is against the law to remove fossils without permission. Technically this includes loose fossils, or stones containing fossils, from beaches and the intertidal zone, and in whatever other setting fossils may be found, even if they appear to be abandoned.
To extract, collect and retain fossils that are either loose or form part of any bedrock exposure, requires permission from the owner of the mineral rights. The permission of the landowner, occupier or manager of the land may also be required. In addition to obtaining permission there are procedures in place at fossil localities that are protected as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) which may have to be adhered to. This could involve consent being sought from NatureScot (see section 2.4.1)
You are acting within the law if you obtain permission to extract, collect and retain fossils.
Collectors are expected to use the Code, and their own judgement, to determine how they go about seeking permission to look for, remove and retain fossil specimens as there is no overseeing body which undertakes that particular role on their behalf.
2.4 Protected fossil localities and instances where collecting is discouraged
Internationally Scotland is recognised for having a robust mechanism for the conservation of nature which includes the geological and fossil heritage as well as biodiversity. Many of the scientifically important fossiliferous localities around Scotland have statutory protection. This is part of a site-based approach to nature conservation the foundation of which is the protected areas network. Locations protected for the geological and fossil heritage, often referred to as ‘designated sites’, are established through the legal provisions in the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.
Protected areas may also be established on a voluntary non-statutory basis. For example as part of a Local Nature Conservation Sites (LNCS) network
2.4.1 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)
Designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is the main statutory mechanism for geological and palaeontological conservation in Scotland. NatureScot advises land owners and others on the management of SSSIs and, where appropriate, supports work to enhance the value of SSSIs, for example through clearing rock exposures of rubbish and encroaching vegetation. NatureScot also monitors the condition of the geological and palaeontological features in SSSIs, and may support their scientific study. Where SSSIs have palaeontological features, land owners and land managers have an important role to play in looking after these protected fossil resources on their land.
To ensure that protected features on an SSSI are not damaged, land owners, land managers and other interested parties are provided with a list of ‘Operations Requiring Consent’ (‘ORC list’). ORC lists, which are specific to each SSSI, are accessible to view on NatureScot’s website. If NatureScot considers an operation requiring consent, being proposed on an SSSI, is likely to damage protected features it may suggest other ways to carry out the work. This could be to only partially infill a fossil-bearing quarry, or not plant trees too close to an important fossil bed. In many cases, owners and managers of fossil localities will need consent from NatureScot to excavate and remove fossils and also to allow other people to do so (also see section 4.1.1). This is particularly the case with the extraction of fossils from bedrock.
Owners and managers must obtain consent from NatureScot before carrying out or permitting operations likely to damage protected features. This may include some fossil collecting activities undertaken by visiting collectors.
In cases where pubic bodies need to undertake operations that affect an SSSI, the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 places a duty on them to consult Scottish Natural Heritage (NatureScot); have regard to NatureScot's advice; and take reasonable steps, in the proper exercise of their functions, to further the conservation and enhancement of the natural features of the SSSI.
Public bodies have a duty toward protected palaeontological features when exercising their functions.
It is an offence for any person to intentionally or recklessly damage the natural features of an SSSI. Some SSSI, that have suffered damage as a consequence of damaging fossil collecting, carry signage conveying messages specific to collecting at the site.
Fossil collecting is possible at the majority of these protected areas, provided the required permission and any necessary consents are secured. In the absence of any specific mention of fossil collecting in the ORC list, for a particular SSSI, the requirement to seek permission and SSSI consent to collect fossils may still apply (for example where extraction of minerals is on the list). Having secured permission and any necessary consents a responsible approach to fossil collecting in SSSIs is essential both to prevent damage and conserve the resource. Achieving this maintains the scientific value of the sites for research and the benefit of future generations.
Be familiar with any collecting regulations that may be in place before visiting SSSIs. If you don’t know, ask.
Be aware that collecting may involve approaching land owners to secure SSSI consent on your behalf.
If in doubt about collecting regulations at an SSSI then do not collect.
The fossil-bearing rock resource in some SSSIs can be very limited and regarded as finite. Similarly the fossils in a particular SSSI may be incredibly rare and of considerable scientific value. Consequently such sites are vulnerable to fossil collecting of any kind. In these locations collecting for scientific research may be regarded as acceptable ‘loss’ and ‘damage’ to the fossil-bearing resource in contrast to recreational/hobby collecting which may be actively discouraged which may include the use of signage. Even in research situations, to ensure the information derived during excavation is maximised, investigation may have to adopt a multidisciplinary approach. A multidisciplinary approach involves a team with a wide range of specialist interests coordinating and concentrating attention on a minimum amount of excavated fossil-bearing resource. This approach avoids a finite resource being targeted multiple times for excavation in pursuance of different but related research projects.
Signage regulating collecting at fossil locations must be strictly adhered to.
The absence of signage prohibiting collecting at fossil localities does not imply a right, freedom, or permission to collect.
2.4.2 Areas of Skye protected by the Skye Nature Conservation Order 2019
In addition to the SSSI designation the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 also includes provision for the protection of a natural feature by means of a Nature Conservation Order (NCO). There is one NCO in operation in Scotland designed to give extra legal protection to fossils. The ‘Skye Nature Conservation Order 2019’ was issued to prevent damage to, and removal of, Middle Jurassic vertebrate body and trace fossils on Skye. It bolsters the statutory protection of fossil remains within existing SSSI and other areas, where the principle threat is from irresponsible collecting. It is an offence for any person to undertake prohibited operations in areas of Skye protected by the NCO. Exceptions are in place to ensure the continuation of scientific research.
Be aware of the extra statutory protection afforded by a NCO at fossil localities on Skye.
2.4.3 Non-statutory Local Geodiversity Sites
Although Scotland has a network of statutorily protected sites, fossil localities in the wider countryside are also under threat from damaging activities. Some fossil locations not protected by statute have ‘Local Geodiversity Site’ recognition, belonging to the ‘Local Nature Conservation Sites System’.
Be aware that fossil collecting at non-statutory protected Local Geodiversity Sites may not be advised.
It is possible for individuals to volunteer and become involved in the conservation of fossil localities, through a local geological society, and by either joining or forming a local geodiversity conservation group.
2.5 Fossil resources without statutory protection and the need to prepare the Scottish Fossil Code
The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 required Scottish Natural Heritage, now known as NatureScot, to prepare the Scottish Fossil Code. The requirement was in recognition of the value and vulnerability of the fossil heritage and that legislative measures alone cannot entirely safeguard it. The Code is aimed at everyone with an interest and involvement in Scottish palaeontology. It sets out best practice, guidance and information allowing for the safeguard of all of Scotland’s fossil heritage irrespective of where it occurs. The key objective of the Code is to ensure that collecting continues in a responsible manner and that collectors operate in accordance with the law.
2.6 Selling Scottish fossil specimens and taking fossils from the UK
In accordance with the law, in order to sell fossil specimens collected in Scotland, for example by means of the internet, a vendor requires full legal title to the specimen secured from the owner of the mineral rights. This requires communication between the collector and owner with agreement on title transfer.
You must have full legal title to a fossil in order to sell it.
The United Kingdom Government retains customs powers. Under the existing system controlling export from the UK, licences can be refused or deferred for certain categories of 'cultural objects' of special historical, aesthetic or scholarly importance (includes palaeontology), usually to enable a UK museum to buy the object.
The system for export licences is administered by Arts Council England (ACE), on behalf of the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). Export licenses can apply to palaeontological material exported both permanently and temporarily (for example for display or research).
If you are intending to export Scottish fossils from the UK you should check the current situation regarding export legislation.
This brief guidance does not cover:
- general customs regulations and laws, for example on false declaration of goods;
- special issues concerning stolen and other illicitly collected fossils (for instance, export of such fossils from the UK may be illegal depending on the cultural heritage laws or international treaties of the state of destination); and
- import of fossils into the UK.
2.7 Buying Scottish fossil specimens
Many collectors, and museums, purchase fossil specimens to add to their collections. This may be to gain more examples of an interesting group of fossils, to obtain material from classic localities, to acquire research material, or to provide material for displays.
There are several factors to bear in mind before making a purchase:
- Is the seller the legal owner of the specimen, and was it collected with permission? This may be difficult to prove and result in the purchase of stolen property.
- Is it correctly described, and are locality details given correctly? Vague locality details (for example ‘Caithness’) are of little scientific value.
- Are the item and its data genuine? Faking is not currently believed to be a significant problem with Scottish fossils, but the buyer should be cautious, especially if the offer is unexpectedly good. Faking is common in the fossil trade worldwide, especially in the overseas tourist souvenir market. Fossils are also often restored or made up from incomplete specimens, or inserted into new ‘stone’ matrix, simply to make them look better and command a higher price as décor fossils.
- Has it been well prepared? Some material offered in rock shops has been varnished, carved, repaired and polished to enhance the superficial appearance and is therefore only useful as a decorative curio.
Those selling Scottish fossils may advertise that the specimen on offer is from an “Old Collection”. Purchasers should be wary that this term is often used as a ruse to lend some form of legitimacy to the selling of fossils that may not have been collected responsibly and may be removed illegally from protected localities.
If purchasing fossil specimens, use a reputable dealer. Ensure they have collected the material legally, have legal title to sell it and they are prepared to give locality details for the material you wish to purchase. It should be enquired if the material is genuine and has been properly prepared.
2.8 What to do in the event of encountering people collecting irresponsibly
You may come across a situation where you suspect that irresponsible collecting is taking place with damage to a fossil locality and excessive fossil material being removed. For example, crow bars being used to extract fossils from a rock exposure and a vehicle being loaded with broken fossil bearing-rock. If so, it may be appropriate, provided you are not putting yourself at risk, to enquire whether the person or persons has or have permission to collect fossils, and have heard of the Scottish Fossil Code. The incident ought to be reported as soon as possible to the land owner, occupier or land manager. If you consider that the collecting may be taking place illegally or you find evidence of suspected illegal collecting having taken place, for example damage at a fossil locality that is an SSSI, the incident should be reported to the police by telephoning 101 or reporting it online via the ‘contact us’ portal on the Police Scotland website. State that you believe a crime may have taken place and request an incident is created and titled as a ‘Wildlife Crime’. You could also report by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where you will not be asked your name and you can leave your information anonymously. The local office of NatureScot should also be contacted.
Whether you suspect either irresponsible or illegal activity a useful action would be to note down details including an exact location or grid reference, and the registration number, make, model and colour of motor vehicles in the area, only do this if you can keep yourself safe.
If you encounter what you consider to be irresponsible collecting, use your common sense and do not put yourself at risk by intervening. Try to inform the land manager and, if the location is an SSSI, report the incident to the police and NatureScot as a ‘Wildlife Crime’.
PART 3: COLLECTING AND CARING FOR FOSSILS
This part of the Scottish Fossil Code provides guidance and best practice in the collection, identification, care and storage of fossil specimens.
3.1 Collecting fossils responsibly
Fossils are a limited resource and should not be taken without good cause. Whatever your reason for collecting fossil specimens, be it for research, recreational, or commercial reasons, this section applies equally to everyone.
3.1.1 Know more about fossils and where they are found
In order to find fossils it helps to know what you are looking for. The more you know, the more you are likely to find and recognise fossils. There are publications (see the Scottish Fossil Code Appendix) that provide information on the different types of fossils, and the biological groups to which they belong.
Fossil collectors are encouraged to learn more about the fossil heritage, and to visit museums to see actual fossil specimens.
3.1.2 Fossil collecting and respecting wildlife
Fossil localities are usually intimately or closely associated with other features of the natural heritage. Be aware that some plants can be easily damaged and that some birds and other animals can become alarmed or distressed if you do not take care. Disturbing soil whilst fossil collecting can lead to soil erosion and affect the biodiversity it supports.
Always take proper account of wildlife and other aspects of the natural heritage by following the guidance in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
3.1.3 Equipment usage in fossil collecting and extraction
Hardened steel hammers and chisels, specifically manufactured for breaking rock, are the traditional hand tools of the fossil collector. In Scotland, most fossil-bearing rocks are hard and the careful use of such a hammer is necessary to extract a fossil in a proper manner. However, since many good specimens can be found by looking through loose and weathered material the use of a hammer is not always required.
A hammer and chisel should only be used when essential to do so.
Hammering or chiselling bedrock in an SSSI, without securing consent, risks recklessly damaging the site and in doing so committing a ‘Wildlife Crime’.
Do not use a hammer or chisel in a SSSI without consent.
Rock saws can be used responsibly in the extraction of fossils and for trimming excess rock from fossil specimens. However, the use of rock saws, power tools and other equipment, such as drills, mechanical excavators and tools, to extract fossils from outcrops is generally not regarded as a sustainable and responsible activity. Such activity accelerates the depletion of fossil-bearing resources and can cause unsightly damage to outcrops.
Apart from trimming specimens, the use of mechanical equipment to extract and remove fossils should only occur for the purposes of palaeontological research projects (for example by museums and universities) and then only when essential.
A hand lens or magnifying glass is a useful item of equipment allowing the examination of details on fossils and associated rock. A GPS system and/or detailed maps, notebook and camera are essential items of equipment to record finds.
3.1.4 How much fossil material to take and its careful removal
At most locations where fossils are to be found there is adequate broken rock lying around from which to collect. However, fossils are a limited resource and should not be taken without good cause. You should exercise restraint ensure that you do not 'over-collect' and therefore deplete the fossil resource, consider your reasons for collecting and the vulnerability of the locality to fossil extraction.
Do not over-collect and take no more than you need as a representative assemblage of fossils. Ensure that you leave material that you do not want at the locality for others to find.
A fossil in a collected rock sample can become either damaged or destroyed through the collector’s efforts to reduce the size of the fossiliferous rock sample for ease of carrying and transport. The successful reduction of a rock specimen to a more convenient size, minimising risk of damage to the fossil, will require the use of appropriate equipment.
You should not attempt to reduce the size of a rock sample containing a fossil without the appropriate equipment.
Remember that incomplete specimens or specimens broken during collection have scientific value, therefore it may be worth retaining them; with the broken specimens being carefully repaired.
When collecting ensure that you have a supply of packaging materials such as boxes, bags, newspaper and tissue in which to wrap specimens. Secure packing of specimens will help prevent them being damaged whilst being carried and during transport.
Fossil material should be carefully packed for carrying and transport.
3.1.5 Respecting other users of fossil localities
Large quantities of freshly broken rock debris scattered about are unsightly and can be dangerous. Rock fragments may cause injury and are a hazard to farm animals, vehicles, and other fossil collectors.
Leave a fossil locality in a tidy condition and do not make things more difficult or hazardous for those coming after you. This should include returning loose and broken material to where it was found, and not spreading rock debris on pasture, footpaths and other access routes.
Fossils and associated rock found at one location must not be disposed of at a different locality. This is an irresponsible action that could confuse the scientific understanding of a fossil locality, with fossils being attributed to the wrong location and rock sequence.
Never discard fossil material and associated rock collected from one fossil locality at a different location.
3.1.6 Recording fossil finds
As soon as a fossil is removed from the rock and the area in which it is found, irreplaceable scientific information is lost. This can be minimised by recording basic information at the time of collection such as the precise locality and position in the exposed rock sequence. Unless this is done and records are kept permanently with the specimen, the potential scientific value of the specimen will be drastically reduced.
When you remove a fossil, record the precise locality, and the position it was found in the rock sequence.
The fossil locality record should be precise. Merely naming a broad coastal stretch or bay in Fife for example, is not sufficient, as a single stretch can include a variety of fossil beds, formed at greatly varying times and in different ancient environments. Try and pinpoint the precise locality, to within a few metres, by using permanent landmarks, eight-figure Ordnance Survey grid references, or an internet available geocode system.
If the specimen is excavated, you should sketch the outcrop and record features of the rock, including any layering (bedding) and the position in the exposed rock sequence at which the fossil is found, in a notebook. Ideally images should be taken of the outcrop with the location of the fossil find identified.
3.1.7 Reporting exceptional and unusual finds
An ‘unusual’ fossil may be:
- A species new to science.
- A species new to the country.
- A species new to the locality.
- A particularly well-preserved specimen, possibly showing features of the animal or plant that have not been previously described.
- The oldest or youngest of a known species. Such a find may extend its fossil record considerably.
If you are fortunate enough to discover an exceptional fossil (for example a rock surface with many fish fossils, a dinosaur bone, or a reptile trackway), it is best to seek expert advice and report your find. Similarly, if you encounter an unfamiliar fossil or other feature in the rock and you are uncertain what it is, or in your experience it appears unusual, you should also consult an expert. It is possible that others may already know about the find. It may be the focus of a research project, be used for educational purposes, or be waiting for collection and removal by experts and therefore should not be damaged or collected.
If you discover an exceptional, large, unfamiliar or unusual fossil seek expert advice and report your find
Record the position of the find, take photographs and contact your local or national museum, university or the British Geological Survey. An expert will then be able to assess the find, determining whether it has already been discovered and is being used for research or education purposes. If found to be of particular significance, arrangements may be made for its extraction and removal.
Do not attempt to extract part of a fossil specimen, as this will damage it, and reduce its scientific value.
It is good practice to donate scientifically important specimens to an accredited museum.
If donated to a museum the specimen is then available for fuller study to determine its importance. If it proves to be new to science, it will require a name and a detailed published description and illustration. Finders of new species frequently have their name incorporated in the name of the fossil when it is described. A permanent memorial to the finder and the fossil!
3.1.8 Identifying fossil finds
The identification of fossils is an important part of collecting. Most fossil collections are organised according to biological classification and thus some knowledge of the classification of animals and plants is useful. Some collectors will be content to identify fossils to a general level (for example fish, trilobite, ammonite), but most wish to identify specimens to genus and species level. There are many books with fossil illustrations that the amateur can use. However, only a tiny proportion of known fossils is illustrated in such guides, and expert help and advice is normally required.
Try to identify the specimens you have found using reference books, online resources and seek expert help if required.
The major museums, the British Geological Survey, and university geology departments generally provide an informal service for fossil identification, and are pleased to help collectors and offer advice. However, the staff in these institutions do not have time to identify whole collections of fossils, and are not experts in all fossil groups. Your local or national museum or university may have a specialist geological curator and be in a position to offer you advice
3.1.9 Fossils and the built heritage
Some Scottish building stones contain fossil material. Similarly, field boundary dry-stone dykes and animal pens sometimes incorporate fossiliferous blocks of stone. In these situations, the fossils are an educational resource to be examined in situ. They are not to be collected, as this would be a criminal offence.
On no account should fossils be collected from stone in dry-stone dykes, walls or buildings.
3.1.10 Informing land owners and land managers of your finds
It is good practice to maintain good relations with those that have given their permission to collect fossils. It is recommended that they are informed of the results of your collecting efforts.
3.2 How to care for the fossils you collect
Fossils are a limited resource, and are irreplaceable. You should therefore take good care of them, and also of their accompanying data once they have been found and removed from the ground. If you cannot do this, then collecting fossils, or retaining a fossil collection, is wasteful of Scotland’s fossil resource. Better to leave fossils for others to find, or pass them to a more suitable home.
Take good care of collected fossils and their accompanying data.
Standards of collections care are well established for museums. Academic, commercial and serious amateur collectors should follow broadly similar standards. However, it is unreasonable to expect children and other less experienced collectors to follow such high standards. Nevertheless, the basic principles still apply, and are to be encouraged, at all levels.
A brief outline of good practice is given here. It is not possible to be more specific, as the actual standards to be expected depend on individual collectors’ expertise and resources, and on the content and significance of their collections, as well as currently available materials and techniques. The references given in Part 5 provide information on the care of collected fossil specimens.
3.2.1 Cleaning and preparation of newly collected fossil specimens
To prevent damage to the specimen, fossils or fossil-bearing rock that is wet with seawater should be rinsed and soaked for at least several hours in clean fresh water to remove as much salt as possible, preventing damage when the salt crystallises in the pores of the specimen. Other wet material should be dried gently and slowly to avoid cracking.
Soil and other substances adhering to the specimen should be removed very gently using a brush or other tool that will neither mark nor otherwise damage the fossil. Beware that cleaning of fossils preserved in soft shales can present problems, as wetting may damage the fossil or cause it to disintegrate.
Preparation of a fossil refers to the act of removing rocky matrix surrounding the fossil enabling its use in palaeontological research or for exhibition purposes. The degree of ‘preparation’ required to remove rock obscuring part of a fossil, will depend on the specimen and collector, but in general it should inflict no damage on the fossil specimen itself, or promote cracks, which could in time lead to more damage. In general, some rock material should remain with the specimen as it, together with any associated fossils, provides information which will probably add to its scientific value.
In the laboratory a variety of tools is available for preparing fossils. Apart from hammers and chisels, electrically powered engraving tools, air abrasives, rock saws, dental tools and a variety of chemical treatments, including acids, can be used. Safety rules must be followed in preparation techniques. It is wise to practice techniques on poor material, and to take advice before attempting the preparation of a good specimen. Specimens can be ruined by poor preparation.
Fossil material should be cleaned and prepared for storage and display as soon as possible after collection.
If you are in doubt about the techniques and lack the necessary equipment to clean and prepare a fossil specimen, consult publications on palaeontological preparation techniques and seek expert help before attempting to work on it.
The unnecessary use of adhesives and varnishes is not considered good practice, even to ‘improve’ the look of a specimen. Varnish and other types of coatings may damage surface detail and reduce the scientific value of a specimen. Coatings can deteriorate with time, and further problems may arise when they are removed.
Glues used in fixing together the component parts of a broken fossil specimen should be ‘reversible’, i.e. soluble in a solvent such as water, so that the joint can be remade if need be. For this reason, polyacrylate (‘superglue’) and epoxy resin adhesives are not normally considered suitable. PVA emulsion is one reasonable compromise for those starting collecting.
In preparing or fixing fossil specimens, use reversible glues and do not varnish.
3.2.2 Labelling and documentation
The basic information such as where and when found, recorded when a fossil specimen is collected (see section 3.1.6), should be carefully transferred and included on an accompanying data label. This allows for accurate information to be attributed to the specimen before the collector’s memory fades.
Data labels should be prepared and kept with collected specimens.
The information on a data label ideally should include:
- Find locality, including National Grid Reference from an Ordnance Survey map.
- Geological horizon (e.g. rock layer or bed, geological age).
- Date collected.
- Specimen number.
- Name of the collection to which it belongs (this may be indicated as a prefix to the specimen number).
- Identification, for example genus and species (less important than find locality, horizon and collection information, as this data can be added or modified at any time).
- Details of collecting permission, where appropriate (although collecting permission may be better filed with the collection as a whole).
Each specimen should bear a unique number written in waterproof permanent ink, ideally on a label of acid-free paper stuck with ‘reversible’ glue that, if required at a later date, can be detached from the specimen. Although more difficult to remove, a patch of matt white paint may also be used to allow number labelling of a specimen. Whatever labelling method is used, it should be applied so as not to obscure any details of the specimen. A coat of clear varnish should be applied over the paper label or paint patch to preserve the number. This number must also be put on the accompanying data label and on any other information records, for example field notebooks recording the location of the find. Using numbers ensures that the information on the data label cannot be mixed up with that for any other specimen. It is good practice to have a running list of all your specimens and their details in a hardbound book (a register), to avoid duplication of numbers.
The information should be in good quality paper form. Computers can be used to generate and process the information, but should not be used as the primary (or sole) information store. Good documentation is essential for any fossil material that is being considered for donation to a museum.
3.2.3 Storing and displaying
Your fossil collection should be organised so that individual specimens can readily be located. Specimens in most fossil collections are primarily divided and stored by fossil group. Some popular ways are:
- fossil group, then geological age;
- geological age, then fossil group; and
- geological age, then locality, then fossil group.
At the simplest level, the storage and display of fossil specimens will comprise of placing them in dustproof conditions, protected to stop them rolling around and abrading each other, for instance when a drawer is opened. A simple way to do this is to keep each specimen in its own cardboard tray with its label, and if necessary some rolled tissue padding to stop it moving around (cotton wool is not good as it catches on specimens). At a more sophisticated level, you could use museum-quality materials such as acid-free card and tissue.
Environmental conditions, such as those in an unheated garage in winter, should be avoided, because of the effect of damp and mould growth on storage boxes, other packaging and labelling. Direct sunlight can also cause labels to fade and lead to problems associated with excessive drying out and fluctuating temperature.
Humidity and temperature-sensitive material (see below) may need particular care, to avoid excessively high or low humidity (the latter can happen in centrally heated houses in winter). This care extends to the maintenance of a reasonably stable temperature.
The storage and display environment for your fossils should not damage, or cause deterioration to, the specimens.
3.2.4 Problems associated with conserving collected specimens
There are problems associated with the conservation of specimens in a collection. If these are not adequately dealt with they can permanently damage a specimen and in extreme cases lead to its loss.
Breakage and abrasion – are commonly the result of poor packing in transport and storage, and subsequent handling.
Dust and dirt – commonly accumulate through poor storage and display.
Damp – causes mould growth on specimens, especially dirty ones, and encourages insects and other pests to attack the packing and labelling.
Extremes of humidity and temperature – can damage vulnerable specimens especially if changes are rapid. Varnishing a specimen will not prevent or halt such damage and can make matters worse. It may be necessary to consider special storage conditions for important collections. Whether a given specimen is at risk from extremes of humidity and temperature depends on the mineralogy of the specimen, and also the locality and source rock.
Fossil material potentially vulnerable to humidity and temperature includes:
- ‘Poorly mineralised’ bones from Quaternary deposits (for example mammal teeth and bones).
- Specimens in shale or clay rocks, especially those which expand and shrink with changes in humidity.
- Specimens containing some forms of the mineral pyrite, under conditions of fluctuating temperature and humidity, tend to deteriorate through pyrite oxidisation. This can result in the specimens falling apart. Specimens containing pyrite should be stored separately in dry stable conditions to try and prevent their loss and acidic vapours damaging other specimens.
3.2.5 Collection security
A significant collection should enjoy an appropriate level of physical security, and perhaps also financial insurance, against fire, flood or theft. Where appropriate, a photographic record of the collection (or at least key specimens) can help in proving the identity of stolen material and seeking to recover it, especially if it has been sold.
A significant collection should enjoy an appropriate level of physical security.
3.3 Dealing with old and perhaps neglected collections
Old fossil collections, whether in museums or private hands, are an important part of Scotland’s fossil heritage. They may be of interest and significance because of their history and personal connections, and because of scientific work done on the specimens. They may also contain specimens that are rare, and perhaps no longer collectable (for instance because the locality has been worked out or is a quarry that has now been infilled).
Unfortunately, old collections are sometimes neglected, badly stored or disordered, and they may suffer the problems mentioned above (for example covered in dirt or have suffered from pyrite oxidation). A natural reaction is to unpack, sort and wash the collection. Such action can be disastrous as this is the wrong treatment, which can damage the collection’s labelling and documentation. Sorting out, assessing, and reorganising an old collection, neglected or otherwise, needs special care to avoid loss of old information and the introduction of spurious new information.
If you have reason to believe that an old and perhaps neglected collection is significant, you should, if possible, leave it undisturbed until you have sought expert advice (for example through a specialist museum curator).
3.4 Disposing of an old or redundant collection
The method of disposal of an old or redundant collection depends on its quality. If in doubt seek advice from a specialist museum curator. If the collection is well documented and contains good specimens it may (wholly or partly) be of interest to a museum. If it is poorly documented and the specimens are generally common it may still be of interest to schools, colleges or museums to provide teaching and handling material.
When disposing of an old collection seek advice and consider donating it to a museum or educational establishment.
3.5 Donating a fossil or collection to a museum
If you are considering a home for your finds for the public benefit, you should choose an accredited museum (which may be operated by national or local government, a charitable trust, or a university) or the British Geological Survey. To avoid disenfranchising parts of Scotland through removal of significant aspects of the fossil heritage to larger city centre museums there should be consideration for donating a fossil or collection to a museum that is the most local to the location(s) where specimens were found.
A scientifically important specimen should normally go to a museum with specialist staff to care for it and arrange for it to be studied. Other specimens can be used by museums for any of the uses mentioned in section 4 of the Appendix. The museum will be especially accountable for the specimens added to the permanent collection.
If you are considering donating a fossil or collection to a museum, you should choose one that is accredited and perhaps close to where the fossil or most of the collection was found.
In order for a museum to accept your donation, you will need to demonstrate that you are the owner of the fossil, if the museum is to obtain valid title of ownership from you. You will also be asked to make the gift (or sale) an absolute one, without strings, and to let the museum deal with the find as it thinks fit.
The museum may decide not to accept your offer if your finds duplicate what the museum already has, or may not be a priority for the museum. It has to be judicious in what it acquires and stores, owing to limited resources and storage space. If this is the case the museum may well suggest another museum better suited for your finds. Different museums have different priorities and an accredited museum will have an acquisition policy, often on its website. National and university museums tend to be particularly interested in scientifically important fossils. Local authority and local trust museums tend to be more interested in fossils from their geographical area of coverage.
It was once common to place fossils from private collectors on ‘long loan’ to museums, however, this is no longer good practice. The museum has the cost of housing and insuring the fossil without being able to deal with it properly. In addition, the museum cannot plan for the future if the fossil may be removed at short notice. Therefore museums need to own collections when they accept responsibility for them. It is however quite proper for the museum to borrow a fossil for an agreed short-term period, typically for an exhibition, identification, research, or to enhance a display.
3.6 Bequeathing a collection
If you are the owner of a significant private collection, you cannot usually expect your family or executors to know what to do with your fossil collection in the event of your death. Thought should therefore be given to its long-term future with instructions left in your will. Instructions should be sufficiently flexible to allow for changing situations (for example the policies of particular museums), and for the fact that museums may not accept an entire collection, or may use some of it for exchange or as handling material (see section 4 in Appendix,). Sometimes it is best to deal with the matter yourself while you are still able to do so drawing upon the recommendations in section 3.5.
If you are the owner of a significant private collection, thought should be given to its long-term future with instructions left in your will.
PART 4: ADDITIONAL GUIDANCE AND BEST PRACTICE FOR LAND OWNERS, LAND MANAGERS, RESEARCHERS, AMATEUR COLLECTORS AND OTHER GROUPS
This part of the Scottish Fossil Code provides additional guidance and best practice in fossil resource management and the collection and treatment of fossils. It is intended for land owners, land managers, researchers, amateur collectors, specialist groups and others with a particular involvement in Scotland’s fossil heritage.
4.1 Owners of mineral rights and land managers
If you own the mineral rights for your land any fossil-bearing resources that occur are your property. The resource can be thought of as the rock layer or layers in which fossils occur. You are encouraged to find out about the fossil resource including its extent on your land, the particular fossils it contains, the importance of the fossils to science and their rarity. This knowledge will guide the appropriate management and use of the fossil resource, including its conservation, if that is required.
You are encouraged to find out about the fossil-bearing resource on your land.
You are encouraged to conserve the fossil resource through its appropriate management.
The attractiveness of a fossil resource to fossil collectors, whatever their particular interest, influences how a fossil resource is managed from the perspective of collecting. It is important, if you can, to establish the level of fossil collecting the resource can sustain without it becoming ‘worked-out’ and effectively destroyed.
A general approach to fossil locality conservation may be to ensure that loose fossils are safeguarded through encouraging responsible collecting without hindrance, rather than letting them continue to be damaged and destroyed through natural weathering and erosion. Should a fossil discovery of major palaeontological significance be made on your property you are encouraged to help facilitate its excavation and removal for scientific research and public display. You may wish to donate the specimen to an accredited collection allowing its research and public display.
You are encouraged to show sympathy to the interests of collectors when considering whether to grant access to your land and giving permission to collect and retain fossils
Fossil collectors may contact you seeking permission to access and collect in advance of collecting on your land. However, it is important to recognise that collectors may turn up on your land to collect fossils without contacting you, beforehand, probably for the simple reason they do not know who to ask. If your land has protection status as an SSSI that has an important bearing on the character of the fossil collecting permissible.
When considering fossil collecting on your land it is useful to be aware of the varying degrees of collecting:
Minor collecting - involves collection and removal of a few small pieces of loose broken rock or common fossil (that could fit in the palm of the hand or smaller), that are found lying around. Minor collecting may be carried out by researchers, but it is more commonly undertaken by amateur collectors, children and groups with an educational aim, such as a geological societies and schools. Provided they adhere to the Scottish Fossil Code regarding the collection and care of fossil material, such groups and individuals are likely to make good use of the fossil material that is lying around and are unlikely to damage the fossil-bearing bedrock exposures or exploit it for commercial gain.
Significant collecting - represents the noticeable removal of amounts of fossil-bearing rock or fossil specimens. Significant collecting may be characterised by the excavation of rock and fossils from the solid bedrock, perhaps using lightweight hammers and chisels and/or the removal of a few kilograms of already loose rock or fossil specimens.
Large-scale collecting - involves excavation of many kilograms of rock from bedrock and/or the removal of many kg or more in weight of already loose rock. It is associated with the use of tools and equipment such as mash hammers, sledge hammers, crowbars, pinch bars, picks, shovels, rock saws. Rarely mechanical excavators, gas-bursting capsules and explosives are utilised. Transport is required to remove fossil-bearing rock and specimens from the locality.
Significant and large-scale collecting is necessary in certain circumstances for scientific research. It can also be undertaken by some amateurs building a collection. Scientific research and the approach by commercial collectors can result in the extraction and removal of large amounts of fossil resource and fossil specimens. Signs of fossil collecting vary depending on the nature of the fossil-bearing rock type. Excavated freshly broken rock in heaps close to, or scattered around, a rock exposure, which may have marks consistent with being hammered or chiselled, usually indicates collector activity. There may also be rock-saw cut marks.
4.1.1 Owners and land managers of fossil localities protected as SSSIs
Generally, minor collecting activity does not damage the notified SSSI feature, and the choice is entirely yours to permit such collecting. However, if the list of Operations Requiring Consent (ORC List) for your SSSI includes “Removal of geological specimens, including rock samples and fossils” (Standard Ref. No. 25), you are required to obtain consent from NatureScot to permit collecting of geological samples even if it’s minor. Significant and especially large-scale collecting is more likely to damage notified SSSI features and to require you to obtain consent from NatureScot to allow such collecting to be undertaken. ORCs involving the removal of loose material, such as numbers 20 and 24, may also apply for significant and large-scale collecting.
Where minor collecting will not damage the notified SSSI feature it is suggested you might allow researchers, amateur collectors and groups of visitors such as a geological society, and children (accompanied by a responsible adult), to visit and collect fossils on a casual basis at the site
It is also recommended that you ask them:
- who they are;
- what the purpose of the collecting is;
- if they have read the Scottish Fossil Code;
- not to use hammers and chisels;
- not to excavate bedrock; and
- to let you know if they discover rare or unusual fossils.
In granting permission to access and to collect fossils, you may wish to set some conditions, such as:
- a restriction on equipment used; and
- being informed of what is found.
If you encounter people collecting fossils from an SSSI on your land, who have not requested permission, then it is recommended you respond in accordance with the purpose and scale of the collecting and the consent process for the SSSI. For minor collecting that is not damaging the SSSI features, you may choose to permit collecting proceed or not as you see fit. However, it is recommended that you are sympathetic to minor collecting by researchers, amateurs and educational groups. In most cases those undertaking minor collecting will, although they have not sought permission, otherwise be acting responsibly.
If collectors are encountered, who are in ignorance of the Scottish Fossil Code, then you should bring it to their attention, with encouragement being given on good practice in fossil collecting.
Vigilance and judgement, however, is required to ensure that collectors, whatever their motivation, are not damaging SSSI features by collecting, particularly if they are undertaking significant or large-scale collecting or excavating bedrock, as this could constitute reckless damage. A significant level of collecting is usually undertaken for research purposes with good scientific justification. Some researchers and commercial collectors, particularly those from outside Scotland and from outside the UK, may be unaware of the Scottish Fossil Code, and the legalities of land ownership and collecting, and may unwittingly cause reckless damage to the fossil resource and the SSSI.
If you encounter collectors undertaking significant or large-scale collecting from an SSSI on you land, which you believe may constitute reckless or intentional damage to the SSSI features, and therefore a Wildlife Crime, you should immediately contact both the police and NatureScot. You may also wish to report significant or large-scale collecting to the police where you have not given permission, and you judge that property damage or theft has occurred.
A distinction may be drawn between responsible collectors and those collecting irresponsibly some of whom may act recklessly and therefore commit an offence.
Your response to those seeking permission to collect fossils from your land, and those encountered on your land that have not sought permission, should depend on the purpose nature and degree of the collecting and the consent process for the SSSI.
Public bodies should apply directly to NatureScot for consent (see section 2.4.1), but still need your agreement to excavate and remove fossils from the SSSI on your land. You may permit collecting by public bodies such as universities and some museums, providing they have secured their SSSI consent from NatureScot. If however an individual university researcher has not applied to NatureScot for consent, you may still allow them to carry out minor collecting as described above. If they wish to undertake significant or large-scale collecting and cannot produce a relevant consent you should regard them with suspicion and contact NatureScot for advice before allowing them to approach the SSSI on your land.
If you find signs of such damaging collecting, contact the police. Be careful not to touch or move any equipment other objects that may have been left, or otherwise disturb the scene, as it could form the basis of a criminal investigation.
You should take appropriate action if you consider that abuses of the Fossil Code are occurring, or have occurred, on your property (see Section 2.8).
4.1.2 Owners and land managers of fossil localities not protected as SSSI
Although the fossil locality on your land may not have statutory protection the fossil resource could have fossils of scientific value and may be of interest to fossil collectors. Setting aside the legal obligations, associated with SSSI designation, it is recommended that the highlighted essential guidance points provided in 4.1.1 should, in essence, also apply to you. This includes reporting damaging collecting activity and theft should you wish to do so. This may involve regarding the damaged fossil locality as a crime scene.
Commercial collectors will require the mineral rights owner of the land where fossils are collected, to give them ownership of the fossils before the collector can legal sell them. If you find signs of irresponsible collecting that you consider has damaged your fossil resource, or theft from your property, you may wish to contact the police.
Apart from the legal obligations, concerning management of SSSI, the Guidance for SSSI owners and land managers is applicable to you.
If you find signs of irresponsible collecting, you may wish to approach the police concerning damage to, and potentially theft from, your property.
4.1.3 Those that live in close proximity to a fossil locality
If you live in close proximity to a fossil locality and have an interest in the fossil heritage, but do not have any management responsibility for the site, you may wish to keep a watchful eye over the fossil resource. You may also wish to familiarise yourself with the terms minor, significant and large-scale collecting set out in Section 4.1.1. If you suspect irresponsible collecting activity that may have damaged the fossil resource you could to take action in accordance with the guidance in section 2.8.
4.2 Amateur collectors interested in research
The 18th and 19th century pioneers of palaeontology were, by today’s standards, almost all amateurs. Even today, geology and palaeontology remain accessible to all and this provides a great opportunity for highly informed amateurs to continue to make significant contributions to palaeontological research. As an amateur collector you may have the opportunity to work on and research a particular fossil locality or area of special interest, and consult research publications on a topic. In time, you may develop considerable knowledge of this special interest, and such detailed knowledge can yield important new information or highlight gaps in existing research.
4.2.1 Working with other amateur collectors and sharing your knowledge
It is important to share the knowledge gained through collecting and to work with other collectors. There are few organised clubs, including those online, that cater for fossil collectors, so it is useful to form a small group of collectors with similar interests. Excursions can be organised to localities, and finds shared, discussed and appreciated. Sharing your knowledge may also be achieved for example by giving a talk at a school or club, showing others your fossil collection, or organising a display of your collection. At such educational events you will have the opportunity to encourage others to take an interest in fossils, the local geology and responsible fossil collecting.
You could share your fossil collecting knowledge and news of finds with other collectors, arrange visits to fossil localities, show you collection to others and encourage others to take an interest in Scotland’s fossil heritage.
4.2.2 Working with researchers
If you have an interest, for example, in taxonomy (classification of organisms) or the ancient environments in which the organisms that gave rise to the fossils lived, you may collect material or gather data that is of scientific value, and worthy of publication. Publication is the main way in which scientific information is made public and some amateurs attain a level of knowledge and skill that enables them to write magazine articles and publish papers in scientific journals. However, collaboration with a professional palaeontologist working in a museum or university is another and often quicker way to publish your finds, and is a better strategy for most amateur palaeontologists.
If you have an interest in undertaking palaeontological research, consider working in collaboration with an expert.
It is relatively straightforward to find out to whom an approach should be made at a university, the British Geological Survey, or one of the museums. Successful collaborations of this nature are common in palaeontology and the levels of achievement and subsequent rewards to the amateur can be significant and satisfying. If you wish to participate in research it is essential to maintain the best standards of data recording and collection management as advocated in the Scottish Fossil Code.
4.3 Commercial collectors and dealers
In the business of commercial extraction and sale of fossils, the roles of Commercial Collector and Fossil Dealer may be defied as:
‘Commercial Fossil Collector’ –someone whose income is obtained partly or wholly through the employment of themselves and/or others in the physical collection of fossils and their sale.
‘Fossil Dealer’ – buys, sells or exchanges fossils originally collected by others not directly in their employ.
These roles are frequently combined.
4.3.1 Resource selection and the discovery of new fossil localities
As a commercial collector you should ideally be involved in identifying new locations for collection rather than seeking permission to further reduce the reserves at known localities that already have statutory protection as SSSI. Be aware that large excavations may require planning permission from the appropriate authority and that terms for the extraction and sale of fossil material will have to be agreed with the owner of the mineral rights and other land managers.
You must agree terms for the commercial exploitation of a fossil locality with the owners or their representatives.
Newly discovered localities producing notable fossils should be worked in close liaison with museum, university-based or British Geological Survey palaeontologists. Working in this way will allow a co-operative and sympathetic partnership that will best serve the commercial, scientific and natural heritage interests. All parties, and Scotland’s fossil heritage, can benefit greatly from such co-operation.
For the benefit of both science and education, efforts should be made to work with landowners and the local Geodiversity Conservation group to determine the feasibility of permanent retention of fossiliferous sections produced though large-scale excavation.
In partnership with others you should consider the permanent retention of a new exposure.
4.3.2 Systematised collecting and information recording
The commercial exploitation of fossil localities should be well planned and undertaken responsibly and systematically. This should entail the keeping of accurate records of the rock layer sequence exploited, important in any future research work conducted on the fossil specimens. A photographic record of the work and a written account should be lodged with the landowner and owner of the mineral rights for posterity and with the local museum.
Documentation including locality data should accompany specimens that are marketed.
4.4 Large field parties
Many locations in Scotland that are important for their fossil heritage attract groups such as geological societies, and university and school study parties, largely for educational purposes. With the attention of many potential collectors focussed on an area, a vulnerable fossil locality may be at threat from over collecting.
It is essential therefore that in leading a large group you ensure that the spirit of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) and the Scottish Fossil Code is upheld by encouraging good practice in accessing fossil localities and in all aspects of collecting and data recording.
As a group leader you should bring the Scottish Fossil Code and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code to the attention of the group members and be aware of any restrictions at any fossil location(s) visited.
Palaeontological research requires a resource of fossil material with which to work. However, if you are collecting for research purposes you have a duty to collect responsibly to ensure the sustainable use of the fossil-bearing resource to enable the continuation of future research. No researcher has the right to ‘dig out’, in other words, remove in its entirety, a fossil-bearing resource. Research collecting of a finite fossil-bearing resource should adopt a multidisciplinary approach to minimise the impact of excavation thereby maintaining resource viability for future research.
You should strive to minimise the quantity of material removed and the amount of damage undertaken at a fossil locality.
Research collecting from finite fossil-bearing resource should be multidisciplinary.
You should also contribute to the conservation of the fossil resource, through detailed fossil provenance recording, curating the material you collect. Effort should be made to maximise use of fossils already held in museum, university, and British Geological Survey collections. Searches should be undertaken of specimen databases for existing specimens and collections of material from a particular fossil locality. By doing so, present and future researchers can use existing collected and curated material and associated information, without having to resample a location’s diminishing resource. Your responsibilities also extend to becoming familiar with the best means of preparing and preserving fossil samples.
Use should also be made of the skills, experience and knowledge of amateur and commercial collectors if appropriate safeguards and checks are in place.
Maximum use must be made of fossils already held in existing collections, using only curated material for research that is to be published.
Collected research material should be curated in a museum or British Geological Survey collection.
You should ensure that rock faces are not disfigured with core holes and permanently engraved or painted numbers or symbols, especially in aesthetically sensitive locations. Effort should be taken to restore or/and disguise areas of rock face or loose blocks where there has been extensive sampling and excavation work to remove important fossil material. This not only has aesthetic benefit but is less likely to attract the attention of other collectors to your research locality.
The Geologists' Association's Geological Fieldwork Code should be adhered to.
Fostering good relations with those that have given their permission to extract, collect and retain fossil specimens, should include offering copies of any resulting publications and, if appropriate, duplicates of fossils to show other visitors.
4.6 Quarry operators, managers and developers
If you operate, manage or work a quarry from which fossiliferous rock is extracted, you are encouraged to find out about any fossils that are to be found there. Any unusual or rare fossils uncovered during quarrying should be set aside and the local museum, university or the British
Geological Survey alerted to enable their study and collection.
Any unusual or rare fossils uncovered during quarrying should be set aside and experts in palaeontology alerted to enable their study and collection.
Sympathy should be given to the interests of hobbyists, researchers, commercial collectors and educational groups in granting access to the land for collecting. Those given access and collecting permission should be encouraged to collect responsibly and follow the Scottish Fossil Code. Close working and co-operative arrangements may be fostered between quarry operators and staff and those with an interest in fossils exposed by quarrying. Collaboration can be of benefit to all, and the fossil resource.
If following the cessation of quarrying, after-use proposals include infilling, efforts should be made to maximise opportunities to rescue any fossil resource and associated data which would be lost by infill of the site. In addition, efforts should be made to conserve the most important areas and faces in a stable and safe condition to facilitate future research, fossil collecting, and use of the site as an educational resource.
4.7 Operators of websites that promote fossil collecting in Scotland
The promotion of the geological and palaeontological heritage of Scotland via Internet websites has educational and general awareness-raising value. Such websites can represent a useful resource, providing general geological information, illustrating fossil material and detailing information specific to particular fossil localities. They may have an associated club that organises field trips or fora through which experiences of collecting may be shared. However, promotion of the palaeontological heritage of Scotland via Internet websites should be undertaken in a responsible manner. Every effort should be made to ensure information supplied is accurate, does not encourage exploitation and damage to SSSIs and fossil localities generally
Websites that promote fossil locations in Scotland should encourage responsible collecting and adherence to the Scottish Fossil Code and carry a link to the Code on NatureScot’s website.
4.8 Collectors from outside Scotland
Fossil collectors from outside the UK must be aware of the legalities of fossil resource ownership, and the SSSI system of palaeontological resource management, when planning and undertaking collecting visits to Scotland (see Section 2.4.1., particularly the paragraph on signage).
Collectors from overseas have a responsibility to collect fossils in accordance with the laws and best practice in Scotland.
4.9 Those that wish to promote their local fossil heritage
If no local museum deals with fossils or provides a public service, then those who seek to promote and safeguard their local fossil heritage may well feel the solution is to set up a museum. The Scottish Museums Council provides valuable advice and guidance that will help you think about what you really want to do, and can realistically achieve. However, there are many ways to raise awareness, interest, and understanding amongst local people and visitors, of your local fossil heritage, which do not involve setting up a museum with a formal collection. Possibilities include:
- producing interpretive materials such as leaflets and on-site panels;
- creation of a website or using other on-line media;
- organising local talks and planning open days and activities for families;
- preparing displays of local fossils; and
- preparing press releases and engaging the media
Where appropriate and practical, loans from museums such as the National Museums Scotland may be organised. Clearly, if you want to display borrowed fossils in a visitor centre, then that means an appropriate degree of security and insurance cover will also be required.
ESSENTIALS OF THE SCOTTISH FOSSIL CODE
Seek permission - In practice, common fossils and small geological specimens have traditionally been collected without permission and usually without hindrance. However, you are acting within the law if you obtain permission to extract, collect and retain fossils.
Access responsibly - Consult the Scottish Outdoor Access Code prior to accessing land. Be aware that there are restrictions on access and collecting at some locations protected by statute.
Collect responsibly - Exercise restraint in the amount collected and the equipment used. Be careful not to damage fossils and the fossil resource. Record details of both the location and the rocks from which fossils are collected.
Seek advice - If you find an exceptional or unusual fossil do not try to extract it; but seek advice from an expert. Also seek help to identify fossils or dispose of an old collection.
Label and look after - Collected specimens should be labelled and taken good care of.
Donate - If you are considering donating a fossil or collection choose an accredited museum, or one local to the collection area.
Owner and land manager responsibilities:
Owners of fossil localities and those that mange the land have an important role in the conservation of the fossil heritage. Your responsibilities include ensuring that any fossil collecting taking place follows the best practice set out in the Scottish Fossil Code.
THE ROLE AND VALUE OF SCOTLAND’S MUSEUM AND OTHER PUBLIC COLLECTIONS
Many Scottish fossils are held in public museums. Museums are important places for the public to see, learn about and handle fossils. They are also important for palaeontological research, and have a role in tourism and encouraging the wider public understanding of Scotland’s fossil heritage. Museums are important for preserving the information about specimens just as much as for the specimens themselves. Given their importance, this part of the Scottish Fossil Code concerns collections in Scotland and fossil donations to museums.
1. The nature of fossil collections
As an important resource of our geological heritage, fossils in museum collections must be looked after, just as much as new finds. Old museum specimens and new finds complement each other. Older finds are often the only evidence of fossils from quarries and fossil locations that are now worked out or infilled. They may also be historically interesting. Newer finds tend to have more complete information and to have been collected with more modern techniques.
Fossils in private collections are not normally publicly accessible; in the long run, well documented private collections often end up in museums, whose collections frequently grow more in this way than by direct field collection. The collections of Scottish fossils in National Museums Scotland include vast and important collections which initially were in private hands, but which are now part of the National Collections and are available for study.
2. Museum Accreditation
Museum accreditation is a voluntary quality assurance scheme for museums across the United Kingdom. It was formerly known as the Museum Registration Scheme. It recognizes that a museum conforms to, or is working towards, basic nationally agreed standards of collections care and documentation, organization and management, and services to users. In particular, it helps safeguard the collection if the holding institution is dissolved (for example goes bankrupt). Accreditation is increasingly used as a benchmark by funding organizations (for instance, the National Heritage Lottery Fund).
3. Museum services in Scotland
Different museums are run in different ways and with different priorities as regards fossils. Many museums have collections and perhaps also displays of fossils, but only some have specialist curators such as geologists or palaeontologists on their staff, or as volunteers. In other words, not all museums, even those with fossil collections, have people with a wide knowledge of fossils.
The Appendix to the Scottish Fossil Code lists just some Scottish museums with substantial collections (though this can vary from thousands to millions of specimens). Most have displays of fossils (allowing for closures and renovations), but rather fewer have palaeontologists on their staff at any given time.
Museums with small collections are not listed for practical reasons, but that does not mean that their collections are not useful. Some, such as the Hugh Miller Museum at Cromarty, and the Scottish Mining Museum at Newtongrange, hold interesting fossil collections in support of the broader aims of the organisations.
Scottish fossils are also held by museums in other parts of the UK (for example the Natural History Museum in London) and abroad. This is testimony to palaeontology being an international science.
3.1 National Museums Scotland
Scotland's national museum service is National Museums Scotland, which is partly funded by the Scottish Government. It has an important national fossil collection of its own and displays fossils to the public at its museums and by loans to other Scottish museums. It has specialist palaeontological staff experienced in the study and research of fossils, and in their interpretation to the public. National Museums Scotland collects its own finds of fossils, as well as those found by others and also offers advice, expertise and co-operation to the museums community across Scotland.
3.2 University museums
University museums include The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow, which collects fossils from all over the world. The Hunterian has specialist staff experienced in the study and research of fossils, and in their interpretation to the public.
3.3 Local museums
Many local museums, run either by local authorities or independent trusts, have fossil collections. Local museums tend to focus on a particular geographical area, although they will sometimes have fossils from elsewhere in Scotland and beyond, to complement their local fossils.
Many local museums have geological collections, perhaps acquired long ago. Only some have specialist staff in the natural sciences including geologists or palaeontologists, but they provide a valuable service over much of Scotland.
3.4 British Geological Survey
The British Geological Survey (BGS) holds a major collection of Scottish fossils in its Edinburgh office. Access for bona fide study is available by appointment or loan, and public displays form part of BGS Open Days. It has experienced palaeontologists available to answer enquiries from the public. The Survey also holds significant collections of Scottish fossils at its headquarters in Keyworth, Nottinghamshire, and these are also available for study by appointment. Internet access to the collections database is available on the BGS website.
3.5 Scottish Museums Council
The Scottish Museums Council (SMC) is the membership organisation for museums and galleries in Scotland. It provides advice and funding from the Scottish Government to all museums (except for National Museums Scotland which is directly funded) but does not offer specialist advice on collecting objects, and does not take a direct role in dealing with fossils.
4 The use of fossils in museums
Museums usually add new specimens to their permanent collections for one or more of the following reasons:
Display – the fossil is an especially good, complete and clear example, which will enhance a display. Only a small proportion of fossils in a museum will be on display. The majority are usually in storage. Some are unsuitable for display purposes but are held for reference and research. Many may go on display in the future, as permanent and temporary exhibitions change.
Local provenance – the fossil helps build up a representative collection of finds in the geographical area of especial interest to the museum.
Study and research – the fossil is interesting to palaeontologists, for example because it is evidence for the occurrence of a particular organism at a particular place and time, or because it shows certain features of the original animal. The most important specimens are those that have been cited in papers published in scientific journals. This reflects partly their inherent scientific value, and partly the importance which publication confers. Good science demands that work can be repeated by other scientists, thus scientists must be able to examine published specimens. Therefore it is especially important that such specimens are permanently placed in public collections. Specimens which are simply mentioned or discussed in publications are called cited specimens; figured specimens are more important, as they have been illustrated in publications; most important of all are type specimens – those which are the defined reference specimens for a species or genus of animal, plant or microorganism. On these rest all classification, and therefore all palaeontology.
Teaching – where fossils are abundant or critical in helping students understand the uses, preservation, and meaning of fossils. If the fossil is rare, but an important teaching tool, it is sometimes moulded and cast to allow more students an equal learning opportunity.
Historical importance – the fossil was found, or is otherwise associated with, an interesting historical figure, perhaps a famous scientist or author, or a local collector.
Handling and exchange specimens – these specimens are not registered in the permanent collections but provide a really worthwhile service, used for handling by school parties and visitors, or loaned out to schools. They are inevitably relatively prone to damage and loss in a way which would be unacceptable for the permanent collections. Exchange specimens are saved for swapping with collectors and other museums, or for giving out to schools for them to keep.