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Fossil and mineral collecting

The collecting of fossils and minerals is often considered by geologists as an integral part of field work. Many specimens are more valuable to science when removed from the rock than they are in-situ, provided that they are collected in a responsible manner, properly cared for, catalogued and made available for use in a suitable museum. Fossil and mineral collecting has contributed significantly to the development of geology as a science, and to the understanding of the geological history of the UK. Without collectors, much material would be lost or discarded. Old collections of minerals and fossils found in museums can still today be of great use.

In the UK, fossil and mineral collecting in designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) is restricted to that for genuine and justifiable scientific purposes only, otherwise it constitutes an 'operation likely to damage' the resource. Elsewhere in the UK, it is restricted by recommendation or voluntary code of conduct.

Fossil collecting in fossil-rich areas, such as the Dorset coast can cause problems and disputes. The cliffs in Dorset are full of fossils, including large vertebrates which are both important scientifically, and have significant financial value. In addition, however, the cliffs are eroding very rapidly, and it is considered essential that people collect the fossil material available on the beach, especially in periods of bad weather. Without the collecting effort, many fossils would be destroyed by the sea. In areas such as this, collecting is accepted, but removal of in-situ specimens is forbidden without permission. A pilot fossil collecting code of conduct for west Dorset Coast has been produced to attempt to control and manage fossil collecting in this area. The code also recognises that there is no other way of dealing with fossil collecting in areas like these. The beaches cannot be policed to ensure that fossils aren't removed, so the only way of managing it is through co-operation. The code can be found by at:
http://www.charmouth.org

A similar approach is being attempted in North Yorkshire on the Dinosaur Coast. Again, a large number of potentially valuable and scientifically important fossils can be found. The emphasis is place on collecting already displaced material, and on reporting finds so that a record of fossil finds and locations can be generated.

However, some rare fossil and mineral reserves are highly localised and have only a limited supply of material, such as an accumulation of fossil bones in a cave. At such sites, irresponsible collecting can be very damaging. The conservation of such rare and irreplaceable sites in Britain is becoming increasingly important as they represent a finite, non-renewable resource. In many of these cases, conservation of the site will require that collecting is carefully managed to ensure that the maximum amount of information is gained and the site remains available for appropriate use in the future.

A report has been written regarding the sustainable site-based management of collecting pressure at palaeontological sites, discussing how to manage fossil collecting at various sites. Click here to find out more:

Further information about collecting codes of conduct can be found here:

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