The landforms, rocks, minerals and fossils of the UK are a vast and valuable resource, and tell the story of the country's long and complicated history. They provide evidence of past life, environments and conditions, stretching back over 2,800 million years. The variety of these rocks, fossils, minerals, natural processes and soils that underlie and determine the character of our landscape and environment is defined as 'geodiversity', and the most widely used term for the conservation of our geodiversity is 'geoconservation'.
Geoconservation in the UK involves recognising, protecting and managing sites and landscapes identified as important for their rocks, fossils, minerals, or other geological or geomorphological features of interest.
Some of the concepts of geoconservation are still being developed, in particular those related to the wider landscape and climate change, and more discussion and debate will be needed before these developing concepts can be turned into practical applications. However, in some areas a good deal has been achieved in the UK by JNCC and the country nature conservation bodies (CNCBs) – Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage – including developing an understanding of the links between biodiversity and geodiversity, and the creation of the UK Geodiversity Action Plan (UK GAP).
Relevant JNCC Earth heritage publications include:
- Guidelines for selection of Earth Science SSSIs (1993)
- Conserving our Fossil Heritage – Position Statement (1997)
- Common Standards Monitoring Guidance for Earth Science Sites (2004)
- Common Standards Monitoring: First Six year Report – Geology (2006) (PDF, 580kb)
- Involving People in Geodiversity (2005) (PDF, 1.7Mb)
- Geoconservation in the Overseas Territories of the UK (2009) (PDF, 860kb)
- Ecosystem sensitivity and responses to change: understanding the links between geodiversity and biodiversity at the landscape scale (2011) (PDF, 2.1Mb)
The Geological Conservation Review
A major component of JNCC's work has been the development of the Geological Conservation Review (GCR) (a similar initiative, the Earth Science Conservation Review (ESCR), exists in Northern Ireland). The GCR began in 1977 under the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC), and was a major step forward in Earth heritage conservation, and is an international first. No other country has attempted such a systematic and comprehensive review of its Earth heritage. The GCR was designed to identify those sites of national and international importance needed to show all the key scientific elements of the Earth heritage of Britain. These sites display sediments, rocks, fossils, and features of the landscape that make a special contribution to our understanding and appreciation of Earth science and the geological history of Britain, which stretches back over 2,800 million years. After over two decades of site evaluation and documentation, over 3,000 GCR sites were selected for around 100 categories (GCR 'Blocks'), encompassing the range of geological and geomorphological features of Britain.
Although the main phase of the GCR was concluded in 1990, advances in science mean that periodic review of certain parts of the GCR is required in order to ensure that the GCR remains credible and robust. Updating the GCR is therefore an ongoing process, and is undertaken by the appropriate country nature conservation body (CNCB) – Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, or Scottish Natural Heritage.
The GCR Series
The results of the Geological Conservation Review (GCR) programme have been published in a series of 45 volumes, the Geological Conservation Review Series. The aim of the Geological Conservation Review Series is to provide a public record of the features of interest and importance at localities already notified or being considered for notification as 'Sites of Special Scientific Interest' (SSSIs). The sites selected – GCR sites – form the basis of statutory geological and geomorphological site conservation in Britain.
This hugely important programme is fundamental to the identification of geological SSSIs, European Geoparks and Global Geoparks, and natural World Heritage Sites, and underpins the expert geoconservation advice provided by the country nature conservation bodies (CNCBs).
Publication of the GCR series transferred to the Geologists' Association in 2011, and the final nine volumes (Volume 37 onwards) are being published as Special Issues of the Proceedings of the Geologists' Association.
THE GCR database
In addition to the detailed site reports available in the series, JNCC has developed the GCR site database, which contains basic site information for the 3,000 GCR sites selected, together with some fuller reports (as published in the GCR volumes). Users of the resource can search for information in various ways, for example by site name, GCR Block (geological context), or geographical location.