Scotland’s rocks and landforms provide a range of benefits and help us to understand how the Earth has evolved. Our protected Earth science features are almost all in good condition, but we know little about the state of rocks and landforms outside protected sites
- Scotland’s rocks and landforms (geology and geomorphology), created by natural processes over the last 3 billion years, are of national and international importance for demonstrating key geological processes and events in the Earth’s history.
Siccar Point on the southeast coast of Scotland is world-renowned in geological science, famous for outcrops that reveal 'Hutton's Unconformity', and is a location rightly regarded by many as the birthplace of modern geology.
Siccar Point - the birthplace of modern geology - British Geological Survey
- Rocks and landforms are part of Scotland’s rich geodiversity – the variety of rocks, minerals, fossils, landforms, sediments and soils, and the natural processes that form and alter them (known as geomorphological processes).
Rocks and landforms in Rum - © Laurie Campbell - Scottish Natural Heritage
- Scotland is made up of a wide variety of rocks and sediments of different ages including:
- rocks formed from sediments (such as sand and mud) and by volcanic activity throughout geological time;
- some of the oldest rocks in the world (hard rocks deformed by heat and pressure deep inside the Earth over 3 billion years ago);
- deposits left by glaciers a few thousand years ago;
- river, lake and coastal sediments, some still accumulating today;
- fossils, some of which are internationally important;
- economic resources, such as aggregates and crushed rock, coal, oil and metal ores including rare and precious minerals.
- Scotland’s landforms have been shaped over time by water, wind, waves, ice and landslides.
- The advance and retreat of glaciers have created many of the landforms we see today, such as mountain corries, deep lochs and the crag-and-tail hills on which Edinburgh and Stirling Castles sit.
- Our varied coastline was formed by many processes, including sea-level changes caused by the last ice age. Today, we have the highest cliffs and some of the largest sand dunes in the UK, as well as important mudflats and salt marshes.
- There are many different river features formed by a range of river types, from steep mountain torrents to meandering channels in the lowlands.
Creag Meagaidh - © Copyright Lorne Gill - Scottish Natural Heritage
- Our geodiversity is the foundation of our biodiversity, scenery, and cultural heritage and naturally regulates hazards such as flooding.
- Understanding how rocks and landforms change over time will help us understand and adapt to current issues, such as climate change and rising sea levels. Mismanagement of our rocks and landforms could reduce our ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
- Scotland has a long history of minor earthquakes, with magnitudes mostly below 4 on the Richter local magnitude scale. Landslides most often occur on steep slopes. Many recent landslides in Scotland have been initiated during prolonged or extreme rainfall, and a number have caused disruption to transport routes.
The British Geological Survey (BGS) is a data-rich organisation with over 400 datasets in its care; including environmental monitoring data, digital databases, physical collections (borehole core, rocks, minerals and fossils), records and archives. The data is managed by the National Geoscience Data Centre.
- view geology data through the Geology of Britain map window and as a Web Map Services
- access to over a million borehole scans
- search and download photos from the GeoScenic geological photo archive
Provides the geoscience community with a web site to enable recording of geohazards and geoexposures by using an app: iphone / Android
Crowd map - British Geological Survey
How to Report
- By sending an email: BGScitizenScience@bgs.ac.uk
- By filling out the form on the British Geological Survey website
Are you a fan of Minecraft? BGS has reproduced 2D and 3D maps of geology and surrounding islands within the world of Minecraft. This map shows the OS map data on the surface and the rough position of real geology beneath, repeated down to the bedrock.
British Geological Survey has reproduced the 2D geology of mainland Great Britain and surrounding islands within the world of Minecraft.
Make a map
Make-a-map – customisable map of the rock units that are of interest to you – for amateur geologists, students and teachers.
Protected nature sites
The results of Scottish Natural Heritage’s site condition monitoring programme can now be searched live through the Protected Nature Sites data analysis application. Here you can find the number of earth sciences features that have been assessed as favourable, unfavourable or recovering due to management, as well as searching by area, or using more detailed selection tools to find how many earth sciences features have a record of irreversible damage (‘partially destroyed’) at their last assessment. Data on pressures impacting features can also be searched.
What are we doing?
There are around 895 important rock and landform sites in Scotland (identified by the Geological Conservation Review, GCR). Around 75% of these are protected as notified Earth science features in SSSIs, and their condition is monitored under Scottish Natural Heritage’s (SNH) Site Condition Monitoring programme.
Case studies illustrate how individuals and organisations are working to maintain and celebrate Scotland’s geodiversity, and support Scotland’s Geodiversity Charter.
Local GeoConservation – local groups work with local authorities to designate Local Geodiversity Sites, and work to raise awareness of sites and geodiversity through publicity such as leaflets, booklets, posters, interpretation boards and websites, and by developing access and educational usage of sites and trails. Local Geodiversity Sites were previously known as RIGS, Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites.
Geoparks - Celebrating our outstanding geological heritage and its links to culture, education and sustainable economic development though Geoparks.
Policy and legislation
Scotland’s Geodiversity Charter - encourages everyone to work together to raise awareness of, and manage, Scotland’s geodiversity; and to ensure its better integration into policy and guidance to meet Scotland’s economic, social, cultural and environmental needs.
The principal method of protecting a geological feature or landform of national or international importance is through notification within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is a statutory designation made by Scottish Natural Heritage under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.
Legislation only provides limited protection to geodiversity outside SSSIs from the following activities:
- housing, commercial and industrial development;
- mineral extraction, landfill and quarry restoration;
- renewable energy developments;
- flood-prevention schemes, riverbank protection and coastal defences.
Geoparks, national parks, national nature reserves and local nature conservation sites also help protect rocks and landforms and marine protected areas (MPAs) help protect important sea-bed features.
Scottish Planning Policy provides an approach for the planning system on:
- Construction aggregates;
- Shale gas and coal bed methane;
- Mineral resources; and
- Areas covered by petroleum exploration and development licences (PEDL).
Additional guidance includes:
- Minerals Planning Advice Notes and Specific Advice Sheets (The Scottish Government)
- A guide to minerals information in the central belt of Scotland (The Scottish Government)
- Mineral Planning Factsheets (British Geological Survey)
Scottish Fossil Code (2008) - aims to help protect Scotland’s fossils while encouraging public interest and responsible use.
Scottish Core Code (2011) - combats the growing problem of core holes defacing rock outcrops, provides guidance on responsible and environmentally-acceptable rock coring.
The following areas have completed geodiversity audits:
- West Lothian;
- East Dunbartonshire;
- East Lothian.
As yet there are very few local geodiversity action plans (LGAPs) in Scotland.
These images are subject to copyright and are for single use only. Please contact Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library for further information, Tel: 01738 444 177 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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