Why is ‘Geodiversity’ important to me?

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‘Geodiversity’ is a fairly new, umbrella term that encompasses the immense variety of rocks, fossils, minerals, soils, landforms and geomorphology, together with the processes which govern all of these, on Earth. Ok. Put it that why and it actually sounds rather wide-reaching and complicated! Put simply, geodiversity is about the landscape around us, what forms that landscape and how it is formed, together with why we should pay attention to preserving it. It is about valuing the amazing variety of landscapes around us.

The much wider-used ‘biodiversity’ – the variety of life within any given ecosystem – is almost always directly underpinned by, and indeed affected by, the local geodiversity. This includes ourselves, and the ways in which we as human beings are affected by, interact with, and indeed at times interfere with, the planet’s geology, landscapes and landforms.

The term ‘geodiversity’ is not just another piece of academic jargon, aimed at those working in academic institutions; I would suggest it has been coined for quite a specific purpose. It is about (re)connecting people with the land; asking politicians, teachers, scientists, those working in industry, local people – everyone – to take notice of their local area and help look after it.

Geodiversity, to my mind at least, is a modern term for a fairly ancient set of concepts. The idea of being aware of the land, both physically and ‘mentally’ or emotionally, and the idea that we bear responsibility for looking after the places in which we live and work; both of these older cultural ideas seem pertinent in a discussion of geodiversity. This is perhaps particularly true in localized geodiversity ‘hotspots’, and sites of special scientific interest, of which Scotland and the rest of the UK is lucky enough to have a great many. But it is also equally valuable in those places we take for granted, in our local neighbourhoods, as well as in the areas where we have taken natural resources from the land over recent decades.

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Personally, I am intrigued by the fact that everywhere I walk in Scotland, indeed everywhere I look, there are remnants of every stage of Scotland’s journey across the globe. Scotland has an incredible and unique geodiversity – our small country’s geological history takes us from our origins near the South Pole to where we are today, and the journey is documented in our geological record. It is (at times literally) a melting pot of geological information – the diary of our country’s travels, with all its twists and turns, jolts and violent interventions. Few other countries in the world have such an astonishing variety of rocks, fossils, minerals and landforms of all ages. Our oldest rocks are 3 billion years old, through them we look directly into ‘deep time’; ancient rainforests gave us our rich oil and coal deposits; our beautiful mountain ranges tell the story of continents colliding; and our landscape is peppered with the remains of extinct volcanoes. Our entire country’s story is written in our geodiversity.

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In tribute to all this, there are a number of people in Scotland who are working hard to advance knowledge of geodiversity in the hope of promoting, and ultimately protecting, the landscape and all the life it sustains. The work of the Scottish Geodiversity Forum and all its partners is testament to this drive for recognising the importance of geodiversity (for more details see www.scottishgeodiversityforum.org), and England recently followed suit with their own Geodiversity Charter (for details, see http://www.englishgeodiversityforum.org).

It is undoubtedly true that I write this from a standpoint of great privilege, particularly given the events in recent months elsewhere in the world. I am lucky to live in a geologically ‘placid’ part of the Earth. Scotland is now free from massive earthquakes, from the threat of volcanic eruptions, and from the terrors that geological forces of planet Earth can throw at us. Perhaps it would come as a surprise to some to learn that our own landscapes were formed by these self-same forces, albeit millions of years ago. Large scale events around the world that make the news can perhaps also help us to ‘sit up and take notice’ of our own surroundings – and to recognise the immense value there is in understanding how our own landscapes came about, and learn how to preserve them.

Learning to be aware of geodiversity, and considerate of how the landscape around you is used, is my main point here. If you can learn a little about your local spot and its history, and help care for it, in some small way, then this is what I think geodiversity is ultimately about. Geodiversity covers the immensity of geological time – an unfathomable scale. It is about the past, the present, but perhaps most importantly, looking ahead to the future. And the best way each of us can do that is by starting small, on very much a local scale, and look out for chances to preserve and protect the landscapes and landforms right on our doorsteps.

All text and photographs copyright L. Reid 2015

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