Skye dinosaur fossils given Nature Conservation Order protection

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon signs the NCO alongside Staffin Museum owner Dugald Ross (right) and Alex Turner of Scottish Natural Heritage. Photos by Willie Urquhart – WHFP.

A Nature Conservation Order which will protect vertebrate dinosaur fossils on Skye was signed on Thursday at the Staffin Dinosaur Museum.

Internationally-recognised Jurassic sites on Skye, containing rare evidence of how dinosaurs and early mammals lived many millions of years ago, have been granted greater vital legal status, to help ensure their protection for future generations.

The Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon, joined Staffin Museum owner Dugald Ross and Scottish Natural Heritage Area Manager for Skye and Lochalsh, Alex Turner on Thursday to sign a Nature Conservation Order at Staffin Museum, home of dinosaur bones and footprints found nearby.

The key aim of the NCO is to prevent rare vertebrate fossils from being damaged through irresponsible collection and removal from Skye’s globally important fossil sites. Importantly, the NCO aims to encourage local people and the wider public to take an interest in and report any potentially important fossil finds.

Explaining what the NCO means in practical terms for visitors to the area, Mr Turner told the Free Press: “The Nature Conservation Order covers a number of rocks around the coast, basically where the Jurassic rocks are. It includes areas around Trotternish and areas in the south of Skye around Elgol as well, but only protecting vertebrate fossils – both fossils and the imprints, so things like footprints.

“The idea is that they will be protected from damage, so it protects against people trying to remove them. It also encourages people to report their finds to us (Scottish Natural Heritage) and to Dugald Ross at the Staffin (Dinosaur) Museum. Then that allows those fossils to be studied and put on display in places likes this.

He added: “Also some of the fossils like the dinosaur footprints will be left in situ, we recognise that they are an important tourism asset and a lot of people come here to see them, and it is really important they come to see those.”

In the past, important fossil discoveries have been damaged by hammering, with specimens taken from the island and moved to private collections. In 2016 an attempt to take a plaster cast of a dinosaur footprint at An Corran risked significant damage to a feature that has become an important tourist attraction.

Commenting on the significance of the NCO, Staffin Dinosaur Museum owner Dugald Ross told the Free Press: “I am delighted it has happened. As Alex Turner has just explained, it just adds a further dimension to the protection of these internationally-important fossils.

“You know we have seen instances of careless collecting in the past, whether deliberate or accidental. The new bill just furthers the protection of these fossils.”

Dugald Ross gives Minister for the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon an insight into a 175 million-year-old Centiosaurus Mid-Jurassic dinosaur limb bone, which was the first recorded dinosaur fossil from Scotland – found one kilometre from the Staffin Dinosaur Museum in 1994.

Following the signing of the NCO, Minister for the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon told the Free Press: “When it crossed my desk, I thought that this would be one of the most exciting things I’ve had the chance to be involved in.

“Even looking at some of the fossils just recently discovered – they are 175 million years old, it’s absolutely incredible!

“That’s why I think this is really important – this conservation order – because it raises awareness of what’s here first of all, but it also brings in that vital protection for the finds that people discover here.

“She added: As has already been said, a lot of those, such as the bigger footprints will be left in situ. It is really there so that if people find something they let Duggie in the museum or Scottish Natural Heritage know, so we can protect this for generations going forward and keep what is a hugely important asset, not just for Scotland but internationally as well.”

Staffin Dinosaur Museum owner Dugald Ross and Minister Mairi Gougeon welcomed the introduction of the Nature Conservation Order.

Known as the dinosaur capital of Scotland, the rich Middle Jurassic fossil fauna of Skye is gradually being revealed with new discoveries continuing to be made.  These include some of the first fossil evidence of dinosaur parenting. Housed at Staffin Museum, a rock slab shows the footprints of baby dinosaurs, together with the print of an adult.  It is expected that Skye is also home to fossil remains of flying reptiles, and confirmation of this will firmly place the island in the international dinosaur hall of fame.

Welcoming the exciting development, Ms Gougeon added that she had plenty of family and friends who would be keen to embark on a fossil hunt on the island. She said: “I have members of my family who are absolutely dinosaur mad, and this is a part of Skye I haven’t visited before, so I look forward to bringing my family and friends here. I want to go exploring and discovering to see if I can find any fossils, too, so I’ll definitely be back!”

The NCO will cover the Skye sites of An Corran, Duntulm Lob Score, Valtos, Elgol, and Bearreraig Bay.

In areas affected by the NCO, vertebrate fossils may not be collected, and the public and amateur collectors are being encouraged to contact the police if they witness attempts to remove rock or fossil remains particularly if it involves equipment such as rock saws, crowbars, and sledgehammers.

The public, by following the Scottish Fossil Code can still collect easier to find fossil remains of marine Jurassic fossils such as ammonites, lying loose on the beaches of Skye. 

Article by Adam Gordon