Assessing the conservation value of geological sites in the marine environment
Furze, M. and Roberts, M.J.
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Prepared for the Joint Nature Conservation Committee by the Centre for Applied Oceanography, School of Ocean Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor


The assessment of the conservation value of geological sites in the marine environment was undertaken by the Centre for Applied Oceanography, University of Wales Bangor on behalf of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee Contract Number F90-01-655.  This study follows on from the feasibility study carried out by the University in 2003 ('The Conservation of Nationally Important Marine Geoscience Sites: a feasibility study' (Furze, 2003).
The generation of a preliminary list of prospective offshore candidate sites within the pilot study area has proved to be difficult; this is primarily attributable to both a deficiency with respect to original data and also the availability of existing data. During the compilation of the report it has become clear that a more significant volume of data is available in relation to coastal sites as opposed to those located further offshore.
Data procurement via the BGS is ongoing and will be submitted at a later date as an addendum to this report. The initial list of prospective candidate sites has, as a consequence, been restricted and comprises 49 possible locations. Of these, 15 are existing coastal geomorphology Geological Conservation Review (GCR) sites which have been assessed in order to justify possible extensions into the marine environment. The majority of the remaining 34 sites have been identified by sources within the School of Ocean Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor and from sites listed within the British Geological Survey's Offshore Regional Reports relating to the geology of the Irish Sea and Cardigan Bay. It is, however, considered highly likely that many more additional and smaller prospective sites exist within the pilot study area but have as yet either to be identified or the data related to them is restricted in terms of its distribution or availability.
During the initial phase of the numerical assessment, when reviewing the status of the existing coastal GCR sites, it became clear that additional criteria needed to be considered in order to more accurately assess the possible justification of boundary extension. When assessing the scientific criteria it became evident that all existing coastal GCR sites, together with their prospective extension zones, consistently produced high scores; however, it was considered that any possible justification for an extension into the marine environment would also need to account for a site's 'dependence' upon its immediately adjacent marine environment. This dependence would primarily relate to contemporary processes, for example sediment supply and erosion, which would not/could not necessarily apply to the offshore sites. It was considered that these active processes probably needed to be considered and quantified within the threat criteria section for existing GCR's only, and as a consequence, a 'Correction' factor has subsequently been introduced. The introduction of a correction factor related to a coastal sites inter-dependence upon its adjacent marine environment and its assessed threat value has introduced a 'corrected threat factor' which often enhances the initially evaluated threat factor.
During the initial search, review and assessment of the potential sites, it became clear that most sites have as yet to be either formally identified, named or even assigned technically appropriate scientific descriptions. For the purposes of this report reference numbers have been assigned to the sites assessed.
It is considered that the existing coastal geomorphology GCR sites have been comprehensively reviewed within the preceding report 'The Conservation of Nationally Important Marine Geoscience Sites: a feasibility study. Part 1: Reports A1 to A6'. Contract Number F90-01-600. As a consequence, reports have not been produced in relation to these candidate sites; however, numerical assessments incorporating the corrected threat factor have been carried out.
The marine thematic block assigned to an individual site has, in some cases, not been entirely clear. For example, in the case of the roches moutonnées, rock pinnacles, sea mounds and submarine canyons; the features primarily fall within the category related to the Quaternary, as glacial/postglacial processes have resulted in their formation or appearance. It must, however, be noted that other thematic blocks relating to solid geology could also be utilized in these cases.
Tables have been produced for both the offshore sites and coastal GCR's in an attempt both to illustrate and highlight potentially more important sites which may warrant conservation or extension within the marine environment. The tables have been constructed using scores produced via the scientific criteria section. In cases where equal values for the aforementioned criteria have been produced, a secondary driving mechanism related to the site's potential threat criteria has been implemented. For the purposes of this report, lower potential threat values are deemed to accentuate a site's position in relation to the site's importance and it's potential conservability.
The top scoring offshore site was assigned potential geotope status, whilst the second placed site was defined as potentially three separate 1st order sites nested within larger second order conservation zones. The majority of the other assessed sites were defined as prospective 1st order Marine Earth-science Conservation Areas (MECA's).
The table produced in relation to the coastal sites seemed consistent with the initial assessment conducted within the feasibility report in that it highlighted many of the sites that would possibly benefit from an extension into the sub-tidal environment. These include the sites of Ainsdale, Ynyslas, Newborough and Morfa Dinlle.
No attempt was made to define an accurate boundary with regard to any potential site's exact location and lateral extent. This was largely due to the lack of available data with respect to the majority of sites subjected to numerical evaluation. For the top scoring sites warranting potential conservation, a much more detailed study would be required in order to accurately define and delineate their exact lateral extension within the marine environment.



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Please cite as: Furze, M. and Roberts, M.J., (2004), Assessing the conservation value of geological sites in the marine environment, Online only