The conservation of Britain's limestone cave resource


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Environmental Geology

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Limestone caves are an important scientific and recreational resource in Britain. During the mid- to late 1970s, cavers and statutory conservation bodies cooperated in a review of cave resources which resulted in the designation of 48 caves or cave areas as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). During the same period, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 was introduced to provide more effective planning controls on activities such as agriculture carried out within SSSI boundaries. In one case, at Priddy in the Mendip Hills of Somerset, landowners prevented access to a number of caves in protest over the new, tougher restrictions on agriculture. Faced with the closure, and perceiving that their recreational use of caves might also be controlled, local cavers joined the landowners in opposing the proposals for SSSI designation. As a result the proposals were reviewed, three caves were excluded from the site and controls on the remaining area were relaxed. The case emphasized a need for an effective system to take account of all factors affecting cave conservation, a need which has led to a more constructive dialogue between nature conservation bodies, caver organizations and other interested parties.

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