Monday, 10 September 2012

Stan Wood

Stan Wood died yesterday. He was an amazing man and a hero of palaeontology. He wasn't a fossil collector, he was a fossil hunter. His finds over the years have changed the way we understand the colonisation of land, the development of four-legged creatures, the very evolution of life. It's no surprise to anyone who knows him that the new material he has amassed over the past few years should turn out to be his most important yet. His dogged persistence and innate feel for the rocks led him to discovery after discovery where many had given up before him. His loss is a loss to science, and will be felt deeply.

I knew him first by reputation, then for a long time as my boss. It was always interesting working for Stan. I think it's fair to say he was an idiosyncratic man. Field work was hard, physical work and he led by example. It usually involved wading in waist deep water and crushingly heavy rucksacks. He was happy in the field, though, and it was a genuine pleasure to share that with him. Working in the shop, on the other hand, didn't appeal quite so much. He was a reluctant last resort mostly, and it was in everybody's interest to keep it that way. Often, he'd leave the door propped open and go wandering, returning to find bewildered would-be customers standing by the counter with fossil in hand. He did enjoy the conversations with interested customers, though, and there were always plenty of those.

Lastly, though, I was lucky enough to be able to consider him a friend. He did a great deal for me and I'll never forget that. I'll miss him terribly. Goodbye, Stan.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Siccar Point is a cliff in Berwickshire, not far from Cockburnspath.

James Hutton, known by many as the 'father of modern geology', noticed an unconformity there that helped convince him of the vast periods of time involved in the formation of rocks. And then, subsequently, to consider the age of the the Earth and other such important things. It's a bit of an iconic spot in geology. Oh, and it turns out James Hutton is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard, behind the shop. Didn't know that until recently.

Last week I got an email saying there were plans submitted by a vegetable processing firm to lay a pipeline across the foreshore by Siccar Point to pump all their leftover sprout leaves* into the sea. The deadline for objections to be submitted was that afternoon. Now, I'm pretty lazy by nature, but it struck me as strange that something along those lines would even be considered appropriate for one of our national scientific landmarks. So I looked into it, felt it was a bad idea in general and took the time to register on the Scottish Borders Council site, wait for my confirmatory email and lodge my comment. At the time, there were two objections showing.

Less than a week later, there are currently nearly two hundred. From all over the world - the US, Brazil, Germany, France, Switzerland, Aberdeen, Ireland, The Netherlands, Belgium, and so on. You can see them, by visiting the site and putting in the reference number of the plans - 12/00929. Click on the attached documents and have a browse - it's interesting reading. The depth of feeling is heartening. The process was certainly helped along by the website set up to alert those concerned to the potential development - many of the comments reference the site, certainly. But also the various geological research and general interest groups had spread the word quickly. Quite an impressive rallying call, as befits an international treasure.  I regularly get visitors to the shop asking how to get to Siccar Point. I've even drawn a map to help them...

Anyway. I hope the proposal will at least be looked at very, very carefully. The deadline for comment has been extended to the 23rd of September. The eyes of the geological world will be watching now and it would be careless to allow the integrity and dignity of such an attraction to be marred by an ill-considered industrial development. I'm not against the firm's expansion at all - I just think there has to be an alternative to dumping tons of rubbish into the sea. 

*And/or other such greenery. You can read the finer details in the proposal, and on the savesiccarpoint site..