Save Siccar Point: an open letter to Scottish Borders Council


Subject: 12/00929/FUL Objection Comment. Addressees  and Cc. Scottish Natural Heritage:; Scottish Environmental Protection Agency:; Crown Estates:; Dunglass Estate:

Esteemed Councillors,

I write to protest in the strongest possible terms about plans to build a waste pipeline cutting through land immediately adjacent to Siccar Point, which is an integral part of its geological and aesthetic setting.

I had the privilege of visiting Siccar Point this summer. The appearance of the Point itself was familiar to me from illustrations, but the setting, with Old Red Sandstone cliffs exposed to the north, and to the south a beach along which ran the older strata, tilted up on end, was a revelation. Yet it is precisely across this shoreline that there are now plans to build a concrete-encased waste pipe for the disposal of vegetable washings of high organic content.

Siccar Point is the most important single site in the entire history of geology. It is here that James Hutton, prominent member of the Scottish Enlightenment, found the first convincing evidence of deep time, of ongoing cycles of uplift and erosion, the insight central to the newly born science of geology. It features in textbooks the world over. It is a place of pilgrimage not only for professional scientists, but for all who cherish the workings of our planet. It is a unique educational resource, attracting students, scholars, and members of the general public from far and wide, and I must say that for me the experience of visiting it surpassed all expectation.

The entire significance of the location is, that it is the meeting point of the Old Red Sandstone with the much older underlying greywacke, with the latter folded and tilted so dramatically that the originally horizontal strata now lie vertical. These older strata are actually seen to better advantage on the shoreline directly south of the Point, where they present a spectacle of unrivalled majesty and beauty. It is precisely across this shoreline that it is now proposed to build a waste pipeline. I find it incredible that anyone could wish to do such a thing.

There are other, secondary, considerations which in themselves should give pause for thought. How wise is it to run a pipeline of this kind down a steep and unstable cliff? What will the consequences be of erosion and possible exposure, or even fracture, of the pipe? Is it sensible to be discarding such a volume of rotting vegetable matter along this historic coast line, also home to busy holiday resorts, and a playground for young children? Have not serious doubts been expressed about how close the end of the proposed pipeline is to the low water mark? What will the impact be on the marine environment and local fishing of all this added organic matter? Should we, indeed, be disposing of this material as waste, or converting it into a resource by composting? But all of these are, as I said, secondary to the primary concern for the site itself.

My own credentials: I am a former chemistry professor, now honorary senior research associate at Glasgow University. I have been involved in research topics related to geology for over 30 years. My work in this area has been funded by NASA, I have been an associate of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, and I have served on the editorial board of the journal Origins of Life and the Evolution of Biospheres. Hutton’s work features in my most recent book, From Stars to Stalagmites, as it must in any book that describes the relevant period in the history of science, the fundamentals of geology, or (coming closer to home) the achievements of the Scottish Enlightenment.


Paul S. Braterman, MA, DPhil., DSc.


About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on September 1, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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