Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe: a resource being revitalised

A while ago, SKD published a critique of the poor geoconservation practices on one of England’s most productive Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) of Mississippian age – the so-called scraped surface at Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe, Lancashire (Grayson, 1981; Bowden et al., 1997; Kabrna, 2011, locality 4) (Fig. 1; and see also Donovan, 2011). The locality is one of the best sites for Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous) echinoderms in northern Europe. It is particularly good for crinoids, but also for rarer blastoids and, if you are willing to process bulk samples, the spines and plates of echinoids (Donovan et al., 2003; Donovan & Lewis, 2011; Donovan, in press). However, when it was visited by SKD in 2010, the geological features were being overgrown by grasses and other plants; that is, the geological SSSI was being transformed, passively, into a botanical nature reserve.

Figure 1
Fig. 1. The crinoid bank (locality 4 of Kabrna, 2011) as it was in 2010, largely obscured by grass (after Donovan, 2011, fig. 1). Collectors (left and middle) approximately define the poor exposure of bedded limestone at that time, which extended a little way past the bush in the centre. The best collecting was along this line and lower, where crinoid debris accumulated as a fossil-enriched gravel. For an earlier view of this slope, see Donovan (2012, fig. 3A, B).

This situation persisted until recently. In April 2014, PK sent the following welcome e-mail to SKD:

“Following a talk on the Carboniferous geology of the Craven Basin two years ago for the Bowland AONB [Area of Natural Beauty] organisation, I levelled a ‘constructive’ criticism of the state of Salthill Quarry’s collecting ground and overgrown localities. I was not aware that in the audience there was a representative of Natural England, and also the Lancashire Wildlife Trust person who manages Salthill. At last things have been addressed this month. Of interest to you will be the turning-over of the slope where the crinoids can be found” (Fig. 2).

Figure 2
Fig. 2. Excavation under way in April 2014. This is approximately the area near the bottom of the slope, marked by the collector on the left in Fig. 1.

The earliest that we could all meet at the site was mid-July 2014 (Fig. 3). That is, for three months, the fresh exposure had been picked over by the local community of enthusiastic amateurs, school groups and so on. Despite arriving late in the day, collecting crinoids was good, certainly better than for many years hitherto. The easiest collecting was from float, which is a gravel rich in crinoid debris, particularly columnals and pluricolumnals, but also with uncommon cups and thecae (Fig. 4).

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