What legal protection is there for fossil localities or other geological sites?
The Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000 provides for designation of Natural Heritage Areas (NHAs) which will include geological sites. Until actually designated, there is no real protection for any important sites identified by GSI and recommended for NHA status. However, a number of geological features are protected because they are the underlying reason for a biological or ecological site protected as a National Nature Reserve, National Park or as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). In addition many local authorities have scheduled County Geological Sites within their County Development Plans. These have no statutory protection but are considered within the planning system.
Is there a list of important geological sites?
In 1981, An Foras Forbartha published a report on Areas of Scientific Interest in Ireland. This covered nature conservation sites in general and included many geological and geomorphological sites, organised by county, and split into international, national, regional and local importance. Although this designation was superseded by the Natural Heritage Area scheme, the original listing has provided a good starting point for new site assessments based on geological themes. The GSI's IGH Programme is developing an indicative list of sites for every theme in 2002, which will then at least provide an idea of the candidate sites for NHA status. Some of these sites will also be promoted as County Geological Sites with local authorities.
How can I find out if a particular site is important in terms of geological heritage?
For now there is no easy way. The 1981 report by An Foras Forbartha is a good starting point, as is the County Council Development Plan. The local museum may be able to help, or geologists within the nearest university geology department, or various professional and amateur geological bodies. However, the best way is to consult the Irish Geological Heritage Programme (firstname.lastname@example.org) within GSI, who will be able to assist with any enquiries in this field, based on our most up to date information.