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Defending the freedom to collect minerals.

Last Updated: 14th Jan 2012

By Stephen Moreton


By Dr Stephen Moreton
December 2011

“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.” Dwight D. Esienhower, inaugural address, Jan. 20, 1953.

We are all aware of anti-collecting sentiments being expressed by various quarters, and restrictions or bans imposed by various authorities. This article is intended to rebut some of the common arguments employed by those who would kill off our hobby, and to provide a resource to those who want to take on the anti-collectors. For years I have been gathering evidence to support the pro-collecting case. There is too much to post it all here. Accordingly what I have done is summarise some of the common anti-collecting criticisms and their flaws. I also provide references to relevant literature whether published, or on the internet. Although I prefer the former as websites come and go, but a journal, once published, is more permanent, and available through inter-library loans.

Some groups seem to be particularly hostile to collecting. National parks have a poor reputation, England’s Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) having achieved particular infamy amongst UK collectors, and a section here is devoted to them. Hostility is also evident from some mining heritage and explorer types. Not all of them (some of them collect minerals too, and others are quite indifferent) but there is an element amongst them with a dogmatic attitude that old mines are their own private playgrounds, to be kept frozen in time with nothing disturbed or removed. Some of the most bigoted and venomous anti-collecting comments I have encountered have come from this quarter.

I am not a fossil collector but many of the same arguments that apply to minerals apply also to fossils. I am still gathering data. Relevant comments or information are welcome. Examples of minerals or their localities lost because bans prevented collecting while there was still something to collect would be useful. Examples of double standards by anti-collectors can provide particularly effective ammunition in debates so if anyone knows of documented cases where mine heritage/explorers have misbehaved (trespassed, stolen artefacts, caused damage etc.) let’s have them. Or examples of authorities causing damage (like bulldozing mine sites whilst saying you cannot collect there) then, again, let’s have them.

As I am UK based there is, inevitably, a UK bias in my examples, but the principles are often general ones and apply anywhere and I hope collectors in other countries encountering similar difficulties with local authorities and killjoys will find the information here useful.

Our hobby is under threat. If we do not counter the arguments of those who would restrict it then they will win by default. If they are allowed to make their allegations unchallenged they will turn the public against us. If you want to keep your freedoms then stand up for them!

Covered here is a range of arguments that have been used against collecting. Some have a degree of validity but most, as we shall see, are based on ignorance of how minerals occur, how they are collected, and what happens to them if they are not collected. And some are just plain stupid.

Collectors strip bare localities, leaving nothing for others.
There are several answers to this.
1. Any experienced collector should be able to think of examples of supposedly stripped bare localities that have yielded good finds to those prepared to do the work. The Leadhills/Wanlockhead district, for example, continues to produce minerals new to the area, despite years of collecting activity. It is land reclamation, further quarrying/mining, natural erosion etc. that are the main destroyers of sites, as we shall see later.
2. Mineral localities are often ephemeral. Better to salvage what we can now before the site is obliterated and lost forever.
3. The more that is collected, the more that is then available for others via swap or purchase and the greater the chance that some specimens will survive long into the future.

Collectors take more than they need, they should take one or two pieces and leave the rest for others.
I wonder how many people who take this position, on finding a hoard of gold coins, would take one or two and leave the rest? This objection overlaps with the one above, and the answers there apply. One might also add that leaving the rest “for others” carries the risks that:
1. There will be no others.
2. By the time others arrive years may have elapsed by which time the minerals may be damaged by exposure.
3. The next “other” may take it all.
4. The next “other” may be incompetent and damage as much as is taken (which in itself can be a valid criticism of some collectors).
5. The next “other” may just think the material will make a nice garden rockery.
6. One of the motivations for finding minerals is the hope that one may find a bonanza – a vug full of crystals, or a rich patch of mine tip with dozens of specimens for the taking. Telling the lucky finder to take only one or two pieces removes the motivation for making the find in the first place. The result is no find.

Collectors damage localities.
To some any little hole is “damage”. One cannot get good minerals without a certain amount of digging or rock breaking. This is often only what nature would do over time anyway, or humans in the name of land clearance etc. A farmer who clears a mine tip, a flood that sweeps it away, or just the ravages of time, cause far more destruction. In some instances mining remains have suffered damage by collectors. Pulled down timbers and stone arching, for example. This is unacceptable and is a valid criticism, but it is unfair to tar all collectors with the same brush, as seems to happen. There are cases of mine explorers doing similar things to get at walled off levels etc. Some compromise needs to be found. On the part of collectors, don’t pull the mine down and don’t damage the artefacts. On the part of mine explorers, and heritage enthusiasts, accept that mine dumps, and underground exposures, where artefacts etc. are not involved, are fair game for the collectors.

Collectors damage the landscape.
This is possibly one of the silliest claims made by the LDNPA in justification of their notorious permit scheme. Digging in the tips, in a landscape already marred by open casts and acres of mine waste was supposed to affect the landscape.

Collecting impacts lichens and microflora.
This was one of the excuses used by Dúchas – the Heritage Service, now the National Parks and Wildlife Service, in Ireland, in relation to the Wicklow lead mines. Then they allowed a film set to be built on the site! In fact digging exposes fresh surfaces for lichens to colonise. This excuse is almost as asinine as another of theirs’ – that it would disturb the goats! The words “scraping” and “barrel” come to mind.

Collectors sell minerals, they are in it for profit.
Anyone hoping to make a profit from minerals will be swiftly disillusioned. Making money from minerals is very hard work. Selling does, however, help pay the fuel bills (not insignificant) and make material available to others. It also draws newcomers to the earth sciences. How many of us began our interest with a crystal or fossil bought for a few pounds (or dollars, Euro…)? Dealing (more than collecting) does also provide an income and employment for some. In developing countries collecting specimens to sell can provide a vital income to poor families. The economic contribution of mineral specimens is covered below. If anyone still objects to a little capitalism they can always go live in North Korea.

Specimens disappear into private collections never to be seen again.
If the specimens are going to disappear anyway because eventually the mine collapses and seals them in, or the waste heap is cleared, the outcrop erodes etc., then what does it matter? This is the inevitable fate of most minerals anyway. Once exposed, whether below or above ground, they are on death row. Besides, specimens in private collections eventually resurface, as the owner upgrades, swaps, sells or bequeaths them. This begs the question, “What sort of disappearance would you prefer? Temporary disappearance into a collection, or permanent disappearance into oblivion?”
There is a further misunderstanding involved here. That is the belief that it even matters that many specimens are privately held rather than publicly in museums. Most specimens are of common species of no special merit. Museums have not the space or interest in every single calcite crystal or quartz druse. Nor should we assume that museums are necessarily the best places for specimens. Horror stories abound of historic collections being left to moulder through neglect, or destroyed by fire or flood or war. Having a large reservoir of material in private hands ensures that if a major museum collection was lost then eventually a new one could gradually be built as private material came on the market. Best not to have all one’s eggs in one basket.

Mineral collecting interferes with scientific research.
There are different versions of this objection but they are generally along the lines that collecting may damage the scientific value of a site or may take material of scientific worth, or lose contextual information. There are at least three obvious ripostes.
1. Most collectors seek the aesthetic rather than the scientific. The scientifically interesting material is rarely the attractive. It is often the mundane. The bulk vein material and its relations to its surroundings. The massive quartz that can yield fluid inclusions, the rocks that can be K-Ar dated, the massive ores that show particular textures when sectioned, or which can be analysed for isotopic ratios. Taking a few pretty pieces does not affect the scientific worth of the thousands of tonnes of vein stuff left behind.
2. Collectors often make discoveries. Minerals new to the area, even new to science, brand new localities etc. So numerous are their discoveries, especially in topographical mineralogy, that they support journals dedicated to the subject. Some collectors are relevantly qualified with access to laboratory facilities and make contributions to the peer-reviewed literature. It is also an oft-repeated, and true, assertion that without collectors our museums would be empty.
3. As has been said before, and will be again, minerals not collected are doomed anyway, along with their contexts.
Perhaps a less obvious fourth reply is that a value judgement is being made here. Whoever employs the “science first” argument is, in effect, saying that the scientific interest should over-rule the collectors’ one. It is surely incumbent on anyone taking this position to justify it. Sometimes the scientific merit may not actually be very great, but the collectors’ interest is.

Some of what collectors seek is so small you’d need a microscope to see it.
True, but is this really a reason not to collect it? Many rare minerals only ever occur as tiny specimens. Some of these are scientifically important as they give information on the behaviour of heavy metals in the supergene environment, or confirm theoretical predictions about oxidation processes. And very often it is patient collectors armed with binocular microscopes who are in the best position to make these finds.

Collectors should pick up only loose material on surface. Not dig into tips or hammer exposures.
The best specimens are hardly ever got from loose material on surface. What is lying around is generally damaged, weathered or well gone over by previous collectors. Deeper within a mine tip they may be less weathered, and representative examples may sometimes be found, but the best specimens come from in situ. Restricting collectors to whatever is lying around is like telling an antiques enthusiast he should settle for a broken earthenware pot fragment when he could have a complete, undamaged, Wedgewood tea set. The difference between what is lying around, and what can be got from a freshly opened vug really can be that great. The “take only loose material” argument is ignorant, unreasonable and patronising.

Collectors should make do with photographs.
Believe it or not this was actually seriously suggested on a mine exploration website. So we are to be satisfied with pictures in dim light of mud-coated, iron-stained examples, upside down, half buried, or concealed by rock, with their best sides facing away from the viewer?
One wonders also how one is supposed to identify the mineral in cases where tests may be necessary. How does one chemically analyse a specimen in a photo?

Taking minerals is theft.
Not if one has permission. Not if there is no law against it. Not if the mineral rights belong to the state (e.g. as in Ireland) and the relevant government body has no interest in, or policy relating to, collectors. On other occasions, yes, technically it is theft, but when the alternative is the destruction of those minerals then a little theft actually begins to look morally justifiable, even if not legally so. Perhaps the most obvious example is with those mining companies who discourage their employees from rescuing specimens. Some may turn a blind eye, but others may sack any miner caught collecting. Yet still specimens do get rescued from the crushers and these may include some of the world’s finest. For example, the magnificent cuprite and chalcocite crystals saved from certain Australian mines by quick thinking miners. (An attempt to prosecute a miner, who rescued world-class chalcocite crystals from the Telfer gold mine, thankfully ended in his acquittal). The percentage of the world’s best specimens that owe their survival to theft from indifferent mining and quarrying companies is probably rather high. Similar arguments apply to minerals taken from abandoned mines where the mineral rights owners are untraceable, indifferent, or even hostile (but without having any interest in the minerals themselves) and the specimens are doomed anyway (more of which later).
Sometimes the law is an ass.

Having examined the principal anti collecting arguments we turn now to arguments for collecting.

It is a source of enjoyment for many people of all ages and abilities.
Not in itself a justification for collecting (“sports” involving cruelty to animals doubtless give enjoyment to many, that does not make them right). But it does mean that any attempt to ban or restrict it will adversely affect a great many people and so should not be entered into without good justification. The onus is on those who would restrict collecting to produce good arguments that fully justify their position. If they cannot then they are just being killjoys.

It is educational.
Mineralogy is a bridge between the earth sciences, chemistry and crystallography and can serve as an introduction to these subjects. It attracts newcomers to the earth sciences. It also attracts them into other interests such as mining history and heritage.

Minerals are beautiful.
Well some can be, and the appreciation of their natural beauty is open to most people, irrespective of scientific ability. Why deny them it?

Minerals are part of our natural heritage.
A point lost on those who would happily see them consigned to the crusher, or left to rot.

Mineral collectors make new discoveries and contribute to the sciences.
Probably one of the most often stated, and perhaps sometimes overstated, arguments in defence of collecting. Collectors routinely find minerals new to a locality, or even to their country, and report the finds and make specimens available to museums and institutions. Now a new find of a rare mineral, whilst interesting and worthy, is not necessarily a major event in the great scheme of things, but sometimes completely new minerals turn up. These may have real scientific merit if they have novel crystal structures, or confirm theoretical predictions. Brand new locations, in places the professionals would never have looked, serendipitous chance discoveries, and non-mineralogical discoveries made in the course of mineral collecting are further benefits of the hobby.
Some collectors are highly qualified scientists in their own right and make contributions to the peer reviewed literature. As their work is done on their own initiative it may include studies that would not otherwise have attracted funding or have been carried out.
This theme is developed further in detail in a separate section below where examples and references to the literature are included.

Without collectors our museums would be empty.
This is an extension of the argument above.

Minerals not collected are doomed anyway.
This is possibly one of the most powerful pro-collecting arguments, and one which needs to be emphasised again and again, and has already been mentioned several times in the arguments above. It does not automatically mean that every mineral specimen must be saved but, as minerals and their localities are doomed anyway, it trumps most of the anti collecting arguments and swings the presumption in favour of collecting unless there is a clear reason against.
As it is one of the most important weapons in the pro collecting debater’s armoury it is important that this argument be well backed up with detailed argumentation and evidence. A whole section dedicated to the destruction of mineral localities, with examples, and literature references is provided below.

Restricting collecting will not mean minerals saved.
This is an extension of the above argument. Preventing people collecting minerals just means that those minerals are left to an uncertain fate. Minerals do not breed and recover their numbers. “Leave alone policies” that work for rare orchids or peregrine falcons are wholly inappropriate.

Banning collecting only alienates collectors.
The notorious LDNPA permit scheme has certainly antagonised many collectors and led to a polarisation of attitudes. Ill-considered attempts to restrict the hobby only lead to antagonism, a “them versus us” mentality and a distrust of (and disrespect for) authority. Collectors have an excellent track record of reporting and recording finds, and making them available to others. This could easily be undermined by attempts to ban collecting. Unjustified, or ill-thought-out, laws attract contempt, not respect. They also make laws, which really are justified, less likely to be taken seriously if they come from the same authority.

You can’t stop them anyway.
By its nature mineral collecting often takes place in remote places, or out of sight down old mines. For all but a few localities it is impossible to police effectively. Banning collecting at a site, without good reason, just means that the more determined collectors will simply post a look out with a mobile phone, or go at night. The occasional attacks on the Hope’s Nose gold locality in Devon, despite its supposedly “protected” status, illustrate the futility of collecting bans. The law will only be obeyed if it can be enforced.

Mineral collecting provides jobs and income.
Again, as with the “collecting provides enjoyment” argument this is not in itself a justification for collecting, but it does mean that attempts to restrict collecting will impact people adversely. So again the onus is on the anti-collectors to justify their position.
In the developed nations, few collectors recoup more than their costs when selling minerals, few (if any) make a living full time collecting and selling, although some do so by dealing (buying and selling). Even so turnover at some of the big American mineral shows can be into tens of millions of dollars and the local economies of St. Marie aux Mines, Tucson, or other hosts to major shows, certainly benefit. Rock shops, wholesalers, and producers, exporters and sellers of common, but pretty and popular, minerals like agate and amethyst provide employment and pay taxes.
To people in the developing world, mineral specimens can be the difference between starving and being able to give the kids an education. The livelihoods of poor people from Congo to Peru depend on what they can dig out of the ground and sell to dealers. Who is going to tell them they must stop, so as to leave the minerals for others?

A few things should now be apparent from the above discussion.
1. It is not up to mineral collectors to justify collecting. The burden is on those who would restrict it to justify their position.
2. There are substantial benefits to allowing collecting. It is a good activity to be encouraged.
3. Restricting it will be counter-productive, whether through material lost because it was not collected, or damage to relations with collectors.
4. Minerals not collected are generally doomed anyway.
5. Collecting bans are often unenforceable.
6. The arguments against collecting are often weak, and based on ignorance.

Mineral collectors make new discoveries and contribute to the sciences.
In the UK the discoveries of amateur and commercial collectors alike are enough to sustain two peer-reviewed journals: the Journal of the Russell Society and the UK Journal of Mines and Minerals. In other countries journals such as Lapis (Germany), La Regne Mineral (France) and the Mineralogical Record (USA/world) are largely supported by the activities and contributions of collectors.

This, perhaps, gives an indication of the sheer number of finds being made and reported by collectors. Some actual statistics relating to the UK and Ireland illustrate this. In the ten years from 1993 to 2002 (inclusive) Manchester Museum (England) acquired just over 5,200 mineral specimens. Of these 49 % were collected by amateurs, and 7 % were purchased from dealers. As most of the latter category had, in turn, been collected by amateurs (who presumably sold to dealers) an impressive 56 % of acquisitions originated from amateur collectors (Green, 2003).

From ca. 1960 to 2003 in Ireland 39 of the roughly 50 minerals new to the island were discovered by collectors (Moreton, 2003). If, in a small country with hardly any resident collectors, amateurs can account for 78 % of minerals new to that country, how much greater is their contribution in more populous nations?

Minerals and their localities are doomed anyway.
It is shocking, but true, that there are some who seriously deny that minerals and their localities are degraded by natural weathering and erosion. Here is a quote from Graham Standring, a ranger with the LDNPA, “We have been advised during discussions with the British Geological Survey that minerals at or close to the surface of mine spoil tips will not deteriorate through weathering” (Standring, 2004). Dodd, (1999) and Young (2001) also take this view. That the latter is a (retired) BGS geologist, and the other an experienced amateur geologist makes this denialism all the more staggering. Someone needs to tell these people about the rock cycle!

Following Standring’s astonishing statement I wrote to the British Geological Survey (BGS) to find out if it really was their view that minerals in tips are immune to weathering. I got this response: “We acknowledge that weathering occurs in rock exposures and at, or close to, the surface of mine spoil tips, indeed were it not for these processes, some minerals identified from the area would not be present. However, weathering as a natural process in our view is not making a serious impact upon the primary vein minerals. The human impact of destructive collecting has more serious short term impacts and BGS supports the LDNPA policy on mineral collecting” (Smith, 2004).

So who is right? Consider what weathering and erosion actually do. Frost shatters rocks, rain dissolves them (especially if rendered acidic by pollution), running water erodes them, plant roots prise them apart, algae and lichens force apart the grains, air and water together chemically alter them, even limpits on the sea shore grind them down. What happens to rocks also happens to minerals. For a detailed discussion, with numerous examples and references, see Moreton (2003).

Even before being exposed on the surface, minerals are degraded underground by percolating groundwater. The tendency of the famous pink octahedral fluorites from the Alps to be etched and partially dissolved when found above the water table is due to this effect (Moore, 2010). Running underground water has the same effect (Grüll, et al, 2010). And it has been observed that the rather unstable mineral apophyllite is rare in natural outcrops in Northern Ireland, but common in working quarries where fresh, unaltered rock from deeper down is exposed. Consequently the true extent of its distribution in the Antrim basalts is unknown, recorded occurrences being almost entirely restricted to the quarries (Walker, 1960).

What applies to minerals also often applies to fossils, and again it is a common experience to find once productive fossil localities now badly degraded by decades of exposure. For example, as long ago as 1912 it was complained that it was getting hard to find specimens at the famous Ballypalady plant beds in Co. Antrim, and digging was necessary to obtain fresh material (Cole, et al, 1912).

Probably the single biggest destroyer of specimens is mining and quarrying. Every day fortunes in fine specimens are crushed and destroyed around the world. As mines are developed in mineralised ground, and systematically extract and destroy the same, with no regard given to specimen recovery, they are the biggest offenders.

The prevailing attitude in such places is usually one of indifference, and sometimes even hostility. With targets to meet, and health & safety paranoia, specimen recovery is not considered important, and may be viewed as a distraction. It is hardly surprising then, that some of the world’s finest specimens have often had to be smuggled out in a miner’s lunch box. In short we owe the survival of many of our mineral treasures to theft, a point driven home by Edwards (2003) who remarked that, “if the law had been observed (here and elsewhere in the world) to the letter our collections, and I include here our most revered national collections, would be very much the poorer.”

Once a mine is abandoned deterioration sets in rapidly. Workings flood, levels run in, pyrite rots and pollutes, vegetation takes over, and very soon the locality may be but a faint shadow of its former glory. As the attitude to old mine site is very often that they are eyesores, dangerous holes in the ground, a convenient rubbish dump, or simply a nuisance, they are vulnerable to land reclamation, or “improvement”.

Moreton (2008) lists 35 mine sites in Ireland that are now essentially obliterated or lost to collecting. The story is repeated all over the British Isles. From Cornwall to Shetland, once important mines have been cleared, filled in, or otherwise lost. A study, by two archaeologists, of lead mine waste heaps in England’s Peak District found that since the 19th century about half have vanished altogether, and half the remainder are badly degraded (Barnatt & Humble, 2002). The culprits are things like agriculture and forestry activities, and subsequent quarrying or industrial mineral processing. Mineral collection does not even get a mention.

Readers from other parts of the world will, doubtless, be able to think of localities from their own regions that are now lost forever, with only the specimens saved by collectors to tell of their former glory. As an example, the “Disappearing Sites” section of Chris Thorsten’s website on New Jersey minerals (, is a familiar and depressing story of once major localities now flooded, filled in, built upon, or otherwise off-limits to collectors.

It should be obvious by now, to all but the most steadfastly stuck in denial, that minerals not collected are minerals doomed. Whether by natural weathering and erosion, or by human activity, anything not collected when the (frequently brief) window of opportunity allows, is lost forever. Period.

The Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) has an especially bad reputation amongst U.K. collectors, and for good reason. It has effectively banned mineral collecting in one of the most interesting and mineralogically diverse parts of the U.K. – the Caldbeck Fells.

Some of the localities here are of international importance, and the quality of the specimens can be world-class. Of course collectors, both commercial and amateur, have been at the forefront of rescuing and making available this mineralogical treasure trove, and have been doing so since the 19th century. Had they been operating under the strictures now in place almost none of this heritage would have been preserved. For a history and description of this famous mining district, the reader is referred to Cooper & Stanley (1990).

For most of this time the Fells were part of the estate of a landed family who were relaxed about collecting. Collectors could more or less do what they wanted. Mine tips were dug through by generations of collectors, underground workings explored, and commercial collector Richard Barstow dug his famous trench on Mexico vein which yielded magnificent specimens of pyromorphite. The area was a magnet for U.K. collectors.

The LDNPA acquired most of the land in 1979, together with the mineral rights. Dalemain Estate own the southern area, including the Carrock mine area, but have let the LDNPA dictate policy on mineral collecting on their land. For a while things continued as usual, there was even a working mine (Carrock), which closed in 1982. But, in the 1990s, the LDNPA had acquired the notion that mineral collecting was something that needed to be controlled. In December 1998 it announced its intention to seriously curtail collecting activity, alleging that collectors were causing damage.

Specifically, it was alleged that “mine dumps were being worked out”, the landscape damaged, and industrial archaeology damaged (Davies, 1998). Various groups were consulted to give a veneer of respectability to the outcome – a de facto ban. These groups were English Nature, the British Geological Survey, the Cumberland Geological Society, the Cumbria RIGS groups, the British Micromount Society, the Norfolk Mineral and Lapidary Society, the Federation of Lapidary and Geological Societies, and the Russell Society (Young, 2000). There was no representation from museums (although Manchester Museum joined in at a later date) and none from commercial collectors and dealers, even though the selling of specimens had been one of the complaints.

Following this “consultation” a permit scheme was enacted, in which those lucky enough to get a permit would be subject to a set of draconian rules, such as no tools larger than a geological hammer or trowel, no digging deeper than 4 to 6 inches, no breaking into turf, no hammering of outcrops and no going underground. The applicant “must provide a detailed and reasoned description of the research programme for which a permit is being sought” together with a referee. As if this was not patronising enough, the applicant had to specify a date of intended visit, report on what was found, and state where collected material was to be stored (LDNPA, 2000). In short, even if one managed to get a permit, it was a permit to do nothing.

The response of collectors to this outrage was predictable. The next few issues of the Russell Society newsletter carried heated correspondence, letters to the editor appeared in local, and even national, press, and a series of anonymous tirades under the heading “Minerals Underground Movement” were circulated.

In the aftermath, the LDNPA were repeatedly challenged (by me and others) to produce examples of the alleged “damage” by collectors but never did so, and their claims were comprehensively discredited (e.g. Faithful, 2001; Moreton, 2000 & 2001). It was also pointed out that those amateur geologist/mineralogist bodies it consulted never put the matter to a vote of their members (who were clearly disgruntled), so it was improper of the LDNPA to claim support from these sources.

The LDNPA later softened its stance slightly, introducing “red”, “amber” and “green” zones according to how sensitive they considered the localities to be. The rules for acquiring a permit were more relaxed for the less sensitive areas, but the restrictions on how to collect remained. Predictably, the most interesting sites were in the “red” (i.e. most restricted) zone.

The LDNPA continues to claim support from the consulted bodies, even though it has been pointed out to them that said bodies did not all formally endorse the scheme (Manchester Museum, and the Russell Society certainly did not). To consistently present a list of consulted bodies as a list of agreeing bodies, when it knows this to be false, says something about the trustworthiness of the LDNPA.

Evidence continues to come to light of how utterly wrong-minded the LDNPA is. Erosion studies by Durham University show that the gully next to the pyromorphite location on Iron Crag (and which is itself a corkite locality) saw an astonishing 184 tonnes of debris washed down it in 1999. This debris is piling up in a fan at the base of the hill (Johnson & Warburton, 2002a). And a review of flash floods in the district has shown that many of the streams and gullies are prone to this phenomenon. A few examples with dates: Lingmell Gill (August 1938), Langdale and Borrowdale (1966), Redacre Gill (Winter 1967), Keppel Cove (October 1927), Mill Gill and Mosedale Beck (August 1749), Raise Beck (November 1898, February 1995 & February 1997) and Dry Gill (not the campylite one, February 1995) (Johnson & Warburton, 2002b). The flood events that swept away much of the Roughtengill and Greenside mine sites in the 19th century are already well known. The implications for any mineral localities beside streams in this district are obvious.

The idea that digging by collectors in an area marred by acres of mine waste damages the landscape is laughable, and the accusation of damage to industrial archaeology, is not only anecdotal, but hypocritical, in view of it being the LDNPA that allowed the bulldozing of the Carrock mine site.

The legality of the ban has also been challenged, at least in writing, if not (yet) the courts, as the Prescription Act of 1832 states that if an activity has been openly conducted for more than 20 years without challenge then it becomes a prescriptive right (Moreton, 2007). It has also been reported by field workers that the restrictions are actually hampering legitimate research (Green, et al, 2008).

Of course, as pointed out earlier, mineral collecting in remote locations (like the Caldbeck Fells) is impossible to police effectively, so it comes as no surprise to learn that the ban has been widely flouted. LDNPA ranger Graham Standring (2008) lists multiple instances of unauthorised digging (some of which seem to be efforts by mine explorers, rather than collectors, to dig out old workings). In only one case were the culprits actually seen, but no prosecution followed.

It was also reported by Standring that, in 2005, some rascals had been taking down the official LDNPA notices banning collecting (and falsely claiming support from the consulted bodies) and replacing them with forgeries “permitting” collecting. This led to the rangers having to mount “a concerted effort to continually replace these with the correct signs and the problem stopped later that year.”

The idea of LDNPA killjoys in a panic, frantically running around replacing their signs, generates mirth and merriment to all those I tell the story to. Of course, I would not suggest that anyone should go out and remove the LDNPA signs (which are located at Fell Side gate, Nether Row gate & Hudscales, Calebreck bridleway, Carrock Beck ford and Carrock mine), scan them, doctor them so they “allow” collecting, print them out, laminate them, and tack them back onto the notice boards again. After all, that would be very naughty.

Barnatt, J. and Humble, J. (2002) The Peak District: the Lead Rakes Project. Conservation Review, 42, p.49-51.

Cole, G.A.J., Wilkinson, S.B., M’Henry, A., Kilroe, J.R., Seymour, H.J., Moss, C.E. & Haigh, W.D. (1912) The Interbasaltic Rocks (iron ores and bauxites) of North-East Ireland, Mem. Geol. Surv. of Ireland, HMSO, Dublin, p.109.

Cooper, M.P. & Stanley, C.J. (1990) Minerals of the English Lake District – Caldbeck Fells. Natural History Museum, London.

Davies, P. (1998) Mineral Collecting – The Caldbeck Commons. Reproduced in the Newsletter of the Russell Society, 36 (March 2000), p.17-18.

Dodd, M. (1999) Mineral collecting on Caldbeck Commons. Circular of the Geologists’ Association, 937, p.12.

Edwards, D. (2003) The mineral dealer’s tale. In, Townley, H. (ed.) Mineral collecting and conservation – hammering out a future? Proceedings of a one-day conference in Salford, 16 April 2003. English Nature Research Reports, No. 505. p.31-35. Available from Natural England.

Faithfull, J.W. (2001) Conservation and Restrictions on Mineral Collecting: some observations on recent developments in the Lake District. On-line article:

Green, D.I. (2003) Collectors in 21st Century Mineralogy. In, Townley, H. (ed.) Mineral collecting and conservation – hammering out a future? Proceedings of a one-day conference in Salford, 16 April 2003. English Nature Research Reports, No. 505. p.63-68. Available from Natural England.

Green, D.I., Bridges, T.F., Rumsey, M.S., Leppington, C.M., Tindle, A.G. (2008) A review of the mineralogy of the Roughton Gill mines, Caldbeck Fells, Cumbria: Part 2 the Roughton Gill South vein on Balliway Rigg. J. Russell Soc., 11, p. 3-28.

Grüll, M, Bacher, R., Snyder, S. (2010) The Weisseck Summit Cleft, Lungau, Salzberg, Austria. Mineralogical Record, 41(4), p. 373-386.

Johnson, R.M. & Warburton, J. (2002a). Annual sediment budget of a UK mountain torrent. Geografiska Annaler, 84A(2), 73 – 88.

Johnson, R.M. & Warburton, J. (2002b). Flooding and geomorphic impacts in a mountain torrent: Raise Beck, Central Lake District, England. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 27, 945 – 969.

LDNPA (2000) Caldbeck and Uldale Commons – Minerals Policy. Newsletter of the Russell Society, 36, p.18-20.

Moore, T.P. (2010) Alpine Pink Fluorite. Mineralogical Record, 41(1), p. 9-52.

Moreton, S. (2000) Letter to the Editor. Newsletter of the Russell Society, 37, p. 43-44.

Moreton, S. (2001) Letter to the Editor, Newsletter of the Russell Society, 39, p. 46.

Moreton, S. (2003) Vanishing stones – our disappearing mineralogical heritage. In, Townley, H. (ed.) Mineral collecting and conservation – hammering out a future? Proceedings of a one-day conference in Salford, 16 April 2003. English Nature Research Reports, No. 505. p.69-76. Available from Natural England.

Moreton, S. (2007) Of Mushrooms and Minerals. Newsletter of the Russell Society, 50, p. 40-41

Moreton, S. (2008) Ireland’s disappearing mines and minerals. Newsletter of the Mining Heritage Trust of Ireland, 39, p. 9-10

Smith, M. (2004) Letter to Dr S Moreton dated 7 June.

Standring, G. (2004) Letter to Dr Stephen Moreton dated 19 March, LDNPA ref. R(N)GNS/AJH, p.4.

Standring, G. (2008) Illegal digging in the Caldbeck Fells. Newsletter of the Cumbria Amenity Trust Mining History Society, 91 (May), p.11-13.

Walker, G.P.L. (1960) The amygdale minerals in the Tertiary lavas of Ireland. III. Regional distribution. Mineralogical Magazine, 32, p. 503-527.

Young, B. (2000) The Caldbeck Fells. Newsletter of the Russell Society, 36, 12-16.

Young, B. (2001) Caldbeck Fells. Newsletter of the Russell Society, 38, p. 32-33.

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Hi Stephen and hi to everybody! I read very carefully this article. Ok rules are necessary, if applied seriously, as well as in Switzerland for example! Swiss collector have a rulement codex and they respect it! It includes an exact limitation to the weight of instrument (hammers etc.) and the respect for the so-called "protected areas". In my country it is officially forbidden to pick up fossils because they are considered as well as archaeological material! For example, if it were free, Rome, Pompei and Paestum wouldn't exist anymore! However there is a lack in this rule: once I was warned by an echologica guard here in Lombardy because "I was using a too heavy (1.7 kg!) hammer for picking minerals". Do you want to know what is there in the same place now? There is A CONCRETED ROAD!!! Then I understand there are protected areas (like in Habachtal Austria or Valle Botto Piedmont, where a whole whale skeleton was found some 10 years ago), but I would like to know: why should a mineral collector dequalify the environment simply with a hammer, and in the meantime the public authorities are allowed to build a concreted road or a skyscrape in the same place? I think I have to quote Bob Dylan: "The answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind"! Then I think an international codex is necessary for us too, and it should be approved by the European Parliament! Now we are in one big Europe, let's take this occasion!
Greetings from Italy by Riccardo.

Riccardo Modanesi
19th Dec 2011 1:55pm
Dear Stephen,
this is a very clear and complete article on something which touches each and everyone of us. UK is only an example. Riccardo pointed out the Italian case, which is ruled by some points of diffused ignorance. After all, when a politician takes over a non-political topic, it is quite rare that things go the right way.
Personally, I have really appreciated this article. A very well done one. Congrats for your precision in all the addressed points. As Jolyon already did, I will also share this article on FB.
Hope to read more from you asap! Keep us posted!

Best regards,

Chris Mavris
20th Dec 2011 1:07pm
Thanks, Stephen, for this very good article!

Harjo Neutkens
20th Dec 2011 1:11pm
An excellent article thanks Stephen

Ralph Bottrill
22nd Dec 2011 11:49am
You talk a lot of sense Stephen, and I hope we can as the collector community make the powers that be see sense. Maybe if we all write to the various governing bodies, not to let our future mineralogical heritage rot in the ground. As we are a world wide community, all we need is a list of the bodies to write to on a world wide scale. Maybe if some one could come up with a standard wording letter template we could all use this would be a tremendous help.
Steve Rust

Steve Rust
23rd Dec 2011 3:53pm
Dear Stephen,
thank you for an excellent article raising important issues of interest to all collectors of minerals. The challenges are much the same also in other countries that have experienced periods of conservationist fundamentalism in relation to minerals and mineral localities. We have had the same discussions in Scandinavia -- i.e. in Norway in the 1970`ies with many relevant articles about this issue published in the Magazine "NAGS-NYTT" (with a circulation of 2000 copies in the end of the 70`ies - later developing into the Nordic Magazine "STEIN") commencing with an article I wrote in 1974: "Mineralsamling er naturvern" ("Mineral collecting is conservation of our natural heritage"). The challenges from ignorance in government agencies and among conservationst has been the same all along. (Another (hidden) motive at that time was that public museums wanted to prevent collectors getting access to minerals that the museums had in surplus stock and which they used to exchange with the increasing number of mineral dealers to extend their own collections.) The arguments presented by the collector community were the same as you list in your article.
In Norway the mineral locality conservation surge resulted in the closure of a number of localities to collectors by law in the early 80`ies. In many of these minerals are scattered in shallow mine dumps and subject to complete destruction by weathering in just a few generations. One of the about 10 localities subject to strict protection in the name of science in 1980 was a newly exposed locality in a roadcut near Kragerø (Lona). 30 years later NO scientific paper or report has been published documenting studies of this locality and its minerals and now surface weathering and vegetation have severely reduced the exposure of potentially interesting specimens at the locality. If amateur collectors had been allowed access to this locality from the start, I am sure interesting specimens would have emerged and the material would have been subject to research and publications. The protection of localities also resulted in collectors stopping early publication of new finds and localities to prevent them from been closed by the authorities. Another interesting observation was that all the protected localities were located in areas not subject to other activities and thus preventing landowners from filing compensation claims against the government. Since then a number of scientifically important localties in Norway have been destroyed by quarrying, housing projects and other construction activities without the authorities raising a finger - even if they have been aware of these destructions.
Luckily the mineralogists and museums in Norway have during the last decades learned to appreciate the activities of the amateur collectors and as a result there is a reduced lobbying for new conservationist measures to reduce mineral collecting. It is important with a stronger focus on the mineral collecting hobby with its recreational and educational value rather than on the monetary value of exceptional specimens from special localities. For most collectors the prospect of financial gain is NOT the driving force in mineral collecting.


Knut Eldjarn
24th Dec 2011 11:18am
What a good read this article is, thanks for posting it. Another concern is that if collectors are in areas where collecting is forbidden and they find some species which are not listed for the locality they arent likely to do anything to get them recognised for fear of getting in trouble for trespassing or theft.

David Bruno
25th Dec 2011 12:02pm
Thank you Stephen for this inspiring article which I persoanlly take as a call to non-violent resistance.

John Montgomery
26th Dec 2011 4:11pm
It's about time, Thank you Stephen. I collect in the Goodsprings area near Las Vegas, Nevada, in the U.S. For the last several years many of the mines have been barred up preventing access. BLM which is a land management division for the southwestern desert for Nevada and California. They say its for the Bat Habitat, which can easily be seen as a way to prevent anyone to collect in any of the mines in that locality. I found a way into one of the mines to see if it was true, and didn't find a single Bat inside. Bars were even put on adits that were going in 10 feet and you can see the back wall. So much State money going into these elaborate structures which shows they don't want us to collect there no more. I enjoy the deserts and they don't realize by doing these acts to preventing us from collecting and exploring, they leave out one of the most important groups of people next to historians and hikers who really enjoy it.

John Hagstrom (2)
5th Jan 2012 1:24pm
Well said John! Your message reminds me to a joke talking about an unemployed guy going to the employ collocation office in his town: when he is asked about his previous job, he answers: "I hunted lions in Monza near Milano!" "But there is no lion at all in Monza, lions don't live in Italy!" "I know, that's why I'm unemployed now!"
And another fact really happened to a Sicilian friend of mine living in Milano: he had a second house in his original village in Sicily and got a letter from the municipality of the village and by a committee: he was obliged to get his house down because "it is located on a royal path and in this particular point the King of the Two Sicilies Kingdom usually makes his horses drink in a water source located properly where yous house is now!" And we give money for those committees for "protecting" a Nation which does not exist anymore! The answer of my friend to the committee was, of course: "Ok please let me know when will the King arrive there and make his horses drink, and I will provide to get my house down!"
I think what John told now is a good comparison to it and cheer up knowing those things don't happen just im my country!
Greetings from Italy by Riccardo.

Riccardo Modanesi
5th Jan 2012 4:32pm
Hello Dr Stephen. A great article that resonates with all mineral collectors. Here in Ontario, Canada we too have to deal with the closure & decreasing access to mineral collecting sites. On good example that all local collectors know well woudl be the York River skarn occurrence. This site is located within Egan Chutes Provincial park & therefore not accessible to collectors. The site is small but over 40 minerals occurred here, including orange garnets. The site is located close to the town of Bancroft so it was a great family site. In the past there was no enforcement regarding collectors but int he past few years new signs have been erected forbidding collectors & the Ministry has had its officers monitor the site with a vengeance. They have the power to give large fines & even impound vehicles, so a great a deterrent indeed. This site used to be even visited by collectors from the US, but now another site gone. The entire area is currently dealing with decreasing access to old mine sites. Terrible news to collectors.

Michael Adamowicz
5th Jan 2012 5:09pm
There are many countries where the climate has become even harsher than in Britain for mineral collectors and rockhounds. ref these news from Greenland (for those of you who can read some Scandinavian):
It tells the story of the 11th (and last)local mineral show in Greenland and the likely burial of the local lapidary and mineral club. Why ? Because it seems the government has imposed the same strict rules on rock collectors and hobby lapidarians as on multinational companies wanting to launch large scale mining operations in the country ! They have to apply and pay for the same kind of licens if they want to "extract and sell" minerals - making small scale mineral shows illegal if the participants cannot display such mining licenses ! It seems that the new local government is imposing harsher restrictions on the local population in favor of the multicapitalist mining corporations compared to what was the case during Danish colonial rule !



Knut Eldjarn
11th Jan 2012 9:55pm
Late to this thread Stephen but I can confirm I first visited Roughton Gill with my Grandparents in 1977 and still have a nice if small linarite collected that very day, and last visited in 1990 - my contribution to not just 20 but nearer 150 years of collecting there. I had no problem with the idea of a permit system originally, but you are right in that the one in place at the moment is akin to saying, "yes, you may go fishing, but hooks or nets are not allowed". What I originally thought might work would be simple enforcement of their original C of C as set out in Cooper & Stanley, but with underground access allowed so long as everyone knew who was doing what and where - a bit like Traceability in farming. One should be allowed to trench a mine-tip, for example, provided the excavation is restored to profile afterwards, which is not difficult with operational planning. The ramsbeckite find at Penrhiw that I made with Dave Green in the early 90s would never have occurred if a) the farmer hadn't bit into the dump with a front-end loader for shale; b) I hadn't noted this & seen the coloured spoil, albeit now weathered and c) obtained permission for a proper dig. What possible use to science the assemblage would have had if it had remained buried under feet of development-rock is anyone's guess: instead it was described in great detail in the UKJMM, contributing to the body of science that deals with supergene processes - that has great importance WRT how base-metals behave in that environment.

I think it would be well worth revisiting this with the LDNPA. Can I help? Surely it is possible to differentiate between those just out for a bash and those simply mining without permission for purely commercial gain, which was the identified issue back in the past.... and yes there is a massive difference in flogging off the odd piece to help cover costs and on the other hand viewing a mineral-deposit as a cash-cow. I think most collectors fully understand that.

Cheers - John

John Mason
12th Feb 2012 3:21pm
This a magnificently logical and positive contribution to the debate. If driven to its inevitable conclusion, the authorities should ban exploration, the petroleum industry, and, generally civilization.
Bad lawmakers pick on small groups and ignore the industrial criminals.

Brian Wright
28th Feb 2012 11:15pm
This is a very good argument however there are some important issues not mentioned. I would like first to mention that these mines are extreamly important to the world bat populations. Just because none were seen at the time does not mean they dont use the caves. The next issue is should you be allowed to disrupt a heritage site, and most importantly is collecting on PRIVATE property. Every point you mentioned both pro and con have their validity when you look at the big picture. Mineral collectors trespassing on private property drastically increase living expenses of the land owner. Most importantly the added insurances necessary to protect those who are trespassing. Secure fencing so we feel imprisioned in our homes. This now touches on what I ask all collectors,How would you feel to find someone in YOUR backyard uninvited? If everyone collected just 1 small piece there will be nothing for future generations. My point is there is a time and place for everything. The comments/thoughts of theft, trespass and law enforcement should never be considered in a true enviroment.

Kimberley Kipling
31st Mar 2012 12:41pm
In the U.S, we collectors are having like problems. Several U. S federal agenices are slowly trying to shut down collecting acitvities and many other outdoor activites on and in certain federal lands. The agencies are our Enviromental Protection Agency, National Park Service, Forestry Service and Bureau of Land Management.

All of the pro and con arguments above have been given and used in various meetings over time. Even educational uses have been blocked. However, when the real reason for removal of a land parcel from any recreational use is fianlly ferreted out,it smacks more of politics and our lobbiest groups, or Political Activist Committies (PAC's) than any real intent to save something.

On the collector level, the Amercian Federation of Mineral and Lapidary Societies had formed a sister group, the American Lands Acess Association, which works to keep the public's right to use these lands.

Edward Mattson
24th Apr 2012 6:07pm
Stephen - great article - well written and reasoned...

I want to highlight the stupidity and sheer ignorance of the LDNPA - you will all be aware of the silly sign that was erected in the beck below Drygill - accusing collectors of sluicing the manganese dump, and saying 'the police have been informed' etc., etc. It is quite obvious that these people have no concept of the power of the stream when in full flood - last year I watched as raging floodwaters smashed their way through what was left of the manganese dump, making a total mockery of the ill informed and incompetent signs placed there. I have similarly witnessed massive tonnages of rubble being sluiced down the upper reaches of Thief Gill - this whole region is composed of soft, altered volcanics which are almost clay - many of the veins are very broken and easily eroded. Collectors can make no impact on such a dynamic and mobile landscape.

Generations of children have been enthralled by shiny bits of rock found on the fells, and encouraged by parents, gone on to become geologists, collectors, mineralogists, or just educated people with an appreciation of what the landforms around us actually come from, and why they are there. Banning collecting achieves nothing, and is unjustified - the Welsh gold situation is utterly ridiculous - again, I have watched as trees and boulders have ripped down the river at Ganllwyd. I'm sure a lot of this is bureaucratic jealousy - people are doing something - there must be an ulterior motive - lets stop it.

Some of the younger LDNPA rangers, mostly volunteers, are supportive - I even helped one find some campylite for his son. Not everyone is tarred with the same brush. We need to get to these people - sow seeds, encourage them, and support them.

Peter Ward
1st Aug 2012 10:01pm

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