2.11 Chapter 2 conclusions

This is a summary of the conclusions of chapter 2:

About the the wrongful closure of Birk Knowes

What happened?

By the year 2000 the world-class fossil site Birk Knowes SSSI had been closed to science for 5 years already following years of illegal collecting by several Germans during the early-to-mid 1990s. This fossil site is managed by the government agency ‘Scottish Natural Heritage’ (SNH). Birk Knowes was supposed to be re-opened to researchers in the year 2000, after the completion of a survey by geologists from the National Museums of Scotland (NMS). They would assess the extent of the fossil bed at the site and produce a report. SNH kept this report confidential and claimed that it concluded that the fossil bed has been “almost totally removed” by the Germans, and that the fossil bed is contained in a very small area. On the basis of these claims, SNH decided that the fossil bed runs the risk of being depleted and therefore indefinitely closed Birk Knowes after the year 2000.

What is the problem here?

SNH’s statements about the condition or scale of the fossil bed cannot be traced back to their purported source; the survey report. SNH has misrepresented and falsified the NMS report’s conclusions. The report makes no mention of any of SNH’s claims of a fossil bed that is “almost totally removed”. It contains nothing with which the indefinite closure of Birk Knowes could have been justified. This means that this fossil site has been closed since the year 2000 to researchers on the basis of false claims (see chapter 2.4 for a full explanation)

Who is responsible for this?

SNH geology advisor Colin MacFadyen.

How do we know that this individual is responsible?

There are a number of concrete reasons proving this:

  1. This is the SNH geology advisor responsible for Birk Knowes SSSI. At SNH, matters concerning Birk Knowes SSSI go through him. This was already the case in the year 2000, and still is as of 2019.
  2. His name is written on the cover of the NMS survey report as the SNH contact person, he oversaw SNH’s commissioning of this report, and he was responsible for translating the report into policy advice. Birk Knowes has been closed on the basis of his advice.
  3. The three false claims about the condition of the fossil bed shown in chapter 2.4 are his responsibility.
  4. There is nobody else at SNH with these responsibilities.
  5. When confronted with 10 critical questions about the closure of Birk Knowes, he was unable to reasonably answer them: his responses were fraught with avoiding questions and flat-out lies (see chapter 2.10).
  6. There are several other reasons which have been explained in chapter 2.5.

Could the closure of Birk Knowes have happened by mistake?

No. SNH’s falsified statements about the NMS report’s conclusions are no accident. It is not remotely possible to interpret the NMS report in the way that SNH has done. Colin MacFadyen has a PhD in volcanology, which means that he should be able to comprehend the English language contained in the NMS report’s 4 written pages. No reasonable amount of incompetence can explain the falsified statements. This has been explained in chapters 2.4 and 2.5.

How is it possible that the fabricated nature of SNH’s statements was noticed only recently?

There are two main reasons:

  1. The NMS report about the condition of the site has been kept confidential by SNH. We only obtained the report recently because SNH was seemingly obliged to hand it over when we asked for it during the SNH investigation into the closure of Birk Knowes.
  2. Colin MacFadyen’s policy advice has not been second-guessed by SNH staff, as they regard him as an authority on Birk Knowes (Ironically, he is actually a volcanologist with a poor understanding of the fossils from this site as well as the fossil bed itself, as seen throughout chapter 2).

Who is the closure of Birk Knowes SSSI aimed at?

While we cannot prove it with absolute certainty, there are several strong reasons indicating that the closure of Birk Knowes was aimed primarily at us:

  1. As the principal researchers of this fossil site, there is nobody who would be as negatively affected by the indefinite closure as we would.
  2. If it was not directed at us, then why has SNH never made an attempt to accomodate our requests to continue research at Birk Knowes, and why have we met nothing but obstruction?
  3. If SNH did not have bad intentions towards us, then why did they give another person their blessings to collect at Birk Knowes when the site was ‘closed’, even though he had no publication record concerning the site, no understanding about the fossils occurring there, and he did not constitute ‘multidisciplinary’ research?
  4. A Dutch warning is included on the signs placed around the perimeter of Birk Knowes (see chapter 2.1). We are Dutch.
  5. There was another policy change at different fossil site, Achanarras Quarry SSSI, which has all the makings of having specifically targeted our work there. The person responsible for that policy change also happens to be Colin MacFadyen, after he learned one of us was working there (see chapter 3.2).
  6. Other than to block our access to Birk Knowes, what other plausible reason exists for Colin MacFadyen to have went to the length of falsifying the NMS report’s conclusions?

What could have motivated Colin MacFadyen to do this?

It is not entirely clear why he would do such a thing. We believe it is most likely that this is some form of retaliatory measure because of what happened in chapter 1. However, we cannot pin his behaviour on any particular event.

About the SNH investigation into the closure of Birk Knowes

What did SNH do when they were shown photographs of the enormous fossil bed, which seemed to contradict their claims about it being “almost totally removed”?

The SNH CEO Ian Jardine launched an investigation into the closure of Birk Knowes.

How did SNH investigate this?

Three reviewers (=judges) were appointed to look again at the NMS survey report about the site in order to see whether our claims about a large fossil bed were correct. One reviewer was from SNH and two reviewers were to be independent of SNH.

What did the SNH investigation conclude?

Most importantly, it concluded that SNH’s narrative about the fossil bed being small/almost gone was correct and that there was no proof of a large fossil bed.

Was the SNH investigation conducted in a fair manner?

No. There was a conflict of interest. The two reviewers independent of SNH were Nick Fraser and Jonathan larwood, who are friends/colleagues/associates of Colin MacFadyen. The third reviewer was Colin MacFadyen himself.

What precisely was the conflict of interest?

The SNH investigation was effectively about SNH’s interpretation of the NMS survey report about the condition of the fossil site, which is something Colin MacFadyen was responsible for. By taking part in the investigation, Colin MacFadyen was a judge at his own trial. The fact that the other reviewers were his friends/colleagues/associates removed any risk that he would have to answer for falsifying the NMS survey report’s conclusions.

How can we see that the investigation results were rigged?

The results contained numerous factual untruths and ignored important facts:

  1. The investigation results echoed Colin MacFadyen’s falsified narrative about a small fossil bed, even though its purported source, the NMS report, does not support it.
  2. Despite repeatedly making SNH and the other judges aware of the fact that SNH’s claims do not agree with the NMS report, this was ignored in the investigation results.
  3. Points 1) and 2) were necessary for Colin MacFadyen to escape having to answer for falsifying the NMS report’s conclusions.

Is there any other evidence?

There are many other reasons which show that the investigation was rigged, as can be seen in chapters 2.7 and 3.1.

Furthermore, we offered SNH and the judges that we travel to Scotland to provide a guided tour of Birk Knowes in order that they could see for themselves the scale of the fossil bed. A site visit would provide incontestable proof of the scale of the fossil bed. Our offer was not even declined; it was ignored.

Did the ‘independent‘ judges Nick Fraser and Jonathan Larwood wilfully rig the investigation?

We do not know for certain, but it does look like it. These two individuals were made aware of the inconsistency of Colin MacFadyen’s narrative with its purported source, yet the investigation results entirely ignored this. Not only did they fail to point out that SNH had falsified statements about the condition of the fossil bed, but they repeated them as though it is the truth.

The SNH investigation also concluded that there would be room for us to continue research at the site. Why can we not accept this?

This was still no guarantee that we could continue research at the site. We would first need to send a research proposal which would be judged by none other than Colin MacFadyen. In effect, our research prospects would still be at the mercy of the person responsible for falsifying the NMS report’s conclusions which has effectively sabotaged our research at Birk Knowes since the year 2000. Furthermore, Colin MacFadyen had just rigged an investigation. Does it seem it seem like he would be honest now? There other numerous other reasons why this would be an unpalatable situation, as explained at the bottom of chapter 2.7.

What did we do after receiving the rigged investigation results?

We informed the SNH CEO Ian Jardine about the situation. However, he was convinced that the investigation was carried out fairly.

Why did the SNH CEO seemingly support the rigged investigation?

This is uncertain. We believe it is possible that he did not know the full story. He may have been unaware that Colin MacFadyen had a conflict of interest. Alternatively, he was aware that the investigation was rigged but he was unconcerned about the consequences (SNH is an organisation who do not seem to have anyone to answer to).

What did we do after the SNH CEO supported the rigged investigation?

At the bottom of SNH correspondence it says that if we disagreed with them that we could go to the Scottish ombudsman to take this matter further. We therefore approached the ombudsman. Even though the ombudsman received the necessary documents to demonstrate the falsified report and rigged investigation, he claimed to be unable to help us. The primary reason for this appears to have been that we were not residents of Britain, and that he therefore had no power to investigate the matter.

What we do after this?

The only remaining option was to create a website to make public what SNH has done.

About the National Museums of Scotland survey

Who commissioned the NMS survey?

Scottish Natural Heritage.

What was the primary objective of the NMS survey?

To assess the extent of the Jamoytius Horizon (=fossil bed) at Birk Knowes SSSI.

Was this carried out?

No. None of the activities carried out by the NMS could have ascertained the extent of fossil bed at Birk Knowes.

What should the NMS have done to assess the extent of the fossil bed at Birk Knowes?

They could have drilled cores around Birk Knowes to trace the fossil bed in the surrounding landscape. Alternatively, they could have used the excavator already present at Birk Knowes to clear scree, and use it to strip some of the grass in the area where the fossil bed can be expected to occur in order to confirm its continuation.

Why did the NMS not carry out its main purpose?

The exact reason is difficult to put out finger on. We do believe it was hardly an unintentional act as, as not carrying out the main purpose of the survey is hardly something which can be done by accident. As we do not have insight into what transpired between SNH and the NMS concerning the survey of Birk Knowes, we cannot go so far as to say that the NMS report was made to fit a desire by SNH to close Birk Knowes. However, there are several points which indicate that the NMS was not being entirely honest about their survey, which could indicate such foul play:

  1. If the NMS had ascertained the extent of the fossil bed like they said they would (it was the report’s main stated goal), it would have provided overwhelming evidence about the large scale of the fossil bed (insofar current evidence does not already indicate this).
  2. While the NMS report contains no obvious falsehoods, it treaded a thin line by avoiding to make a statement about the (obviously) large scale of the fossil bed, as though there was an elephant in the room. Based on the visible exposures of fossil bed it would be evident even to a non-geologist that there is a vast fossil bed present. This makes it remarkable that the NMS, despite their state goal, made no comment about this.
  3. The NMS still used the old figure of a 10m thick fossil bed, even though data which the NMS themselves obtained about the thickness of the fossil bed indicates that it is approximately 24.5m thick. This is suspicious because it is not an easy oversight to make.
  4. Suzanne Miller, the lead author of the NMS report, was quoted by the BBC radio as saying that “there are no fossils remaining” at Birk Knowes. Her statement, as shown in part 5 of chapter 2.4, has no basis in truth as the NMS report even mentioned that fossils were found. Was Suzanne Miller’s false statement to the BBC a Freudian slip?

When the lead author of the NMS survey does not tell the truth about Birk Knowes, what does this say about the NMS report?

It lends credence to the view that the NMS produced a bogus report on purpose.

What other shortcomings does the NMS report have?

  1. As explained in chapter 2.4, there are a number of vague statements contained within the NMS report that were not clarified. The report largely appears like an assemblage of field notes that were never worked out.
  2. The NMS seems to have hinted that the fossil bed has deteriorated because during their sampling of the beds they did not encounter the quality fossils from Birk Knowes held in older collections. But, the real reason they found no quality material was that they did not do sufficient fieldwork at the site. Finding fossils at Birk Knowes requires long and hard work, as explained in instance 3, part 4 of chapter 2.4. The NMS merely sampled the rocks.

Does the NMS report contain anything usable to justify the closure of Birk Knowes?

No. Nothing contained within the NMS report could have been used to justify this. There is no mention of a small resource whatsoever. This can be verified by looking at the NMS report itself, which has only has 4 written pages:  NMS-report.pdf. For more information, see chapter 2.4.

Does the NMS report mention that the fossil bed is large?

While it avoided making a direct statement about the size of the fossil bed, data contained within the report mentions that the fossil bed is 10 meters thick. This is exceedingly large when it comes to fossil beds. The report also contains photographs of the two 25-30m wide exposures, as well as data and statistics from which one can conclude that the fossil bed is of significant proportions. A full explanation about data contained within the NMS report supporting a large fossil bed can be seen in part 6 of chapter 2.4.

Which SNH staff member was responsible for the NMS report’s commissioning?

Birk Knowes is the responsibility of SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen. His name is written on the cover of the NMS report as the SNH contact person, as seen in chapter 2.5.

Why did Colin MacFadyen accept the NMS report when it did not carry out its main objective, and was poorly written?

During the survey of Birk Knowes, Colin MacFadyen would have been in contact with the lead author of the NMS report; Suzanne Miller. Both of these people have at times produced false and contradicting statements about the condition of the fossil bed at Birk Knowes. We therefore propose that it is possible that there was some form of agreement between these two individuals. After all, why would both be contradicting the NMS survey report.

About he scale of the fossil bed at Birk Knowes

What is the scale of the fossil bed at Birk Knowes?

It is substantial. According to data from the NMS report, the vertical thickness of the fossil bed is around 24.5 meters. As this data was derived from sampling exposed sections in an area that is largely covered by grass, during a proper survey of Birk Knowes this figure is likely to be adjusted upwards. There are three fossiliferous exposures at the site, two of which are 25-30m wide. The largest continuous section of fossil bed is 8 meters thick and occurs at the north cliff face. Due to the principle of lateral continuity, it is very likely that this fossil bed travels hundreds of meters, but more probably many miles (if not more), in all directions (along the surface and into the ground, because the bed is angled). As such, the fossil bed contained within the SSSI area alone amounts to many, many thousands of tons in weight.

How can this be verified?

The scale of the exposed sections of fossil bed can be seen in chapter 2.2. One can also visit the site and see the fossil bed for themselves.

Final words

At the end of chapter 1, which concerns events that happened around 20 years ago, we asked the question; what is SNH like today?

Considering chapter 2, it is evident that SNH continues to mismanage Birk Knowes to this day. But while SNH was previously incompetent, unqualified, and indifferent, it is now also downright false.

Lastly, if we look at chapters 1 and 2, we can draw one startling conclusion;

SNH gave illegal German collectors all the opportunity to plunder Birk Knowes during the 1990s, but when it comes to legitimate science SNH has done everything to block it.