3.1 Full review of SNH investigation results

What follows is our commentary about the results of the Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) investigation concerning the decision to close the fossil site Birk Knowes SSSI. The conclusions of the SNH investigation have already been discussed in this section. What follows is a full length discussion of the results where we provide further proof that it was rigged.

This part is an interesting read because it reveals how SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen, as one of the judges of the investigation where he had a conflict of interest, used his position to steer the investigation away from the fact that he falsified the NMS report’s conclusions about the condition of the fossil site. The other two judges were the geologists Nicholas Fraser and Jonathan Larwood, who, as shown earlier, happened to be his friends/colleagues/associates. We will see how they helped Colin MacFadyen out of the mess he created by playing along with the falsified narrative.


As we know from chapter 2.4, the report never concluded that “the fossil bearing resource may be very limited”. There is also nothing contained within the report that hints at this possibility. This has been made up out of thin air.


This is also not mentioned in the report. Instead, the report states the mirror opposite:

The area now covered in scree and excavated by Ritchie would appear to be the area most likely to yield significant fossil material if a similar large-scale excavation of the site were to be undertaken“.

If anything, this is an invitation for a large scale excavation of the site, and it makes no mention that it would destroy it.

Why would the SNH investigation trio lie about this? By claiming that the fossil bed runs the risk of being destroyed, they are trying to provide justification for SNH having made the site inaccessible to science for all this time. This is a necessary to maintain the falsified narrative of a fossil bed that is almost gone.


This is also not true. Despite what is stated here, it was possible to gain access to Birk Knowes under Colin MacFadyen’s “multidisciplinary” requirement (However, the conditions set out were so harsh that even people with a publication record of Birk Knowes fossils (=us) could not work at this site.)

They are trying to fool us into thinking that we have gained something from this investigation, when in fact it changed nothing. The same conditions apply and our research prospects would still be at the mercy of someone who is not above falsifying the NMS report’s conclusions and taking part in an investigation about himself.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

Here we can see that they made the same mistake as the NMS staff by using the old and underestimated statistic of the vertical thickness of the fossil bed. The writers of the NMS report pulled these figures from Alex Ritchie’s 1968 paper on Jamoytius, instead of using the mapping data about the vertical thickness of the fossil bed which they had collected themselves. If MacFadyen, Fraser and Larwood would have looked at the logs (=mapped vertical sequences) located at the back of the NMS report, and if they had knowledge about the fossil bed, they would have seen that it is at least double the claimed vertical thickness.

So much for reviewers doing their job of looking at the NMS report with a critical eye. But then, it is more convenient for the small fossil bed narrative if the fossil bed is regarded as 10 meters thick instead of approximately 24.5 meters (although, both figures are exceedingly large for a fossil bed composed largely of laminated siltstone).


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

Here the three reviewers misquote the last written phrase from the NMS report by removing a key element to make it sound like it says something different than originally intended. Undistorted, the last sentence from the NMS report reads:

“It appears that the Jamoytius Horizon is extremely limited in currently exposed material in the area.”

This is in reference to something unrelated to the amount of fossil bed at Birk Knowes. By removing “in the area” from the original sentence it now appears that the exposures themselves are “extremely limited” in size, which is more fitting for Colin MacFadyen’s narrative. This is rather sneaky. As shown in chapter 2.2, there are two exposures of fossil bed at Birk Knowes which are each around 25-30 meters wide. This is hardly an “extremely limited” amount of exposed material.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

The charade continues; here three geologists with PhDs pretend like they do not understand how rock formations cut through the landscape. This is remarkable for three reasons:

1) They are ignoring one of the foundations of geology; the principle of lateral continuity. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_lateral_continuity

2) They are effectively suggesting that because we cannot see the fossil bed beneath the grass that it does not have to be there. Strictly speaking, this is true. But, it is highly unlikely that an approximately 24.5 meter thick fossil bed does not continue beyond the SSSI area (the same goes for a 10m fossil bed). To put it into perspective, the fence bordering the SSSI is around 30 to 40 meters away from the exposures. This is the case on both sides of the valley. For the fossil bed to discontinue beyond the SSSI it would require that it is faulted upward and eroded away before it reaches the fence, which then needs to happen on both sides of the valley. It would also be necessary that the fossil bed does not continue beneath the younger rocks in the region, as this is the oldest part of the sequence. The possibility for this to happen is remote, which means that they are reaching for improbabilities.

3) The NMS survey should have attempted to ascertain this information. Why else call it a fossil resource assessment? It is ironic that they should mention the lack of this information when it was SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen who was responsible for overseeing the NMS survey and who should have ensured that this aspect was investigated — especially when it was the main stated goal of the survey.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

This is nonsense. They are pretending like we provided “a substantial amount of additional information“. However, nothing we provided was not already present in the NMS report. This ranges from statistics about the thickness of the fossil beds to photographs of the exposures.

Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

This statement is astonishing. Birk Knowes is a finite resource? A bucket of pebbles, Mount Everest, and even our planet are also finite resources. This statement is coming from three geologists who are supposed to have a PhD.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

This statement is remarkable because it fails to criticise the NMS report about its most obvious flaw. If the NMS survey had done its job then this information would have been available.

Why was this flaw was not highlighted by the SNH investigation team? Colin MacFadyen was responsible for overseeing the creation of the NMS report. As such, he is hardly going to criticise himself, nor would it be likely that Fraser or Larwood are going to embarrass their friend/colleague/associate. It seems that being a judge at your own trial has its advantages…


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

This is another statement that defies belief. Are they dim, or do they think we are?

We offered the SNH investigator and the reviewers that we travel to Scotland to give them a tour of Birk Knowes to prove our claims about the enormous scale of the fossil bed. A simple site visit would leave no doubt about this. But, as this offer was ignored, it is funny to read that this would need to be done to make an accurate judgment of the full extent of the fossil bed.

Why could they have ignored our offer for a tour? If we had given them a tour it would no longer be possible to maintain the “almost totally removed” or “limited in extent” narratives, which would undermine Colin MacFadyen. It is therefore quite unsurprising that our offer was ignored.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

This is another part dedicated to supporting Colin MacFadyen’s falsification of the NMS report. We have two remarks about this:

1) They write this yet refrain from providing evidence to support it. Earlier on they were all too keen to (mis)use a citation from the NMS report. If the NMS report contained anything they could use to support the “very limited” view, thereby clearing MacFadyen of wrongdoing, then now would be the time to use it. The reason they do not provide a source is because the NMS report does not contain any evidence to support the notion of a very limited fossil bed.

2) When they say “All the evidence does suggest that it is very limited,…“, it is evident it escaped their attention that according to the logs of the NMS report the fossil bed is around 24.5 meters thick (or 10m if they wish to use the outdated figure; which is still enormous). Furthermore, two exposures are also 25-30 meters wide each, and the distance between the furthest points of exposure is around 110 meters.

All the evidence“, yeah right…


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

Again they pretend not to know geology. While it may sound like they partly agree with us, you need to read between the lines. They are effectively saying that the fossil bed may be larger than the exposures indicate. In doing so they are playing the game of ‘what you can’t see isn’t there’. This ignores the scale of the exposures, the distance they are separated, as well as the principle of lateral continuity. Because of the latter it is likely that the fossil bed travels at least hundreds of meters, but more likely many kilometers, along the surrounding landscape and into the earth.

Evidently, the trio of geologists is willing to ignore a fundamental principle of geology to support Colin MacFadyen’s narrative.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

Here the SNH investigation team deny our claim about the large size of the fossil resource. However, is there really no strong evidence for a very large fossil bed? Considering the following two points:

1) Very large thickness. If 24.5 meters is not very large, then I’m afraid nothing is. As the reviewers either did not look at the logs or could not understand them (doubtful), they used the outdated 10 meter figure. However, even 10 meters is a very thick fossil bed.

2) Very large volume. If we take together the approximately 24.5 meters thick fossil bed, the separation of the exposures by around 110 meters, the fact that two of the exposures are 25-30m wide, and the principle of lateral continuity, what part of this does not indicate that a large volume is present?

By saying that there is no strong evidence to support the view of a very large fossil bed, they ignore data about this contained in the very report they were meant to review.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

This is not written in the NMS report.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

Here they turn to being somewhat condescending. What they say is remarkable because they are saying it to the party who were responsible for showing the high scientific value of Birk Knowes in the first place. The spectacular soft tissue preservation at Birk Knowes is our discovery, so we may be in the know that the site is of high scientific value, thank you very much.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

The attitude continues with another rich statement. They are telling us that the site is vulnerable to uncontrolled collecting and damage even though we were the main party who warned SNH about the German collectors and whose warnings were ignored. SNH’s ignorance is what allowed the German collectors to pillage the site for many years and forced the closure of Birk Knowes in the first place. It is incredible how short of a memory SNH has.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

By telling us that we need to prove to SNH that our work can deliver new scientific data, they ignore our past work at the site. Colin MacFaden is fully aware of our publication record, and we sent Fraser and Larwood some of our papers so they were in the know as well.

The striking thing about this is that SNH is effectively saying that the fossil bed is so small that our past publication record is insufficient proof that we are able to deliver further results. As such, SNH would need to be very careful about who they let into the site. But, funnily enough, the research proposal SNH asks for would be judged by a volcanologist (=SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen) who is a layman concerning fossils, and especially those from Birk Knowes. In other words, we need to prove that we are qualified to work at Birk Knowes to someone who is unqualified to judge this.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

Once again we see the required specialisms for Colin MacFadyen’s “multidisciplinary research” requirement. While they are able to name the geological specialisms that are needed (sedimentology and stratigraphy), they are unspecific about the required palaeontological expertises. From this we can see that SNH, and more specifically SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen, still does not know what he is talking about concerning his own “multidisciplinary research” requirement. To confirm this we dared SNH in June of 2018 to tell us which palaeontological specialisms were necessary for Birk Knowes. SNH ignored this question, so we know that the multidisciplinary requirement is BS.


This is astonishing. They are instructing us to include a literature survey even though we have written papers about fossils from this site and other sites in the area 🙂


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

We are the only people who have done extensive palaeontological work at Birk Knowes since Ritchie in the early 1960s. Yet, should we desire to work at the site, we need to show a clearly stated hypothesis (=proof that our work could deliver results). This is crazy. We are being lectured by people who know almost nothing about Birk Knowes fossils.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

Here we see a continuation of SNH’s uncooperative attitude. If SNH wanted us to continue scientific work at Birk Knowes they should have embraced instead of mitigated the letters of support from these renowned early vertebrate workers.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

Here they criticise one of the papers we sent. While they intend to put one of us in his place by questioning his level of scientific rigour, SNH and the judges erred in raising this issue. We responded to SNH about this, the summary of which is given below.

The reasons why exact locality details were not mentioned:

1. We found new fossil localities outside the jurisdiction of Scottish Natural Heritage. These localities do not fall under the SSSI system. We cannot share these localities because land owners do not wish to have dealings with SNH. SNH seems to have a poor reputation amongst land owners. One of them even referred to SNH as “environmental fascists”. Scottish Natural Heritage has special powers to designate any piece of land as a SSSI. This could have far-reaching consequences for the land owner as SNH could effectively do a land grab. As land owners selflessly allow us to collect fossils from their land, we are not in a position to share locality details. The irony of this is that SNH is meant to protect fossil beds, but in this case fossil beds are being protected against SNH.

2. By sharing a fossil site with SNH it will become public knowledge. As chapter 1 of this site shows how SNH failed miserably in the protection of Birk Knowes, there is no guarantee that they can protect any new fossil site.

3. These new localities were found because we could not continue work at Birk Knowes. Considering what Colin MacFadyen has done to keep us out Birk Knowes, sharing new localities with SNH would not make sense as we could be kept out of those sites as well.

SNH thought that not sharing the locality details was an oversight and they tried to devalue our work, but it was actually a calculated move to keep the site out of their reach.


Summarised, judging by the amount of times the SNH investigation team are making up things up about the NMS report, it is evident that they rigged the investigation. The purpose of this was to hide the fact that Colin MacFadyen had falsified the conclusions of the NMS report about the condition of the fossil site Birk Knowes SSSI. By taking part in the investigation and supporting Colin MacFadyen’s narrative, Nick Fraser and Jonathan Larwood helped their friend/colleague/associate out of a lot of trouble. But in doing so they now share responsibility for their part in rigging the investigation. What makes it all rather pitiful on the part of Nick Fraser and Jonathan Larwood is that they were not particularly brilliant at rigging the investigation. It proved possible to punch holes through their investigation, left, right and center.