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 closure of Birk Knowes. The conclusions of the SNH investigation have already been discussed in this section. What follows is a full length discussion of the SNH investigation 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. They helped MacFadyen out of the mess he created by playing along with the falsified narrative, as will be shown below.


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 therefore been made up out of thin air.


This is also not mentioned in the report and is therefore another fabrication.

Why did the SNH investigation team 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 such a long time. It is an attempt to protect Colin MacFadyen’s falsified narrative.


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 proven publication record of Birk Knowes fossils (=us) could not work at this site.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

Here we can see that Colin MacFadyen, Nick Fraser and Jonathan Larwood 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 of the fossil bed which they had collected. 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 at Birk Knowes, they would have seen that the fossil bed is at least double the claimed thickness.

So much for reviewers doing their job of looking at the NMS report with a critical eye. But then, it is likely more convenient for Colin MacFadyen that 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 judges 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 small fossil bed 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 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. 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 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 each 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. It is inexcusable that this information was absent from the NMS report, as it would have helped to show how much fossil bed is present at Birk Knowes.

Why was this flaw was not highlighted by the SNH investigation team? The answer is pretty simple; it was Colin MacFadyen who was responsible for overseeing the creation of the NMS report. As such, he is hardly going to criticise himself, nor are Fraser or Larwood going to embarrass their friend/colleague/associte. 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 judges 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 rich 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 of a tour? If we had given them a tour of the site it would no longer be possible to maintain the “almost totally removed” or “limited resource” narratives, which would be an unfavourable outcome for the person who made these falsifications: SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen. It is therefore unsurprising that our offer was ignored.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

This is another part dedicated to supporting SNH geologist 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 a shred of evidence to support their 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 is very small, and that it 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 (=a fundamental principle of geology). Because of the principle of lateral continuity 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.

This raises the question: why would the three judges say something as silly as this? To find the answer we need to look at what SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen has claimed in the past. Most importantly, he has made the claim that the NMS report concluded that the fossil bed discontinues within about 40 meters behind both exposures and on both sides of the valley — even though no evidence contained in the report exists to support this (see chapter 2.4). The purpose of this statement was therefore to support Colin MacFadyen’s falsified 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, 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, the SNH investigation team are ignoring data about this contained in the very report they were meant to review. This is further proof that the investigation has been rigged in favour of supporting Colin MacFadyen’s falsified narrative of an “almost depleted” fossil bed.


Source: SNH investigation conclusions, 17 June, 2016

This is also not written in the NMS report and is therefore another fabrication.


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 past 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 results. As such SNH needs 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 who is a layman concerning fossils (=SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen), 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

Here we can see why the SNH investigation team had been untruthful earlier about Birk Knowes having been open in the past.

They are trying to convince us that access possibilities never existed at all, which is untrue as MacFadyen mentioned multidisciplinary research as early as the year 2000. In doing this they are trying to fool us into thinking that we have gained something from the SNH investigation, when in fact it changed nothing. The harsh conditions still exist, and our research prospects would be at the mercy of someone who is not above falsifying a report’s conclusions and rigging an investigation. This does not instil us with much confidence that our research proposal would be judged fairly.

Another point of note here is the mention of the need for sedimentological, stratigraphical, and palaeontological expertises. SNH is able to name the geological specialisms that are needed, but he is 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 quite astonishing. They are instructing us to include a literature survey even though we have written papers about fossils from this site. 🙂


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). Effectively, 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 lying through their teeth or 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 falsified the conclusions of the NMS report about the condition of the fossil site Birk Knowes SSSI. Nick Fraser and Jonathan Larwood helped their friend/colleague/associate out of a lot of trouble. But in doing so they are now culpable 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.