What happened to the various parties involved in the fossil theft at Birk Knowes SSSI?
- Ernst Edinger was never prosecuted and was able to keep the profits from his plunder at Birk Knowes.
- The other Germans were unaffected as well.
- The site warden presumably received his 10% share from Edinger as they were good friends. He remained site warden for several years after the plunder and after SNH already knew he had supported Edinger. It took SNH until 1999 before he was released from his position.
- Humboldt Museum. There was no legal action from SNH and the museum was able to keep all of the stolen fossils.
- Scottish Natural Heritage. Despite stacking incompetence on top of incompetence, SNH as a whole suffered minimal loss of reputation as their part in the plunder was never made public (until now).
- SNH Head of Earth Sciences Alan McKirdy. While he provided the site warden with the oral permit that took away any chance of prosecuting Edinger or launching a legal case against the Humboldt Museum, McKirdy was later promoted to a high position within SNH. The irony of this is that, while he was the one who spread fake news about this affair to the media, the position he was promoted to was SNH Head of Information.
- The land owner never got their stolen fossils back.
- Researchers were unable to continue work at Birk Knowes because Scottish Natural Heritage closed the site.
In other words, the parties that negatively influenced the fossil theft at Birk Knowes were either unaffected or benefitted from this affair.
Only the land owner and researchers were the two parties who were not responsible for the fossil theft, but they were the only ones who had lost out. Without our intervention it is possible that the German collectors could have pillaged this fossil site unimpeded for many more years.
SNH was the weak point in the system. As they were the government body responsible for managing and protecting the site, they failed in their duty. Apart from ignoring warnings about the plunder and therefore neglecting this world-class site, they provided Edinger with an oral permit that effectively gave him immunity from prosecution. SNH should not have relied on the site warden to manage the site for them, especially after 1994, when it was obvious that he was actively supporting the Germans. If SNH had followed through on the warnings they received and intervened earlier then the scale of the theft could have been minimised.
It could be argued that after the plunder Scottish Natural Heritage should no longer have been entrusted with the task of managing and protecting fossil sites; their staff was unqualified, incompetent, and indifferent. However, the full extent of what happened did not become public until now, which means that almost nobody knows what really happened.
As these events occurred over 20 years ago, SNH has had a lot of time to make amends. This raises the question; what is SNH like today?
We managed to find out. From the closure of Birk Knowes in 1995 until recently we have been in contact with SNH about continuing research excavations at the site. This has had no result. The next chapter will explain why.
If you think that what has been said so far puts Scottish Natural Heritage in a bad light; it has been rather mild compared to what’s next.