1.3 SNH’s failure to protect the site

While the site warden and farmers could not be relied on to give notice about Edinger’s collecting activities, Scottish Natural Heritage was nonetheless aware. Birk Knowes SSSI was a well-known site and as such it was visited from time to time by students and researchers who had collecting permits.

We were among those who visited the site for research purposes, and we encountered Edinger at Birk Knowes several times. The first time we saw him was in 1990. He explained to us that he had permission from the site warden. However, as Edinger did not have a permit, we made the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) aware of this. This museum relayed our warning to the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC), the predecessor of Scottish Natural Heritage.

Despite this, the following years Edinger came back to Birk Knowes. Therefore, we continued to provide warnings about his presence, but this time directly to the newly-formed Scottish Natural Heritage.

SNH/NCC was provided with reports from us about Edinger in every year from 1991 to 1995. Warnings were given several times per year; over telephone, when visiting SNH offices, or in writing.

SNH was also informed by us that Edinger had signed the visitor books of the local farm as well as the farmhouse of another SSSI in the neighbourhood. He even had the audacity to write his address in the visitor books. We told SNH that they could compare the visitor books with the list of issued permits to find out what they needed to know about him.

What did SNH do with our information? The fact that we had to keep sending warnings to SNH year after year shows that little, but probably nothing, was done.

This seems to be supported by the fact that when SNH was confronted with the accusation that they had done nothing to protect the site, they could only produce two points of action:

Source: email from Lyndsey Kinnes, Operations Manager SNH, 22 March 2016

Based on the above, it seems that SNH/NCC undertook action only once an institution like the National Museums of Scotland (NMS) warned them. In both cases the NMS warnings to SNH/NCC originated from us and were relayed by the NMS. It is remarkable that SNH ignored our warnings as we frequented the site perhaps more than any other permit holder.

As for what SNH actually did in response to NMS warnings about Edinger; it was clearly ineffective. After more than four years of warnings Edinger hadn’t as much as bumped into an SNH ‘officer’. This is especially odd because Edinger was present during nearly every holiday period. His return to the site became predictable, and SNH was informed when he was to be expected. Even then no attempt to intercept him was made.

It is unclear why SNH was negligent concerning Birk Knowes, especially considering that this is a world-class fossil site and arguably the most important under their care. It is possible that SNH thought that the site warden had things under control. However, as can be read later, by 1994 it should have been clear to SNH that the site warden had been compromised, so this is not a valid excuse. It is more likely that SNH staff simply could not be bothered to go out into the field to confront Edinger; a field trip presumably being far from the comfort of the office. SNH is first and foremost a bureaucratic organisation after all.

Next it will be explained what motivated the site warden to support Edinger.

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