From chapter 2.4 we learned that Birk Knowes had been closed based on false premises and that it was Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) who was responsible. This created an problematic situation. When we discovered this, the SNH investigation by Niall Corbet into the closure of Birk Knowes was still ongoing. Knowing that SNH was responsible changed everything about the investigation, as SNH was effectively investigating the misconduct of its own staff. To understand what effect this might have on the investigation, we needed to know who at SNH was responsible for the NMS report about the condition of the fossil site, and who might have falsified its conclusions.
Finding this out was relatively simple. An SNH contact person is written on the cover of the NMS report:
The staff member mentioned is Colin MacFadyen (right), the person we had been in contact with since the late 1990s to gain access to Birk Knowes, and who had previously told us that there would be little doubt that our future application to collect at Birk Knowes will be granted. Despite the fact that he is a volcanologist, it is his job to advise SNH about matters concerning fossil collecting policy. He is also the creator of the Scottish Fossil Code and the Scotland editor of the geoconservation magazine Earth Heritage.
Could he have been responsible for misrepresenting and fabricating the NMS report’s conclusions? Consider the following:
- Birk Knowes was his responsibility since at least a number of years before the NMS report was ready in the year 2000.
- He is the SNH contact person written on the report.
- His job title is SNH Policy Advisor on Geology.
- There is nobody else at SNH who fills these positions.
This indicates that he was responsible for interpreting the NMS report and translating it into policy.
This is not all that can be said. There is still the question of whether this could have happened by mistake or if there was any form of intent. Under normal circumstances a person deserves the benefit of the doubt in such a situation, as mistakes can and do happen from time to time. However, there are a number of points which call into question the good intentions of SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen:
1. Colin MacFadyen has personally visited Birk Knowes SSSI (see left and below for photos and here for source). As he is a geologist with a PhD, is it possible that the 8 meter thick exposure of fossil bed which he is standing next to in the photographs was not noticed by him? Is it possible that he overlooked the size of the fossil bed as mentioned in chapter 2.2?
2. Is it possible that he did not notice that the NMS staff did not assess the extent of the fossil bed Birk Knowes, thereby not carrying out its main goal?
3. The NMS report makes no mention of SNH’s claim that “the fossil-bearing resource has been almost totally removed by illegal collecting”. Can such an elaborate falsification written in SNH documentation have happened by mistake? Could it have happened without Colin MacFadyen knowing about it?
4. Colin MacFadyen wrote in Earth Heritage that the NMS report concluded that the fossil bed is “so small that it was probably contained entirely within the SSSI boundary“. As this cannot be traced back to the NMS report, is it possible that such a detailed fabrication was accidental?
5. The NMS report contains no valid reason to refuse us access to Birk Knowes on the grounds of a small resource. Is it possible that Colin MacFadyen did not comprehend a report with four written pages?
6. The NMS report writes about the fossil bed being 10 meters thick, has logs of the vertical sequence showing the fossil bed to be approximately 24.5 meters thick, has maps indicating that the exposures are separated by around 110 meters, and contains photographs which show large exposures. Is it possible that he overlooked this evidence by mistake, instead believing the fossil bed to be almost depleted?
As no reasonable amount of incompetence can explain the above, it does not look like the continued closure of Birk Knowes was an accident. The NMS report’s conclusions were wilfully falsified by SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen.
One may wonder what could motivate Colin MacFadyen to do this? After all, if you are found out you risk your reputation, your employer’s reputation, and perhaps even your position. We will discuss his motives further at the end of chapter 2.
The realization that it had been the SNH geologist Colin MacFadyen all along who was behind the closure of Birk Knowes complicated the investigation even further…