My Lord, Ladies, and Geologists – at the launch of the English Geodiversity Charter

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The afternoon of Tuesday 21st October saw the launch of the English Geodiversity Charter, in the august surroundings of committee room 11, Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament to those unaware it was a palace). A fitting location perhaps given the marvellous stone in which it is is built, a point made at least once during the meeting.

The English Geodiversity Charter is a remarkably succinct and useful document put together by the English Geodiversity Forum, the “collective voice for England’s geodiversity”. In case you were unfamiliar with the word, “geodiversity is the variety of rocks, fossils, minerals, soils, landforms and natural processes. Geodiversity directly influences and shapes our natural environment, our landscape and both where, and how, we live.” (source www.englishgeodiversityforum.org)

The document is available here www.englishgeodiversityforum.org/Downloads/Geodiversity%20Charter%20for%20England.pdf and really sets out what Geodiversity is and why it is important. When you come to think of it, rocks, fossils, minerals, soils, landforms and natural processes underpin pretty much everything to some degree or other, whether it is the food that we eat, the places that we visit, the biodiversity we depend upon or the houses that we live in. In fact I challenge you to come up with something that relates to what we do today (apart from perhaps hedge funds) that has no relation to our geodiversity.

It seems that in England we are very lucky because we have it in spades! Fertile alluvial plains for crops, dramatic post-glacial valleys to be inspired by, minerals to extract and, of course from our own Jurassic Coast, millions of years of the Earth’s history exposed for our pleasure and understanding.

Anyway, back to the HoP gig. Without wishing to cut a long story short, it was very good – passionate, interesting, useful and instructive (is that still a word?). It was kicked off by Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for natural environment and science (in Defra), who opened the occasion and welcomed the Charter, followed by a several presentations about Geodiversiy and the Charter. After a short break, this was followed by short presentations covering a range of topics, from aggregate industries to South Georgia, World Heritage Sites (yours truly) to Global geoparks, and from quilt-making to the Dudley Bug (google it!). We even had some fabulous specimens from the Natural History Museum brought in, although some fossils had been banned in advance by the Master of Arms as being ‘potential projectiles’.

We lost our host MP Julian Smith early on, gained Adrian Sanders MP from Torquay for a while, lost our Lord at the half way point, but were pleased to see the Rt Hon Ken Clarke MP slope in early into the second session and stay until the end. The value of putting anything up the political agenda is sometimes debatable, but there has never been a Ministerial launch of a Geodiversity initiative in England before so it could be the start of a new phase of political buy-in.

But given the unquestionable importance of our geodiversity, and with the knowledge of how much it underpins so much of our life, why is it so poorly understood and known about, particularly in relation to its glamorous neighbour ‘biodiversity’? In my view, I pondered as I walked back along the corridors of power, it’s simply an image problem. Geodiversity needs a make-over, good PR, it needs to be sexed-up and made accessible to the x-factor audience. Some great examples of this have been going on all over the country – Dudley, Cornwall, Torbay, North Pennines, Jurassic Coast – perhaps it is time to build on that, maybe start to use different language and see geodiversity recognised for its true value.

Sam Rose, October 2014

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