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South Yorkshire Geology Sites
Definitions of types of geological sites in South Yorkshire
In recent years a variety of different names have been introduced by district Local Authorities to describe, classify and designate sites of geological interest in South Yorkshire and surrounding areas. Other names have been proposed by several national bodies. This proliferation of terminology, together with the lack of clear definitions in some cases, can be confusing and can introduce inconsistencies when attempting to understand and evaluate the relative importance of geological sites across the region. Additional confusion has been caused by the overlap between the geological and the ecological interests of many sites, with more names and acronyms being applied.
In general, the various names used for types of geological sites in South Yorkshire can be regarded as belonging to an informal, three-tier classification system which has been in operation for a number of years. At the simplest level these types can be envisaged (in order of decreasing geographical relevance) as sites of national, regional and local significance. Geological sites of national importance (SSSIs) are part of a system of statutory designations which are managed by Natural England. The regionally important sites are non-statutory but are designated and administered by Local Geological Sites Partnerships and Panels in association with Local Authorities. Sites belonging to the lowest tier may not meet the criteria required for formal designation, but may still be of interest and value. The distinction between the regional and local site types is not recognised in all areas of the country nor is it recognised in guidance documents published by DEFRA, which classifies all non-statutory sites (for either wildlife or geology) as ‘Local Sites᾿. DEFRA guidance recognises, however, that local circumstances will vary and that criteria thresholds may be set differently within one district compared to neighbouring areas. Sheffield Area Geology Trust (SAGT) considers that the existing three-tier grading system for designated geological sites is useful, well-established and should be retained for application within South Yorkshire.
Statutorily-designated sites are protected by a significant degree of regulatory control and legal protection, while other geodiversity sites are given a moderate degree of protection under the Local Authority planning system. The recently published National Planning Policy Framework advises Local Authorities to distinguish between the hierarchy of international, national and locally designated sites and to set criteria-based policies so that the level of protection given to these sites is commensurate with their status and that appropriate weight is given to their importance in the planning process.
The process of identification, designation and conservation of geological sites is a continuous one. Some geological sites are naturally-occurring, e.g., tors, cliffs, crags and exposures in stream beds, but many sites exist as a consequence of man-made changes to the landscape, especially abandoned mineral workings and excavations made for buildings, roads, railways and canals. A large percentage of geological sites in South Yorkshire is formed from harder rock formations, typically sandstones and limestones. Softer rocks, such as shale, mudstone, coal and seatearth, are often very important components of the geological history of the region but they are rarely exposed at outcrop and any accessible sites showing these strata at the ground surface are potentially of great scientific value.
Although all sites are prone to slow, natural change, some sites suffer rapid deterioration as a consequence of poor management, dereliction, or complete destruction through urban re-development or agricultural intensification. Unintentional removal of interesting rock outcrops during landscaping work to improve local amenities can also be as harmful to geological sites as progressive encroachment by neglected vegetation. Conversely, new sites of geological interest can be created by road, rail, engineering and development works, although these may not necessarily be easily accessible to the public.