A history of the Geological Conservation Review
A particularly ambitious programme for overhauling site assessment and documentation for geoconservation in Great Britain was initiated in the mid-1970s by the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) resulting in the formal launch of the ‘Geological Conservation Review’ (GCR) in 1977. The GCR was a world-first project of its type in the assessment of the whole geological heritage or ‘geodiversity’ of a country from first principles. Criteria and assessment methods were developed, with a view to selecting the very best sites to represent the diversity of British geology and geomorphology. A list of selection categories—GCR ‘Blocks’—encompassing British geology and geomorphology was devised. Widespread consultation with geologists and geomorphologists across Great Britain was co-ordinated; and the criteria refined and interpreted to suit the selection category at hand. Field investigation of proposed sites was a key component of site selection, although the selection process relied heavily on expert knowledge, literature-review and consensus-building. Almost 3000 sites had been selected for around 100 site selection categories for the GCR ‘register’ by 1990. Most GCR sites are now conserved under British law as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. In Great Britain, the GCR has formed the ‘benchmark’ for attainment of national importance (in a British context), rather than regional importance; a ‘minimum number of sites’ criterion is enshrined in the GCR ethos to assist in defining this benchmark. As part of the site-selection process, a considerable archive of information about sites was amassed. A major publication exercise detailing all of the GCR sites in what was to become the GCR series of books was devised early on in the GCR programme of work. An electronic GCR database was also created in the 1980s and has been the subject of ongoing revision. Although this paper has a historical outlook, the GCR project is not intended to be a finished record of Britain's best sites up to 1990. Instead, the GCR register will keep pace with new discoveries and developments in geological research. In the future, further re-evaluation and confirmation of the ‘conservation value’ of each site is envisaged; assessment of additional sites will also take place, so that the GCR designation can continue to be a hallmark for quality in geoconservation for years to come.