Ethical Rock Collection Policy

Collection of rock samples in Scotland should be conducted in a way that preserves the aesthetic qualities of rock exposures, does not damage or destroy their geoheritage value for future generations and complies with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, the Scottish Fossil Code, and the Scottish Core Code. This Ethical Rock Collection Policy has the support of all key agencies and university departments within Scotland.

Scotland’s Geodiversity Charter sets out the importance of Scotland’s geodiversity and encourages its conservation and enhancement. Academic research is hugely important in adding to our knowledge of Scotland’s geodiversity, and in progressing knowledge of earth science. However, anyone collecting rock samples in Scotland should ensure that their work is carried out responsibly, even in areas that do not have a statutory designation. You are invited to enjoy Scotland’s amazing geodiversity, but please tread lightly, leave no trace, and be respectful of Scotland’s landscapes, wildlife and people.

Geodiversity is the variety of rocks, minerals, fossils, landforms, sediments and soils, together with the natural processes which form and alter them.

Geoheritage is those elements of our geodiversity that have significant scientific, educational, cultural or aesthetic value.

1. Access & permission to collect

Everyone has a right to access most land in Scotland. The historical right was codified in law with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which means that you can walk almost anywhere in Scotland without the need to ask permission or keep to paths. Very importantly, however, alongside this right comes the responsibility to care for your own safety, to respect people’s privacy and peace of mind and to cause no damage. This means, for instance, that you do not walk through someone’s garden or across a field of growing crops.

Further information: the Scottish Outdoor Access Code –

Importantly, the right of access does not extend to collecting samples, which requires permission from the owner of the mineral rights and may also require permission of the landowner, occupier or manager of the land.

2. Collecting rock & fossil samples

Historically in Scotland the collection of small rock and fossil samples from loose material has been tolerated in most places.  Collection sites need to be assessed on an individual basis, taking into account the frequency of visits and the scientific importance of the site. You are acting within the law if you obtain permission to collect.

The use of hammers, chisels, crowbars etc on rock exposures is rarely necessary, and is strongly discouraged in protected sites – National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Geological Conservation Review sites (see Section 4 below). Individuals within large groups should be discouraged from carrying or using hammers.

Where a fresh surface is necessary for research purposes, look around first for sections that others have already exposed. If you need to make a fresh exposure or collect a sample, it should be done very discretely and by removing the minimal amount of necessary material. Make sure the sample location is properly recorded.

Marking of rock outcrops using paint or other means is discouraged. If markings are necessary, they should be temporary (e.g. chalk), and removed once they have fulfilled their purpose.

You should leave the exposure as you found it. Remember that the biodiversity of rock faces is often fragile and easily damaged, so sampling should avoid loss or damage to vegetation or animal habitats such as nesting sites. Rock faces are also used by others for sport, so rock faces used routinely by climbers should not be hammered at all (see Mountaineering Council of Scotland ‘Climbing in Scotland‘ statement for best practice guidance).

Follow the Scottish Fossil Code –

Collection of rock samples for surface exposure age dating using cosmogenic nuclide analysis should follow the guidance published by SNH –

3. Rock Coring

Anyone rock coring in Scotland for palaeomagnetic, geological, geochemical and related studies should follow the Scottish Core Code –

You should get permission from the landowner and from the owner of the mineral rights. Special rules apply (see Section 4 below) at protected sites – National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and Geological Conservation Review sites.

All essential coring should be carried out in a responsible and environmentally acceptable way. In particular, coring sites should be selected to minimise their visual impact and holes should be plugged using the weathered end of the core, or use small rock chips and dust from the rock cored, mixed with cement or suitable resin.

4. Sample collecting in protected sites

Special rules apply to National Nature Reserves (NNR) or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Permission must be obtained in advance to collect any samples (including rock, soil, or water) from these sites.

National Nature Reserves

See Contact the Reserve Manager in advance.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

SSSIs are protected by law. It is an offence for any person to intentionally or recklessly damage the protected natural features of an SSSI. Contact the landowner, or Scottish Natural Heritage for advice – see

The Geological Conservation Review (GCR – identified sites of national and international importance that, together, show all the key scientific elements of the Earth heritage of Britain. Around a quarter of the 900 GCR sites in Scotland have not yet received statutory protection as SSSI, but they should be regarded as having the same conservation status as a SSSI.