The Bristol Exploration Club, The Belfry, Wells Road, Priddy, Nr Wells, Somerset.
Editor: Dave Turner

The views expressed by contributors to the Belfry Bulletin, including those of club officers are not necessarily the views of the committee of the Bristol Exploration Club, or the editor, unless so stated.  The Editor cannot guarantee the accuracy of information contained in contributed matter as it cannot normally be checked in the time at his disposal.

Editor’s Notes

Politics and Caving

Most members cannot fail to notice the increased size of this BB which unfortunately is due to bureaucratic ineptitude rather than reports of cave discoveries etc.  It is a pity that the most significant find on Mendip for many years – The Cheddar River Cave - is totally eclipsed by the recent problems caused by the enforcement of the scheduling of all the major caves as SSSI’s.

We (Bob Cork, Hon. Sec. and I) have decided that we ought to present club members with all the relevant paperwork concerning the way which the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) has notified landowners of the NCC’s powers over scheduled land.  We have decided to do so as the heavy handed way the NCC has exerted its power has caused the biggest upset in caver/landowner relations since caving began on Mendip at the turn of the century.

For those members who are out of touch with events on “The Hill” it should be pointed out that all active cavers fully understand and sympathise with the landowners anger. The major caves have been shut and the BEC Committee have closed Cuthbert’s for a period of 2 weeks to show solidarity.  Most landowners realise that local cavers are not responsible for the NCC action but if it wasn't for cavers and caving this action would not have happened, and so we are involved and must try to achieve a compromise.

I have also included some of the correspondence and papers concerning the application for planning permission to develop caves in Fairy Cave Quarry as a show cave complex.  This has been turned down by Mendip District Council and there is a strong feeling locally that the National Caving Association (NCA) exceeded its powers in its critical lobbying of Mendip District Councillors.

Dave Turner 21/5/86

Data Protection Act

In the light of the recent Data Protection Act members may be interested to know that the BEC membership list is held on a computer.  As this list contains only that information required for BB delivery (number, name and address) there is no requirement for us to pay £22 for each 3 years registration. Any member who objects to his name being held on a computer may have it removed - but don't blame me if this is your last BB!

Dave Turner

Recent Library Addition.

Karst Geomorphology - J.N. Jennings Caving Practice & Equipment - D. Judson


Membership Changes

New Members

1072     Clive Lovell, Keynsham, Bristol
1073     Tracey Newstead, Wells, Somerset
1074     Henry Bennett, Pimlico, London SW1
1075     Brian Wafer, St Pauls Cray, Orpington, Kent

Address Changes

322       Bryan Ellis, Westonzoyland, Bridgwater
1071     Michael McDonald, Urchfont, Devizes, Wiltshire
1067     Fiona McFall, Knowle, Bristol
1037     Dave Pike, Wookey Hole, Wells, Somerset
482       Gordon Selby, Wells, Somerset
1031     Mike Wigglesworth, Wells, Somerset.
813       Ian Wilton-Jones, Saudi Arabia

Members Rejoining

896       Pat Cronin, Knowle, Bristol

Sec’s Notes

Cave Closures

The main Mendip news at present is the major upheaval caused by the NCC scheduling cave sites as SSSI’s, a subject that I have enlarged upon in a separate article in this bulletin. The response of the landowners to this action has been to shut a number of caves, namely: Hunters Hole, Swildons, Eastwater, Nine Barrows and Sludge Pit (16/5/86).  We as a club were asked by the landowners to close St Cuthbert’s as a sign of good will.  The committee was consulted and we agreed to stop any trips that had not been previously booked, for a period of two weeks from 18/5/86.  This decision was not taken lightly, but it was felt that we should do as much as possible to support the landowners in their protest against the restrictions imposed upon them.

Club Archivist

The committee realised a need for the club archives to be sorted, shortly after the last AGM.  Alan Thomas offered his services and was appointed to this non-committee post.  He has since been busy doing things archivists do and has recently come up with his first find, a letter which will hopefully find our elusive mining log. The material in the archives shows a great deal of club history and members who need any information of this nature should contact Alan directly.


Cheddar River Cave


ST 468.540

by Richard Stevenson

The three most obvious sites for gaining entrance to the main river cave are Skeleton Pit in Gough’s Cave entrance, Sayes Hole and the actual risings.  The first recorded dives were in May 1955 and in the cases of Skeleton Pit and the Cheddar Risings no material progress has been made since those original dives.


21.5.55 R.E.DAVIES

Using an aqualung, the diver reached a depth of 74 ft. at which point the rift became too narrow for further progress; size 20" by 4ft.  No side passages were observed in the poor visibility but possibilities were thought to exist at a higher level.

CDG Rev, 6 (1953/5)
WCC Jnl.(51), 17 (1955)

First Feeder


The divers explored under the arch and found many small holes; the biggest was about 5 ft deep and would admit a body, but at its lowest point would only just admit a pair of feet.  No progress was made.

CDG REV, 6 (1953/5)
WCC Jnl.(51), 17 (1955)

None of the other risings are of any interest to the group, being all too tight to dive.

Conclusion. Many tons of rock would have to be removed from the First Feeder before any progress can be made.

The first dive in Sayes Hole on 31st May 1955 by J S Buxton terminated at a slot in the floor at 25-30 ft depth and 40 ft from base.  This slot was passed by Messrs Drew, Savage and Woodlng in the autumn of 1965, who emerged in the main river.  Upstream this passage was reported blocked at 150 ft by boulder chokes and downstream becomes impenetrable after 40 ft.

Subsequent dives have reported the upstream distance to be approximately 70ft and no further progress has been made.

During late 1985 Mike Duck and I expended considerable effort digging into the second rising where we passed a very tight squeeze and dropped into a small underwater chamber with a flow of water.  The way upstream is very tight and may be blocked with boulders.

The first Somerset Sump Index produced by Ray Mansfield in April 1964 contained the following introduction to Gough’s Cave.

This cave contains three sumps, all of which fall into the class that has been called Reservoir.  Of these three water surfaces only the so called 'Skeleton Pit' is large enough to dive.  The level of all three sumps is approximately the same, and like that of Saye's Hole, they rise when, in times of flood, the resurgences become over laden. At such times water rises within the cave from gravel in the floor of the passage at its lowest point; considerable flooding of the cave then occurs.

Andy Sparrow suggested to me, in his own inimitable way, that I might like to have a look at the sump in the oxbows.  It was getting near to closing time, I was in no fit state to argue and it seemed like a good idea at the time!  The dive was fixed for the following Monday evening.  I looked back at my old newsletters, and found a log for the site which did little for my enthusiasm.


ST 467.539

18th May 1980

Diver: M.J. Farr

Aim: to examine the recently discovered sump about 200m from the entrance.

The sump pool is approached via a narrow (1.5 x 0.75 m.) pot, ten metres deep.  In clear water the sump (0.75 m. in diam) appeared to level off into a larger passage after a couple of metres.

On diving, feet first, any horizontal development was ruled out.  The pot continued on down over a small ledge.  Visibility nil.  The passage dimensions together with excessive sediment left a lot to be desired, and at -10m. the diver was concerned as to the position of his line, plus the fact that his valve was not performing satisfactorily.  The pot continued.  Little difficulty was experienced on the ascent and a further dive using a large cylinder could well be a good idea.

Monday evening came (11th November) and I set off with Quackers and an ebullient Sparrow.  The approach had all the makings of a Sparrow delight, awkward and very muddy.  The descent to the sump is a fairly difficult climb with loose rocks on the ledges.  We took a rope to assist on the climb and I dived on a single set of kit using the end of the rope as base fed diving line. I descended 45ft in totally zero visibility in a tight pot to bottom on a mud bank.  There was an impression of a void on my left but I had run out of rope and was unwilling to drag it sideways with such a difficult descent.  I returned to the surface with only moderate difficulty.

A return dive was made a week later with a line reel and lead weight.  In view of the restricted nature of the sump and its approach coupled with a desire not to be overly optimistic I dived on a single set without fins.  The descent was accomplished without problem (other than it feels about a hundred feet deep) and the line belayed to the lead weight on the mud bank.  A traverse of about ten feet to the left resulted in a noticeable temperature drop and I emerged into a large river passage of crystal clear water with visibility of approximately twenty feet.  What a contrast from the tube I had descended, and what a fool I felt without fins or a second set of diving equipment.

Diving was out of the question from mid December until early February as a result of flooding.

Subsequent dives in the company of Rob Harper have resulted in 500 ft. magnificent river passage terminating in a chamber.  The chamber, which has no dry land, crosses the main river and is approximately one hundred feet long, forty feet high and fifteen feet wide.  The chamber has been called "Lloyd Hall", I know Oliver would have been very excited about these discoveries and it seems a pity that he died such a short time before.

Rob Palmer and I have continued exploration from Lloyd Hall.  A steeply descending drop through boulders to 40ft and difficult route finding lead in about 100ft to a wide bedding with a scalloped floor.  A further 100ft of awkward passage with huge deep cross rifts and rock bridges finally yielded a magnificent sandy floored ascending passage maybe 20ft wide.  This ascended up the bedding to break surface on a small sandy beach some 350ft from Lloyd Hall.  Two very small airbells were found and, in view of Martin and Sue Bishop's wedding, were named "Wedding Bells".  A climb over boulders from the beach led into a large chamber, the " Bishops Palace" which is approximately 400ft long, 80ft wide and 40ft high.  Carrying diving torches and wearing only wet sock boats we explored the chamber, climbing over loose rocks the size of small caravans, to eventually find the continuation of the river passage - a beautiful green sump pool in a rift.  It is hoped that we can put three divers in this pool in the very near future and actually film line laying  as it happens!  Some photographs and a survey should be available for the next issue together with any further news.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of underwater cave exploration 1is the effect it has on the cave environment.  Little blind white wriggling things can cope quite well with rising flood waters (they simply hide), but a sudden careless fin stroke, an unexpected stream of air bubbles across the roof, a silt-ploughing diver, all do them no good whatsoever.  Its not publicity that hurts caves, it's cavers, and there is great responsibility in exploration.  Already, in exploring the Cheddar River, we have noticed how many little animals are getting dislodged from their perches, and washed down the cave, simply by dint of our passage. Many of these may not re-establish themselves before being washed out through the resurgence.

So, there are a few guidelines we are using, to coin a pun.  The lines themselves are being laid along the left hand wall, tautly, to avoid divers straying off a given path.  Except for check-out examination on exploration dives, the other side of the passage is 'verboten'.  The concept of taped off sections is being applied for the first time in underwater cave exploration in UK (and possibly in the world).  Once the entrance is large enough, we hope that any divers who have the opportunity to dive here will use some form of buoyancy compensation, there is no need to snowplough through sediments, not only is it bad for conservation but it is simply bad technique.  Short of using re-breathers, which eliminate the bubbles, there is little else we can do at the moment, but at least the bubbles are being restricted to one side of the passage, leaving the real cave divers undisturbed in the rest. It would be nice to see this practice adopted elsewhere as a matter of course.  The wildlife in sumps is by no means obvious, and so far little notice has been taken by cave divers of the small creatures that share the water with them. At least this is being remedied at Cheddar.

The Cheddar River has proved extremely interesting in terms of cave biology. The populations of all the creatures mentioned above are high, and it could be that the phreatic zone is a lot more important than has hitherto been thought.

A preliminary collection has recorded three invertebrate species, each worthy of note.  Gammarus pulex,  a troglophilic amphipod appears in the cave, unusually lacking in pigmentation.  Many Gammarus in caves have started their life in surface and been washed underground, after daylight has had a chance to trigger pigmentation.  The Cheddar specimen has obviously spent its entire life underground.

A white flatworm, Dendrocoleum lacteum, is an unusual troglophile.  Its habitat is more usually in shallow, eutrophic, sluggish waters on the surface, quite the opposite to rock-floored underground river passages. It has been recorded elsewhere in the Mendip underworld, and is probably there because the food is good. Dendrocoleum munches its way through a troglobitic isopod, the only true cave animal so far recorded in the sump. This tiny isopod, Procellus cavitatus, is common enough in Welsh caves, but the Cheddar ones are comparative giants.  Almost half as big again as their Welsh cousins.  The Cheddar Procellus helps keep the cave clean, feeding on organic refuse swept down on the cave waters, and may well be partly responsible for the clean-up of many of the pollution events which have affected the system in the past, such as the discharge of slaughterhouse wastes into Longwood in the late 1970's, which made Longwood very unpleasant for a while, but which had no effect on the waters at the risings.  Procellus falls victim to the sticky trail left by the flatworms, which on retracing their wriggling way, make passing meals of the luckless isopods, who simply stick around waiting to be eaten.

I should like to thank Sandra Lee and Chris Bradshaw for their eager support, all the staff and cavers for the invaluable assistance they have given in portering equipment and making the approach somewhat less objectionable, and Quackers for his tireless efforts as dive controller.  The information on the wildlife and the survey were kindly supplied by Rob Palmer.


Daren Cilau

by  Mark Lumley

The Rock Steady Crew had a major push on the Hard Rock Extensions from Thursday 24th May to Sunday 27th.  This required a three or four night's camp 2 1/2 miles underground at the Hard Rock Cafe set up in the oxbows off the Kings Road.

Because of the severity of the undertaking we briefed everyone to bring in some kind of comforts. In the event everyone went completely over the top.  So, when on Saturday night we were visited by Clive Gardener and Arthur Millet, they were agog at the sight of a passage festooned with balloons and streamers. Our stereo blared Jean Michael Jarre at them on full volume and we invited them for a meal of Soup followed by Macaroni Cheese and beef burgers (with bread rolls~ mayonnaise and fresh lettuce, of course!!).  All this was washed down with liberal quantities of Ovaltine, coffee, tea (with lemon or milk), rum, whiskey and various other forms of liquor smuggled back from Ireland.  Their opinion about the hardship of underground camps were radically changed by the time they left.  (For the conservation minded, every trace of our camp disappeared on Sunday afternoon).

We organised ourselves into two digging teams, one for the daytime and one to dig at night.  This worked very efficiently and over breakfast we were entertained by the antics of the previous shift staggering to their beds as pissed as newts.

Our previous digs pushed the H.R. Extensions to over 1/2km terminating in a 40ft wide bedding chamber end in breakdown ( Brazil).  On our push into this we gained about 40-50ft in two days but we had lost the draught (and finally the airspace too).  It became apparent that we would have to backtrack and push on from another point. Clive managed to find a tight bedding that was draughting and the final night shift pushed this for about 40ft with no sign of it breaking out yet.

The crew left the cave on Sunday afternoon and evening, clocking up 65-75 hours of caving per person. On arriving back at Whitewalls we met our 'Back up' team.  They had got so pissed on Friday night that they were incapable of coming into the cave - lucky sods!

Although the main breakthrough was not forthcoming on this trip, it is clearly only a matter of perseverance.  We put in about 100 man hours of actual digging on this trip and will return for a further 3 day camp from the 29th May to 1st June.  The site is well worth the effort with miles of cave beyond.  There is a good possibility of a connection with Agen Allwedd and every sign that we’re on the right track to meet the elusive Llangattock 'master cave'.


LADS trip to Clare - Easter ‘86

The LADS were back in Co. Clare again for 2 weeks this Easter.  Most of our time was spent digging at sites observed in previous years but there was plenty of time for some good, sporting caving too.  Doolin River Cave was visited on several occasions (the most enjoyable being a trip upstream from Fisherstreet Pot on a Mountain bike!) Poulnagollum-Poulelva, Fergus River Cave, Coolagh River Cave (well, someone had to show Wessex the way through!) and Pollapooka were all good, enjoyable trips.  We had a look at a dig in Moonmilk Cave in Oughtdarra, observed a draughting bedding and two unmarked risings in the Castletown area and went diving around the Green Holes off Doolin.

We noted, however, that the good will between landowners and cavers is being stretched to the limits by a minority of "Silly Buggers".  The walls near popular caves frequently have stones missing and people are regularly stomping over the farmer's land without even having the courtesy to ask permission – the landowner for Pol-an-lonain has bricked up the entrance of the cave because he is annoyed at the situation.   We found on our arrival at our Poulnagarsuin digging site that the wall we had built around the main shaft to safeguard the landowner's (Gus Curtin) livestock had been partially demolished by so called 'cavers' throwing rocks down to hear how deep it was.  This resulted in Gus, a man in his seventies, having to cap the shaft himself and a less understanding man may well have curtailed future digging efforts (as it was, we were granted permission and even shown around other likely digging sites!).

On requesting permission to dig at the site of the main swallet by B8d (Caves of County Clare), a site which we looked at in 1985, we were made most welcome to check out any cave on the farmer's land but permission to dig was not granted - frustrating since the site looks as though it should go to a usable canyon a with a minimum of effort.


On our last day we observed a large shallow depression 50m northeast of the circular fortification (caker) towards the northern end of the Balinny depression, just east of the green road.  This contains at least 5 sinkholes, none of which seem to have been looked at.  We will dig the most southerly of these on our next trip to Clare.


We returned to our dig at Poulnagarsuin (400m south along the shale margin of W. Knockauns Mountain from Polomega) and concentrated our efforts on the boulder choked entrance, P2, 20ft south west of our original site.  After a day's intensive digging we had managed to descend vertically about 25ft into the tight upper section of a canyon at least 40ft high at the bottom of which a large stream could be heard.  Our way down was thwarted by the steep, loose boulder slope alongside and above us.  Sections of this had already collapsed into the confines of the digging face and we considered it a safer option to approach the canyon through our original entrance (PI), the bottom of which we estimated to be 15-20ft above the canyon floor and about 25-30ft away.

The P1 shaft was taking a Swildons sized stream which we diverted around the depression into P2. Two days later we had completely excavated the 3ft by 6ft shaft down to a depth of 45ft where it headed along a strongly draughting rift through which the stream could be heard.  A further day was spent digging about 12ft along the rift but it became too tight to push, only feet away from the elusive canyon.

We left the site with PI capped and P2 completely filled in to safeguard livestock.  Next year will hopefully see us through by less orthodox methods.

Mark Lumley.

The rest of the account of the BEC Easter trip to Ireland including photos of Mark caving on his Mountain bike (unfortunately recently stolen in Bristol) and also Pete Glanville’s exploits will be published in the next BB.           



Some caves of Fiordland, South Island, New Zealand

Driving north-westwards from the most southerly point of South Island we were surprised to come across an AA road sign " Limestone Caves".  It was obviously cave country - sandy-yellow buffs of wind and water smoothed limestone protruded from the grassy valley sides as we climbed gently from the river Waiau.  Following a dry riverbed we passed several shakeholes, until a further sign directed us up to a small bouldery horizontal stream sink entrance.  We had no caving gear so donning head torches, we decided on a quick recce in our NZ Sunday best.

The caves are in fact known as Clifden Caves, just up the road from (believe it or not!) Clifden Suspension Bridge.  Quite clearly they are frequently visited by all and sundry, from Scout Groups to tourists, from farmers to National Park workers.  There is graffiti in several parts of the cave, particularly near the end, but some of it is of definite historical interest with dates as far back as 1868.

Apart from a crawl through a boulder collapse under a second entrance, and one low arch, the whole cave is walking size.  A single passage zigzags along joints, gradually moving further from the valley side. It is clean washed except for mud and vegetation debris deposited at the sharp passage bends.  There is a little stal and some rimstone pools, but most of the system seems to be epi-pheratic in origin and is still very flood prone.  Gradually the floor develops pools and we were stopped eventually by a wide deep pool not far from the third entrance.

From Clifden we moved on to Te Auan and Fiordland, where we met up with Kevan Wilde (Ranger, Waitomo), Marja Wilde, Trevor Worthy (on a grant to collect/study sub-fossils - bones) et alp.  They had kindly brought down all our caving gear from North Island. Arrangements had already been made with the National Park authorities and we had a free boat ride in a Lands and Survey vessel across Lake Te Auan - very rough at high speed in choppy conditions. Thence a three hour slog through bush and across open tussock brought us to Mt. Luxmore Hut, where we met others who had come up in four minutes, by helicopter.

The limestone in this region is young - Oligocene, and lies in a 30 - 50 metre thick sloping band on top of ancient impermeable rocks.  Its upper surface forms the upland tussock country, and in places is overlain by volcanic dust and cinders.  Much of the water in the caves derives from the peaty basins below volcanic Mt. Luxmore.  The limestone band outcrops lower down, just in the bush, as a sheer or overhanging cliff. The caves are controlled by major joints running towards the cliff line, which is also down dip, and a minor joint pattern at right angles to this.

The Southland Caving Group were active in the Luxmore region in the early 60's and some twenty sites were discovered, ranging from Luxmore Cave - over 800m long, to short, unroofed half caves and canyons.  No doubt location maps were made, and certainly some caves were surveyed. Unfortunately the group disbanded, cave sites were forgotten and surveys lost.  Caves have since been rediscovered, renamed and re-explored but there is much confusion even in current documentation.

Although we had free use of the hut, again courtesy of the National Park, it was already overfull, so we two laid down a mattress of dead tussock grass outside and bivied beneath the stars.  In the morning we were rudely awakened by keas.  The kea is a mountain parrot, tame and fearless, of devious cunning, inquisitive, noisy, thieving and destructive.  Down sleeping bags take a few seconds to tear apart with the beak; rucksacs last a little longer.  We cleared our snow covered gear quickly away, and hid the SRT rope too!  From then on the keas were constant pests, and sources of amusement, especially when they hung upside down, to peer at us at work in the 'long drop privy'.

Out first cave. B.P.C. Grovel Extension is a large rift, mainly easy walking for about 200m upstream to narrower passages and chokes.  Here, in a shallow calcite pool, we found the first sub-fossils, bones of the very rare kakepo, a ground parrot.  Nearby, Calcite Cave, only 60m long, had no bones, but a profusion of good stal - rimstone, curtains etc., once a pure white but now somewhat muddied by visitors. Many non-cavers visit the Mt. Luxmore Hut and some of the nearby caves are easily found, of low grade, and very vulnerable. Moving over the 'cave field' to the bigger systems in this group, we entered Luxless Cave, in a large doline an overhanging climb, or a narrow twisting passage, with the stream, in sharp rock, led to a large twilit entrance chamber at the head of a big sloping tunnel.  We worked our way slowly down, carefully examining the banks of the stream and the wall slopes and looking under stones. The best find was a complete skunk skeleton.  The cave became very low towards the sump/choke, but a side passage, crawling in above a short climb, led to some bigger breakdown chambers.  There were excellent examples of slickensides in the roof. The stream, now regained, finally trickled away under boulders, but by going upstream a little we found a small pheratic tube with a narrow vadose trench enabling us to loop back to the crawl. Altogether there were several hundred metres of cave.

The final system of the day was Luxmore, close to Luxless and running parallel to it.  At one end of an elongated doline a narrow climb down led into big sloping passage, with a small stream that tumbled down various rocks and small cascades.  The passage quickly became more confused, passing two inlets on the right, one to Iron Maiden and one to White Exit.  At a third passage, off to the left, the passage reduced in height and width still further - from 2 or 3m high to 1m and from 1 or 2m wide down to 1/2m - a narrow twisting slightly awkward cave down to the sump, or final low bit.  The passage to the left was once very beautiful - a thin white calcite floor overlaying fine translucent dog-tooth spar had been permanently muddied and ruined by careless traffic and glittering with flows had dark handprints in the middle.  NZSS have a policy of not publishing cave locations nor publicising spelaeology.  However, the caves are mentioned in national park literature and non-cavers are openly encouraged to go wild caving in certain areas of N.Z.   Perhaps this is why Luxmore has suffered.

On our way out of the cave we examined the Iron Maiden series, essentially a single decorated passage with a small stream cutting in and out via low oxbows.  At the end was a low section with draughting avens.  The other passage inlet, White Exit, seemed to provide a good alternative route out, and we squeezed and climbed amongst pretty decorations until the passage became ludicrously narrow with no sign of daylight or draught.  We returned to the main entrance to be met by large flakes of snow and a soggy tramp back through the long tussock grass.

Beyond the first cave field, at least a further half hour's walk away, lay the second limestone site, dominated by a deep V-section gorge cut in bare rock.  We visited this area on our fourth day at Luxmore and examined a site which began in the valley side as a tube quickly leading to a pitch.  We rigged this with far too much rope - it was less than 20 feet and could be bypassed altogether by an awkward exposed free climb, below which more bones were found.  We had been led to expect several short rope pitches till the initial sections of this cave, which could well be Steadfast Cave, originally explored, in part at least, in the early 60's. After the entrance pitch a streamway was encountered, which lowered and was bypassed through a big rockfall. More bones were found here on the way out, when we lost the route for some time.  From the fall the cave developed as a rift, and we occasionally had to traverse in the wider roof to avoid constrictions, and then drop down to the water further on.  Two such drops, one roped and one using a tape handline, plus a traverse among formations, led to roomier passage beyond a bend.  Traversing and climbing in the wider, deeper rift passage became more awkward and exposed, and only two of us continued.  At a second major bend a large inlet joined the passage, but we left this unexplored, and carried on along the main way.  Climbing up and down among boulders which almost blocked off the high narrowing rift, one more short drop, requiring our last piece of tape, put us back in the stream.  Thence we were forced upwards, on jammed boulders, to reach the roof and a small ledge overlooking a much larger passage at a 60ft pitch.  There seemed to be no way down through the boulders, and no belays, even if we had a rope, so we had no option but to make our way out, de-tackling en route.

Up valley from the Steadfast entrance and just below the gravelly stream sinks an obvious hole emitted sounds of falling water.  We were told that the pitch here was very deep and put down our longest rope.  In fact, an inclined rift was easily free climbed for about 50ft and only the next 20ft to the floor required SRT gear. Water cascaded in over the vertical section and over me.  Groping in the dark I wished again, and not for the last time, for a decent alternative to the Premier stinkie.  Alight once more and a 6 foot wide, high, wet rift was revealed, and up from here led quickly to the most beautiful formations in the area..  As in Calcite Cave we were rather surprised by the profusion of stal, not usual in alpine karst. We could find no way on, either beyond the stal or down cave where the rift became too narrow.  With luck the formations will be preserved, since the cave is far from the hut, and apparently leads to no significant length of passage.

While hundreds of trampers and a few cavers visit the Luxmore area, very few people ever get to see Aurora Cave where we were heading next.  Further up Lake Te Anou is a tourist show cave, a resurgence into the lake.  The only reasonable access is by boat and tourist launches ply regularly between Te Anou township and the cave.  Some short underground boat trips lead past a few glow-worms to a sump.  Not a particularly exciting trip.  However, less than an hours walk through the bush above here is the main stream sink, leading to several kilometres of passage.  The catchment area, in the Murchison mountains, is not accessible to the public as one of New Zealand’s endangered species - a bird like a big blue coot with a massive red bill and elephantine legs - is found there.  We were particularly privileged; not only did we have special permission to enter the region, but the National Park put a big power launch at our disposal, and Trevor knows the cave very well and was prepared to show us a fair proportion of it.

Having left Luxmore in the morning and had a beer or two in Te Anou for lunch, we took the boat across the lake and quickly tramped the 40 minutes through luxuriant deep green bush to reach the huge, old entrance (the stream now sinks further up valley).  A wide gorge, hidden amongst trees, drops into a semi-circular arch, 80 feet or more wide and 50 feet high, whence the passage quickly descends into gloom and then blackness.  The entrance is surrounded by bush, some trees even growing inside, replaced rapidly by ferns and mosses in the deeper, green dampness further in.  A little further in, still outside the threshold, the ground was dusty dry, and we found several flat platforms, amongst the slope of boulders, suitable for bivouac.

Most of Aurora Cave is epi-pheratic and could be likened, if anything, to Dan yr Ogof II.  Much of it floods regularly.  For the moment we avoided the stream, which we could hear constantly roaring away to our right in a canyon, and kept to the left hand side of the big, dry entrance tube. At the far end we dropped into what resembled a vadose canyon, with big scallops in the walls, and large "foreign" boulders scattered along it.  Compared with the Luxmore caves, or with anything in Britain, the limestone was beautifully light - a pale cream colour, reflecting plenty of stinkie flame.  The passage subdivided and our route became briefly narrow and low over fresh water-washed gravel.  After one of the few short crawls in the cave we entered rifts, clean washed and full of clear pools which for some reason we carefully avoided~ expending much effort.  After about an hour we were amongst the only stal in the cave, quite beautiful and very vulnerable.  Beyond this we came to a balcony where our passage ended, overlooking a large mainstream.

Without tackle there was no way down, so back through the stal we looked at a possible route down, through a low crawl and down a climb where all the holds fell off.  We arrived on another balcony where the only way to the torrent below was to jump.  We opted to re-climb the now hold less wall.  Listening elsewhere for sounds of the stream, we found the correct route eventually, emerging on a shelf right beside the water.  Making our way downstream we soon found that wherever the water was confined, and therefore rather fast, we could bridge the gap, traverse or jump from one side to the other.  Elsewhere we waded, up to waist deep, and once or twice avoided the stream altogether using wide, low oxbows.   Finally we stopped at Aurora Falls, 30 feet of deluge just above the sump in the show cave.  We then travelled upstream, past our earlier entry point, until we reached the canyon below our bivouac site.  Here were two ways, each bringing water from the upstream sinks.  Kevan and Trevor climbed above the inlet and managed to bring down every handhold and foothold, together with a few tons of sand and boulders, narrowly missing us.  While they disappeared into big, dry passages above, we investigated the smaller inlet. The thinly bedded limestone was fretted and sharp, and the little stream had carved deep potholes in the floor. We were stopped here by a waterfall, and decided to have a look at the second main inlet.  With its much greater volume of water the numerous cascades of this stream were lodged with jammed tree trunks.  The only route along the passage was via a steep ledge.  This became more and more hair-raising, as it became steeper and narrower, constantly overlooking the waterfalls and plunge pools, until it fizzled out altogether.  Having failed to find an alternative feasible route to the upper dry passages, we returned to the bivouac for a warming drink and to await the others.  They soon returned, having found it impossible to come down our streamways beyond our upstream limit.

Eight hours later, after a good sleep in the cave mouth and a brief walk down the hill, we were on our way back across the lake, with only the boat's wake disturbing the early morning calm.  An excellent way to end an excellent  week of caving.

Graham Wilton-Jones.


The BEC second motto - "The BEC get everywhere" - should be changed to "The Wiltom-Jones's get everywhere".  Not to be outdone by Graham and Jane's antics in New Zealand, Ian has been proving that there are caves in the most unlikely places and I must thank Annie for the following article which she thinks will be of interest to BEC members, even though the cave described was so simple as to be un-gradable. "The rock" is a massive sandstone outcrop about 8 miles from Abqaiq in the Eastern Province.  It is about 2 or 3 miles in circumference.  Ian and a running friend called Billy reached the rock by running through date plantations from Abqaiq.


Speleology in Saudi Arabian Sandstone

We arrived at the rock after 1 hr 3 mins of running and stopped for bottled spring water from a local shop.  We then went clambering over the Dali like rocks, with all their grotesque and weird shapes.  Many of the valleys gave strong reminiscences of vadose stream passages underground. We took several photographs and then strolled through the next village.

Out the other side and we were beginning to wonder if we had the right rock because there was no sign of the cave (which we were told was very conspicuous with a professional looking car park).  Still, the road appeared to be encircling the rock, just as described.  Finally, we came upon it, right round the other side. Yes, it was easy to find!

The features of the rock had changed.  On the south and south east, there were deep valleys, starting with sheer drops of about 50ft or more from the valley above, with very open tops (i.e. V - shaped or U - shaped) and some A - shaped holes.  In we went, on a tarmac path which soon disappeared once we were inside. There were a maze of passages, some interconnecting at different heights (i.e. surprise drops - splat! - of 20 to 30ft).   All the time you could either sense the daylight above, or actually see it,  some 80ft skywards.  The passage shape was nearly always vadose A - type and very straight.  Side passages were either perpendicular or parallel to the main passage (very much like OFD).  The blocks of sandstone were huge and rectangular. 

Sometimes you could see boulders exactly the same size as the cleft, jammed precariously above, waiting to drop.  The odd pebble was falling from time to time so it was no mean threat.

There was, generally, good electric lighting in the form of weak street lamps set high up.  Where there were none usually signified the end of the main passage where the amount of light from above indicated the main water entrance in times of heavy rain.  I must return to the dark side passages with a torch and check them all out.

There were several park benches inside~ available for people to picnic - not that I saw anyone doing so although others have.  If you did not wish to use a park bench there was plenty of sandy floor to sit on - real sand, not the usual cave mud.

We went outside and prepared to climb over the top of the rock.  Up we went, through one of the ascending valleys and came out on a completely different landscape - stones scattered everywhere, many small valleys and extremely lunar like, totally devoid of vegetation.  Off the rock to the north was desert with many green clumps scattered around it.  In all other directions, there were palm trees as far as the eye could see in the heavy heat haze.

We walked in a large arc, avoiding the areas where the cave was underneath as much as possible.  We could see several valleys joining together and obviously supplying the water in times of flood which created the cave in the first place.

We reached the northernmost portion of the rock on which a small TV receiving mast had been sited. From here we could see a third feature of the sides of this hill.  To the west the area was strewn with many giant boulders stacked higgledy-piggledy together.  The sandstone here was much firmer, not crumbly at all.  It was a real challenge getting off the hill here, and we made several attempt before finding a suitable route which did not require us to negotiate a 20ft drop.

We made a beeline for a small village which had a huge rock situated in the middle of it.  The rock had the appearance of a cottage loaf, round and bun-like with a half size bun on top.  The bottom "bun' had several caves hewn into it.  The roofs of these caves were black, indicating that many fires had been burnt here in the past, possibly for Kapsa banquets like the one I have already been to.  Here sheep and rice and fruit are eaten, by hand, around a large mat.  Many sand martins were nesting in parts of these caves as they were in many other parts of the main hillside.

No shop in the village so we ran on to the village we had visited initially to obtain bottled water and chocolate bars to fortify ourselves for the run "home".

Ian Wilton-Jones.


A New Hole In Oakhill

by Brian Workman

At the end of 1985 I was approached by a landowner in Oakhill and asked if I would inspect a hole which had been disclosed by a tractor cutting hedges in one of their fields.

The hole is located 300yds south west of the Oakhill 1m on the opposite side of the road to Pondsmead House.  The entrance was found to be 16 feet deep leading into a small chamber with an active stream entering from the east (from under the road) out of a narrow rift and sinking on the opposite side into a mud choked rift.

The water is believed to come from the artificial lakes within the grounds of Pondsmead House which sinks in Stout Slocker, the water from which is known to re-appear at Ashwick Grove Risings.


Access Information - May 1986

Council Of Southern Cave Clubs
Constituent member of NCA


Mendip Caving Group have now formally taken on access control to Waterwheel Swallet and they have issued the following statement for information.

"You will know that we already have accepted responsibility for our own and other caver’s access to Blackmoor Upper Flood Swallet, also in Velvet Bottom.  As a representative of the landowners Terry Mathews of the Charterhouse Field Centre requested that we should administer an access arrangement following the discovery of a well decorated continuation of the cave in April 1985.  The basic requirements of this informal access agreement are:

a)                    Visits must be led by a member of MCG

b)                    Visitors must complete a Field Centre visit card each - held at Nordrach Cottage

c)                    Party size is limited to four including leader

d)                    No novices are permitted

e)                    No carbide lamps are permitted

f)                      Suitable clothing should be worn to enable crawling in the stream to avoid formations in the roof

The underlying purpose of this set of guidelines is to minimise damage to the profusion of delicate formation which abound in the streamway.

Willie Stanton has recently relinquished his interest in, and control of, Waterwheel Swallet.  This has presented an opportunity to make access to this cave more freely available to cavers. As a temporary measure, Terry Mathews has requested this group to administer access under the same arrangements which apply to Upper Flood.  There is no alternative arrangement available at present and we have agreed to the request, with the proviso that the arrangements shall be reviewed in approximately six months time from March 1986.

We accept this responsibility in the knowledge that it places an extra burden on our members, but at least gains a means of access to ourselves and other cavers. We do request that cavers wishing to visit either of the caves concerned should make prior arrangements with any of our members.  Turning up at Nordrach Cottage on spec may lead to disappointment.


The parcel of land containing the entrance is now in the ownership of the adjacent householders and essentially forms an extension to their garden.  They are happy for cavers to have continued access, but ask that visitors stick to the path when approaching the entrance and avoid their son's radio controlled car racetrack, some bridges over this having been damaged. The path is obvious but they are intending to gravel it in the near future and rebuild the stile.  They have also asked that everyone pay attention to closing the field gate, and preferably lock themselves into the mine when underground.  The access arrangements with the previous owner only enabled five keys to be available from the major clubs, however it has been possible to renegotiate this and in future keys will be available to anyone upon request.  To simplify matters the lock on the mine is now the same as on Cuckoo Cleeves and the one key, available from myself or the Wessex at £2 each, will fit both entrances.



The Avon Wildlife Trust have now fitted the new gates on the mine which they originally planned to do last July.  It is intended that these will be locked by mid May.  Access is controlled by the Southern Caving Clubs Co Ltd under a licence and keys are available for loan direct from the company or by arrangement from any company shareholding club.

The Trust has asked that the following statement is published:

New bat grilles for Browns Folly Mine

Avon Wildlife Trust now owns the whole of the Bathford Hill woodlands at Browns Folly, three miles east of Bath. The nature reserve contains entrances to one of the largest Bath Stone mines, which provide an important winter roost for the increasingly rare greater horseshoe bat.  This bat and its roosting sites are now fully protected by law, and as part of the conservation management of the reserve the main entrances are being grilled.  The new grilled entrances will re-establish the all-important draught pattern in the mines; allow improved access for the bats but prevent the disturbance caused by casual intruders in the mine system.  The grilles are being installed by greater horseshoe bat expert Dr Roger Ransome with the aid of a substantial Nature Conservancy grant.

Two of the bat grilles (NGR ST 79496634 and 79466587) will be gated to allow access to bona fida cavers and application for keys should be made to the licence holder SCC Co Ltd.

Avon Wildlife Trust appreciates, on behalf of the bats, the considerate co-operation of cavers.  The Trust welcomes notification of visits by telephone on 0272 326885, and is interested to hear about numbers of greater horseshoe bats observed. Visits should be timed to avoid the critical late hibernation period in March/April.

Graham Price
Conservation and Access Officer
1. 5 .86



Jeremy has passed me the following letter which he has received from Daphne Towler as it may interest many of our members from the 50"s etc.

Bognor Regis
23rd April 1986

Dear Jeremy

Please find enclosed cheque for £55 towards the Hut Fund.  This is my contribution from the eleven Engrave Glasses ordered to celebrate the Club’s 50th Anniversary.  I must say that I had hoped to be sending you a much larger cheque but it appears that Engraved Glass doesn’t appeal to cavers.

The Engraving wasn’t put out as a Fund Raising project by your Committee’s choice – I would hate people to think that I was only offering the glasses for my own financial reward.

I hope by now that the Hut Fund looks healthier.  I have very happy memories of my short caving time in the late 50’s, and send my best wishes to anyone who may remember me (probably as Daphne Stenner – as I was then) and also to the Club for its continued success,  Only one of my sons appears to have caught the caving bug and that not too forcefully.  I enjoy reading the BB even though it gets more difficult to put faces to names

            All the best


                                    Daphne Towler (381)


Dear Dave (or Ed as you are now known),

Firstly, keep up the good work with the B.B. even though I yawned with boredom as yet another pros. and cons. argument loomed its ugly head.  Should the club buy SRT ropes?  What a daft question!  I remember the old wet suit arguments well.  They'll encourage people into dangerous situations!  Then there was the forbidden caving with less than six in a team. I remember Goon and I getting slated along with the Brook brothers in "The Speleologist" (God, I must be getting old) for doing just that and for "speeding".  I remember you and I being called lunatics for abseiling into Lamb Leer and prussicking out.  I remember the fights we had to be first out so as to have the clean prussick loops and remember your lunatic climbing methods that I adopted.  Alan Thomas will tell you how Steve Grimes and I argued that we should abseil and prusick on the 1967 Ahnenschaft expedition.

Now I’m a dedicated armchair caver that enjoys these memories but I do remember being smitten with the caving disease around 1963 and joining the R.A.F. Yatesbury Caving Club to satisfy the bug.  In order to improve I joined the eminent club known as the M.N.R.C., worked hard and became Caving Secretary

with a good core of active cavers around me (you might remember).  I fought hard for caving tackle and facilities but lost the battle against the knotted rope brigade.  I accepted defeat and, together with the other active cavers joined the club that promoted caving, did the work and provided the equipment.  That club was the B.E.C. around 1965.  The caving part of the M.N.R.C. drifted into decline. I am unlikely to make use of SRT equipment but would be horrified at the thought of the B.E.C. becoming a bunch of old "has beens" like myself who would not support the younger active cavers in keeping up with the times.

Pete MacNab.

P.S.  Please point out the date I joined the club to the Membership Secretary.  I know I had a few lapsed years but B.E.C. policy was always to keep your original number.

Thanks for the compliment about the B.B. but the credit should go to all those members and others who have given me articles.

I agree wholeheartedly with Pete on the matter of club tackle (sorry I’m not an unbiased editor!). I joined the B.E.C. in 1965 for exactly the same reason as Pete. For the record at the last committee meeting we unanimously allocated £300 to the Tackle Master to buy 100m of 11mm Bluewater SRT rope and other necessary hardware to rig the "average" Yorkshire pot.



ACT 2611,

Dear Dave,

Thought members may be interested to hear that the BEC 50th Anniversary was celebrated recently at the Antipodes.  A copy of the menu is enclosed.  This spontaneous event followed the arrival of the Bassetts on their round the world caving extravaganza and was held in the national capital, Canberra.  In the absence of Badgers Best we had to content ourselves with toasting the BEC in South Australian Champagne.  In true BEC spirit we drank a hell of a lot but I must confess it wasn’t totally authentic as nobody threw up or fell over!

The Bassetts have left us now after caving in the Snowy Mountains area and are currently in South Australia on the Nullabor Plain.  After 3 weeks there and 3 weeks in Tasmania they are visiting us again "en route" to the Great Barrier Reef and Papua New Guinea. After that they return here again and we plan a cross-country skiing expedition across the Snowy Mountains 50 miles from Kiandra to Thredbo.

Anyway expect the Bassetts will be writing an article on their exploits (they are more prolific writers than us)!


John and Sue Riley.

The menu is unfortunately too faint to photocopy but has Bertie at the top and is as follows:-



Bat Curry
Berties Beans
Bats Eggs
Cauliflower St.

Mendip Melon
Cheddar Cheese
Chilled Batwine


Mendip Politics

As many of you will know, over the past few weeks there has been much political activity on the hill. The cause of this being mainly the Fairy Cave Quarry proposals, and the scheduling of a substantial number of caves as "Sites of Special Scientific Interest" (SS81).

There has been a lot of pub talk, speculation and finger pointing, mostly based on rumours and misinformation.  There has been very little available information, and what could be gleaned left a great deal of doubt in peoples minds.  I have therefore presented for publication a compilation of material, that I have recently received as secretary, explaining the above problems more fully.

The matter of what we are going to do about them as a club is more complicated.  At a recent committee meeting they were discussed at length and I was given a number of directives to take to the  "Council of Southern Caving Clubs" (CSCC); they are as follows: -

1.                  The club will support any action that would re-establish and improve relations between the caving community and local landowners.

2.                  The club supports, with reservations, the proposal to turn certain caves within the Fairy Cave Quarry complex into Show Caves.

3.                  The club will propose Tim Large as Conservation and Access Officer of the CSCC.

4.                  The club does not have confidence in the present Conservation and Access Officer of the CSCC. 

CSCC Meeting held 10th May 1986

Re: Fairy Cave Quarry

This meeting was convened purely for the purpose of passing a resolution regarding Fairy Cave Quarry, thus forming a CSCC policy on the subject.

After much discussion it was decided to defer the details of this resolution to the CSCC AGM, so that the subject may be discussed in conjunction with the SSSI problem.  An amendment to the resolution was passed enabling this action.  I hope to establish the minutes of this meeting in a future BB.

I hope the following material will help to put members in the picture regarding these important changes. In my own opinion I think we, as the caving community, have made rather a "pigs ear" of the situation, and may very well have to live with the consequences for some time.

Bob Cork.


This is a letter from the National Caving Association to the Mendip Councillors.

24 March 1986

Fairy Cave Quarry - Application Nos 059755/002 & 003

At the forthcoming meeting of the Planning Committee you will be called upon to determine two applications by Hobbs Holdings Ltd in respect of their development of Fairy Cave Quarry near Stoke St Michael as a show cave and leisure complex.  The NCA is extremely concerned that the full importance of decisions about to be made concerning this matter may not be realised and the enclosed comments are offered for your consideration.  The Planning Department recognises the relevance of the points raised in this document and has asked if a copy is to be supplied to Committee members, as they are only able to give a brief summary in their own report.

The importance of these cave, and the threat to them cannot be stressed strongly enough.  Commercial development as proposed by Hobbs Holdings Ltd, and being actively promoted by their consultants Dr W I Stanton and Mr R Whitaker, may lead to their destruction.  This must be avoided and we would please ask that you read our detailed comments carefully before coming to any conclusions.  The additional points below are also offered for your consideration.

1.                  These caves are amongst the very few most important in the country, and certainly the most vulnerable.  It is imperative that any possibility of damage is avoided.  Their destruction would be a loss to the nation that will never be replaced.

2.                  Every existing show cave in the country has been extensively damaged through commercial exploitation and bed management.  It is probable that these caves will suffer the same fate, if not in the short then certainly in the long term, there being inherent conflicts between commercial interests and conservation which are almost impossible to avoid.

3.                  If development of these caves were to occur the only means by which their future might possibly be secured would be strictly imposing all the conditions defined in our detailed comments.

4.                  The Cerberus Spelaeological Society has been responsible for the management of the caves since their discovery.  This special knowledge and experience has developed a unique awareness of the problems that exist in protecting them.  Neither the Society or the NCA have been consulted by either Hobbs or their consultants concerning this matter and this give very great cause for concern.

5.                  As part of a publicity campaign Dr Stanton appeared on Points West (BBC TV 13 March) and stated that the development would necessarily be on a low key small scale involving minimum alterations to the caves and a maximum party size of ten etc. However the outline plan is for a very large scale operation which Jeremy Hobbs has confirmed 'further plans for the future would put the operation on a much larger scale with up to 250,000 visitors a year (Shepton Mallet Journal 6 March).

6.                  An initial small scale development is dangerous in itself without very strict controls that guarantee protection for the cave.  Although these may well prove impossible to implement or enforce in any case. The larger scale development proposed future would prove disastrous.  In Hobbs outline planning study a monthly distribution of visitors based on 250,000 per year gave a peak figure in August of 75,000 - a number far in excess of that which could be sensibly catered for in a whole year if conservation of the caves is to be a consideration.

7.                  When the applications were submitted Jeremy Hobbs stated in a Radio Bristol interview that the Nature Conservancy Council had no objections to the scheme.  He has further stated 'we are doing this in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy' (Evening Chronicle 13 March).  Both these statements are untrue, no discussions having been held or agreements reached.

The caves of Fairy Cave Quarry are not suitable for large scale commercial development.  If development on any scale were to be permitted it is essential that no work what-so-ever is carried out without every minute detail, from any modifications to the caves through to future management, being agreed and known to be enforceable before hand.

It is hoped that after reading the enclosed material you will have a better appreciation and understanding of the threat that now faces a very unique and important part of our National Heritage, and that you now share our concern that these caves are preserved for future Generations.

If you require any further information or would like to discuss this matter in detail please contact the Associations Conservation Officer, Graham Price, 31 Waterford Park, Radstock, Bath, Avon, BA3 3TS, Tel: Radstock 3U251 (home). Trowbridge 68115 (work). We would be pleased to answer any questions you may have or attend a meeting if this would be useful.

Yours sincerely.

M C Day, Chairman





This report forms the basis of comments which the National Caving Association, jointly with the Council of Southern Caving Clubs and the Cerberus Spelaeological Society, wish to bring to the attention of the Mendip District Council Planning Department and Planning Committee with respect to the proposed development of Fairy Cave Quarry as a Show Cave and Leisure Complex.  There is a real danger that the full importance of decisions made concerning this matter may be missed.  The aim is not to suggest the outcome, but rather to create an awareness of the implications and offer a way in which any proposals should be considered to afford the necessary protection to what is a unique and important part of our National Heritage.


The two caves around which the original proposals were centered, Shatter Cave and Withyhill Cave, are the remaining arms of a once larger system.  They are indeed beautiful.  Many thousands of years have had to pass for the caves and their breathtaking formations to evolve to their present day pristine condition. Their timeless beauty is in fact entirely dependant upon the inextricably slow growth of crystal upon crystal, protected as they are within passages and caverns themselves the result, over the centuries, of the chemical and physical action of rainwater on solid rock.

The elements and the ravages of time have over the same period changed the surface features of the surrounding area beyond recognition, many times over.  In recent times man has accelerated the process.  Protected as they are the caves have survived intact to the present day to find themselves, for but a very brief moment in their long history, under the responsibility (by virtue of ownership) of a Quarry company. A company who, in their exploitation of the surrounding rock, have breached the passages thus revealing their existence.  The present owners have since relayed a large central portion of the system which was the equal of any which remains.

We do not know why caves of such beauty are to be found in an otherwise unlikely area, but we do know that the caves of Fairy Cave Quarry are unique, a product of the particular natural circumstances prevailing in a small geographical area over past millennia. Small as they are, there are no caves anywhere else quite like those found at the quarry.  Formations of the type to be seen there are rare enough anywhere, but are becoming all the more rare as the passage of countless visitors to the sites which are accessible takes its inevitable toll.

So the decisions with which we are concerned here are peculiarly different to those more commonly referred to planning authorities.  In the normal run of events, decisions, good or bad, have only a relatively short term effect-man-lade features will eventually be superseded by more appropriate ones in time, or the natural environment, if allowed, will revert back to its local characteristic form, obliterating much of man's influence in the process.  The quality of life we seek to preserve rarely extends beyond our own lifetime. The beauty to be found in caves is however, in no sense 'reversible' and can in no wav be superseded, but is in every sense immensely fragile.  That which is lost is lost forever and cannot be replaced.  Inappropriate exploitation of any kind simply serves to reduce the stock which exists, denying it forever to future generations.

There is then another sense in which this issue is different.  Modern thinking generally insists that the public has the right to enjoy the natural resources available to it. "Does beauty exist if it cannot be seen?" is often put forward as an argument, especially regarding caves. The answer is in this case that it certainly does, having existed for far longer than man has ever been around to do the asking.  Whatever the current law of the land the public has no moral right of access, if in exercising that right the beauty is denied for ever to those which follow us.

Current thinking has only recently begun to recognise these problems, and the site is to scheduled as an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) by the Nature Conservancy Council in recognition of its importance. However, there are no formal guidelines as yet, and until these are clearly defined, and "seen to be enforceable, responsibility falls squarely on those who find themselves in a position to Influence events.


Potentially, the idea of a snow cave is not undesirable.  One can envisage, with a little imagination, a development where ten passages were virtually hermetically sealed off with constant humidity and controlled lighting and viewed through glass ports at a safe distance, rather like one would visit an aquarium.  Outside, one could find other attractions, experience other caves - perhaps less vulnerable - and study educational displays.  There would be no damage done during the construction phase, and no later deterioration, even if the site were to eventually fall into disuse. Such a development would be an example to the rest of the world and a continually popular attraction.  But the amount of effort and finance required on behalf of the developers hardly bears thinking about.  The response to any proposals must be to ask what will happen in practice, and what risks does this present for the conservation of the caves.

Practical Risks

Now that we know the caves exist and are available to be exploitation, the practical dangers threatening them arise in four phases:

(i)         Now, if there is no development

(ii)         During Construction

(iii)        During long term occupation

(iv)        In the future, if the operation is abandoned.

(i) Now

For all statutory purposes the Quarry is currently regarded as an industrial site with same interest, but with little statutory influence from local and national conservation bodies. The quarry is worked out to its current limits so a change of use is almost certain, and a future change of ownership quite possible.  Any future use could conceivably totally disregard the existence of the caves, and threaten the existence of the formations and deposits they contain. How industrial activity to date has affected the caves has been well documented.

The caves will remain accessible to determined visitors unless a large mass of quarry face is brought down over the entrances, although visits in recent years have all but stopped at the request of the owners.  Some deterioration was apparent even over the periods when access was allowed but restricted and tightly controlled.

In excavating a large central part of the system quarrying activity made important changes to the local hydrology.   Interception of the route taken by flood water regularly results in flooding of the western corner of the Quarry.  The same water backs up through the decorated parts of the system leaving behind extensive deposits of mud and silt as levels fall.  These events nave necessitated major clean-up operations undertaken by the Cerberus Spelleologlcal Society), but the caves remain vulnerable to such disasters.  A long-term solution to these problems must be found in any case.

(ii) Construction

The construction phase is potentially the most damaging.  It is difficult for even an experienced, caring caver to visit Withyhill without causing damage.  Shatter Cave is a little more spacious, but many of the important formations are close to the only path through.  Therefore, through necessity, visiting cavers have in the past been restricted to two per guide in Withyhill, and four per guide in Shatter.

It is essential for any developer to give clear and unequivocal answers as to who will be carrying out the work within the passages, how damage is to be avoided, and detail what alterations are to be made, almost on an inch-by-inch basis. Prior agreement in these respects is essential, and consideration must be given as to now the work will be supervised and monitored.  Sites away from the public view should be given the same importance in this respect as those being developed.  The damage that can be caused by even a careful and considerate worker with a large sledgehammer, but with little experience or understanding of the strange environment in which he now finds himself, can only be imagined.

Any suggestion of 'sacrificing' parts of the cave in order to develop others considered more worthy of public interest may make commercial sense, but is tantamount to legalized vandalism.  The end result is simply a loss to the cave which can never be made up, neither numerically nor in terms of quality.

The initial construction phase, especially measures to protect the formations from the public, needs to be related of course to the number of visitors which it is deemed can adequately catered for.  Future modifications for example to cater for larger numbers would represent a major departure from the initial proposals, and so there needs to be a clear definition of what constitutes a departure and how such changes are to be reviewed, if the initial efforts lade to offer protection are not to be invalidated.

It will be difficult to guarantee that the protective measures which are built into the construction phase, such as screens around formations, will actually be effective over a long period.  Equally it is difficult to consider that any failure rate in terms of loss at formations is acceptable in view of the relatively short time it would take to denude the passages of all features of interest, given that countless generations will follow us.

Simply opening up a cave to increased air circulation can lead to rapid drying out of the formations, possibly for the whole length of the cave and others connected with it. There was ample experience of this as the quarry slowly excavated away the central part of the system.  It is clear beyond doubt that the continuing aesthetic appeal of cave formations depends entirely upon humidity levels and surface water films being maintained.  The installation of permanent lighting has a similar effect around each light, and causes severe and irreversible discolouration through algal growth. Carefully designed doorways and the use of individual hand lamps will provide the only solution.

Developing the surface site has potential risks.  A large quantity of water can at times enter the cave system at Withybrook Slocker to the south, and leads via an unknown route beneath the quarry floor to the spring at St. Dunstans Well to the north.  The main caves are dry 'abandoned' streamways but are connected via inaccessible conduits to the watercourse below.  Quarrying activity has already given rise to near disasters mentioned previously as the polluted waters have backed up into the dry systems.  Hilliers Cave, a northern arm of the system, is currently choked completely in places with sludge from the quarries stone washings.

Pollution, and thereby damage to the delicately balanced ecosystem of the caves, is a major problem. Clearly development of the site will involve run-off from car parks and other levelled areas. It is essential that any areas used for parking of vehicles are made impervious, and the flow generated properly disposed of through regularly maintained oil and petrol interceptors.  The problem of sewage disposal must also be considered, discharge of any effluent likely to find its way into the cave system, either directly or through seepage, being unacceptable.  Development proposals to meet these problems must be guaranteed to be effective.

Within the quarry there are currently fourteen cave entrances, each leading to passage of varying length and interest.  All the caves have been under the management of the Cerberus Spelaeologlcal Society since their discovery, and leaders have been provided as requested to accommodate visiting cavers.  This management and control has enabled continued use of this important recreational facility in sympathy with the need for conservation.  How the proposals will affect access to all the caves needs to be considered, and a management plan agreed.  A number of the caves have over the years become colonised by bats which are protected by law and how they may be affected needs to be clearly detailed.

(iii) Operation

Given that the public has the chance to get near to vulnerable formations the risk will always be present that someone might get round what protection is available, and inadvertently or otherwise cause damage.  The risk increases directly with the number of visitors, and hence with time. The direct result is a slow deterioration which can increase dramatically if the operators are under strong commercial pressure to pack more people in.  The pressure becomes worse as presently established Show Caves themselves deteriorate.  The initial proposals should look ahead to these possibilities with a strict guide-to-visitor ratio clearly defined, and obligatory.  It is almost impossible to determine this ratio prior to development, since it is unknown now extensive the alterations to the passage will be, however it is not unrealistic to suggest that a figure not many in excess of the cavers one to four may be applicable.  The overall number of visitors in the cave at any given time is also a critical factor.

The public encouraged to visit the caves will not only include those responsible, fascinated and perhaps educated, out also school children, disinterested unprincipled youths, souvenir hunters, the naturally inquisitive, the naturally disaster prone, as well as out-and-out vandals.  There is not the natural screening which a caving trip into an unmodified cave usually affords.  There are also no penalties for those who deliberately cause damage.  Hopefully a show cave complex would have an educational element but which must be of limited use in developing a sense of responsibility in a tourist making a once-only visit to something with which he is, after all, totally unfamiliar.

It will be difficult to guarantee that guides will be able to educate, instil responsibility, and supervise their parties adequately.  Theirs will be the ultimate responsibility for protection of the cave, but their individual interest and the numbers they have to control are critical.  Many cases can be cited from established show caves where the current level of supervision has been found to be inadequate.

These particular caves have an additional problems in that their main interest will be visual and because of their vulnerability.  Visitors must necessarily be kept at some distance.  As an all-round experience of caving the public appetite may not be entirely satisfied, which may actually encourage behaviour detrimental to the caves such as reaching out and touching the formations, or leaving the defined path when the opportunity arises.

Present show cave developments do not give any encouragement whatever that these problems can be faced in a way that conservation of the resources demands.  Failure of any one aspect could conceivably result in the eventual loss of the cave in any significant form.  Above all guarantee’s need to be given that the solutions to these any problem will work, and are based on principles of conservation beyond those needed to simply maintain the attraction.  The answers should be viewed against the alternative of waiting until such time when man's resources and abilities are equal to his responsibilities.

(iv) Abandonment

It is most likely that development and continuing operation will be dependant upon financial viability. The risk most likely to be realised is that at some stage during construction, or after a period of operation, the project will be abandoned for lack of funds.  The very first job once the project goes ahead will be to open up the sites for easy access.  There can be no greater threat to the caves, short of quarrying them away, than to vacate the site  leaving unrestricted access.  Examples can be cited where this has occurred.  Two safeguards are required, first to ensure that there is adequate finance from the start to carry the scheme through to conclusion, and secondly to ensure that provision is made to leave the site if necessary in a suitable state for continued preservation, for example, by handling it over to an appropriate organisation.

Summary and Conclusion

It should be obvious then that the implications of developing this site are not to be taken lightly.  There are many dangers and it is essential that any proposals are considered carefully and numerous safeguards built-in.  Any decisions taken should not be taken in haste, and in summary the following points are made, and offered as the only basis upon which development can be allowed to proceed.

1.                  Any alterations to the caves including enlargement of passageways or creation of tunnels involving the removal of formations, boulders, sediments, or affecting any natural features, must be agreed in detail prior to any work commencing. Adequate independent supervision must be provided for the works in progress, and strict adherence to the agreed proposals guaranteed.

2.                  Large artificial entrances should be fitted with sealed solid gates, kept closed at all times and designed to maintain as near as possible natural air flows through the cave.

3.                  Artificial lighting should not be installed, but visitors issued with individual electric lamps.

4.                  Adequate protection must be given to all formations and other features to prevent damage, even to the point of constructing a cage through vulnerable sections, or by completely encasing formations elsewhere.  No artificial or foreign items should be installed in the cave ether than those necessary for its protection.

5.                  A guide-to-visitor ratio for any given cave must be established and strictly adhered to, along with the maximum numbers underground at any given time.

6.                  Guides should be properly educated in the development of caves and cave features and have a great respect for this unique and fragile environment.  Theirs is the ultimate responsibility for monitoring the cave and supervising visitors.

7.                  Any possibility of pollution must be prevented.  Car parking areas should be made impervious, and run-off discharged through regularly maintained oil and petrol interceptors.  Sewage, and any other effluents, must be properly disposed of; none should be allowed to enter the cave system! either directly or through seepage.

8.                  Accessibility to all caves in the Quarry area should be maintained.  Some are colonised by bats and continued usage must be guaranteed.

9.                  A management plan for all caves in the quarry, either developed or not, should be agreed, and hopefully include a provision for continued access by cavers for exploration and study.

10.              Independent monitoring of the development in progress, and during future operation, should be provided.

Perhaps the hardest consideration is that given that the right questions have been asked, satisfactory answers have been received and objectively assessed and the go ahead given, can the project be monitored?  Is it possible to call a halt if the caves appear to be endangered?  How can this be determined?  Can penalties be imposed if transgressions occur, and is it possible to make recompense, when mistakes last for ever?  Who in the end will take ultimate responsibility?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but they must be asked and satisfactory replies received, if this unique part of our natural heritage is not to be spoilt and lost for ever. 

National Caving Association
February 1980


Scheduling Of Cave SSSI's On Mendip


During the last two months landowners and farmers in the Priddy area have been contacted by the Nature Conservancy Council informing them that sections of their land would be scheduled as an SSSI in the near future.  Previously some owners in the East Mendip area had been approached by letter during 1983/84 and during January of this year the NCC contacted those affected in the Priddy area.  What was new to landowners involved and to the Council of Southern Caving Clubs was that there was to be an accompanying list of 28 damaging activities as required by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  Depending on the reason for a particular piece of land being scheduled determined how many of the 28 activities would be enforced. Each landowner would have four months from the time of the official letter of the actual scheduling taking place to appeal to the NCC or negotiate terms of usage for their particular piece of land.

The original revision of cave SSSI's contributed to by the CSCC during 1978-1980 was on the understanding that the conditions of the SSSI would be the same as that which had applied to many cave sites here on Mendip and elsewhere in the country since 1957. It was a great shock to both landowners and cavers, to say the very least, as the relationship between both has been the very basis of caving activity here on Mendip.  For general information a catalogue of events is given below to outline the situation that is with us today.

In 1974 the NCC decided that a Geological Conservation Review should be carried out and as part of this in 1977 the NCA and BCRA were jointly contracted to prepare a list of cave sites.  A working party was set up with Dave Judson as convenor to carry out the three year contract which was complete in 1980.  The list of Mendip sites to be scheduled was drawn up and approved by the CSCC in 1978 and the necessary write-ups submitted to the NCA/BCRA Working Party in 1980.  When all the Regions had completed their work a national list was drawn up and out of those put forward by the CSCC seven out of eight were accepted.  Tony Waltham was then contracted by the NCC to write the final report and a list of 48 sites (many encompassing a number of individual caves) were included that could be justified on a national basis.

The NCC was to schedule these sites as soon as possible; however the Wildlife and Countryside Act came into effect toward the end of 1981 complicating the matter.  This required all sites, existing and proposed, to be notified in accordance with the new procedures set out therein. Overall this involved an extraordinary amount of work and although the Mendip sites were nearly scheduled in 1983/84, as mentioned at the May 84 AGM, this came to nothing.  The current situation has arisen because the sites are now being notified.  Through informal contact with the NCC it was discovered that this was being done at the end of January and as a matter of course this was mentioned at the CSCC meeting on the 15 February.  At this meeting the list of damaging activities applicable to cave sites, as supplied by the NCC, was also read out.

For all SSSI's there is a standard master list of 28 damaging activities and when a site is scheduled specific ones from this are notified as those being likely to damage that sites particular special interest.  The list was drawn up by a NCC Special Committee and they are under a statutory obligation to specify any activity that may have an effect on any particular site, and they try to be as comprehensive as possible since unless an activity has been notified they can do nothing about it later.  The NCC have stated that the activities to be notified for all cave sites are similar, and they confirmed at the landowners meeting that no more than 7 would apply to the Priddy caves.  In some cases confusion may arise due to extra activities being specified for certain sites.  This is because some are also scheduled for ether reasons in addition to the cave interest e.g. flora, fauna etc, and in these instances they expand the list accordingly.  This is an obvious area of confusion about which we can do nothing, although landowners are told why the site is being scheduled.

To quote from an NCC letter to the landowners of cave sites "As most of the interest is underground, it is unlikely that notification as an SSSI would conflict with present farming practice".  The procedure for scheduling is that the list of damaging activities is notified, but prior to this as a PR exercise a visiting officer explains that exemption will be given for any specific things that the landowner needs or wishes to do as part of his livelihood, and to enable this he has to provide a list to the NCC.  The NCC point out that there is no other way that this could be done since if a list of specific damaging activities had to be drawn up for each site this would be incredibly long, and however comprehensive it appeared to be it is certain that something would be missed.

Regarding the matter that directly concerns us the NCC have stressed that no landowner will be affected unless he does, or intends to do something, that might specifically damage the cave and even then they have stated they would try to solve any problems amicably, or in the case of certain activities offer financial assistance toward solving them, rather than use their statutory powers.  With respect to this the NCC have expressed an interest in solving the pollution problems in Swildons and preliminary discussions have been held with Robin Main and it seems likely that it may be possible to stop this by mutual agreement and with the assistance of grant aid.  This would not be possible if the cave had not been an SSSI.  The NCC have also stated that if they did prevent a landowner from carrying out a specific activity, compensation would be paid so no financial loss would be involved.

Comments have been made that it is remiss of the CSCC not to have been aware of the potential problems and been able to pave the way prior to the event.  This would have required the Council to have had prior knowledge of when notification was to take place and the statutory procedures involved in scheduling, which we did not.  In any case it may well have been impossible since the NCC avoid landowners knowing of the scheduling until they are formally notified.  This is due to past problems where the knowledge has jeopardised the site being scheduled or resulted in damage being done prior to notification.  It would be nice to argue that this would not apply to cave sites however this is not possible since, as already mentioned, many are also scheduled for other reasons.

The Council fully accepts that this whole business is causing a major problem here on Mendip and has attacked the very foundation of the relationship between landowners and the caving community.  The effect has been at the time of writing for Hunters Hole and a dig site near Eastwater Cavern to be closed.  The CSCC is currently making contact with several outside bodies including the NCC for advice and clarification. Further details will be circulated to clubs when any relevant information is available.

Dave Irwin, Chairman
Graham Price, C&A Officer 30.4.86.


Sites of Special Scientific Interest


1  Nature conservation

The wild plants and animals of Britain and the places, or habitats, in which they live are part of our national heritage. So too are the rocks, minerals and landforms that underlie or make up the surface of the land.  To safeguard plants, animals and geological features we must protect and maintain the most important areas where they occur.  These areas are called Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

2  The selection of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

The SSSI system comprises biological and geological sites selected by the Nature Conservancy Council after scientific survey and evaluation.  These include the best examples of particular habitats, e.g. woodlands, heathlands or meadows, and or the localities of rare or endangered species or important concentrations of animals or plants.  Many geological sites are the standard reference locality for their type of rock or land formation.

3  Notification

The Nature Conservancy Council have a statutory duty to notify an SSSI to every owner and occupier, to the local planning authority, to the appropriate Secretary of State and, in England and Wales, to the appropriate Water Authority and Internal Drainage Board.  Notifications to owners and occupiers include a map of the site, a statement explaining why it is of special interest and a list of operations likely to damage the special interest.

4  Registration

In England and Wales notification of land as an SSSI must be registered as a local land charge by the local planning authority.  In Scotland the local planning authorities will receive copies of all notifications in their district, and make them available at their principal office for public inspection.

5  Development

Local planning authorities have a statutory requirement to consult with the NCC before granting permission for a development .application on an SSSI.  Panning authorities are required to take into account any representations the NCC may make in relation to the development application, but the decision to give or refuse planning emission rests with the planning authority.

6  Access

Notification of land as an SSSI does not give the NCC or anyone else any right of access other than along existing rights of way.

7  Management agreements

The NCC may enter into management agreements with owners or occupiers of SSSI’s in order to safeguard or enhance the special interest of the site.

An agreement may be provided for payment to the owner or occupier for refraining from carrying out one or more damaging operations or for work aimed at safeguarding or improving the special interest of the site.

NCC's substantive management agreements will normally be registered as a land charge.

8  Capital taxation relief’s for owners of Heritage Land

SSSI’s will normally qualify for conditional exemption from Capital Transfer Tax.  In addition beneficial tax arrangements can apply if a maintenance fund is established for the benefit of such land.  A tax concession is also available if SSSI land is accepted by the Government in lieu of Capital Transfer Tax or if SSSI land is sold to the NCC or any other approved body.

9  Grant aid

The NCC may give financial assistance to any person to do anything which, in the NCC's opinion, fosters the understanding of or is conducive to nature conservation. Priority is usually given to SSSI’s. Financial assistance may, in certain circumstances, be given towards the purchase of land of SSSI quality for management as a nature reserve.  In all cases the NCC may impose conditions.

10  Purchase or lease of SSSIs

In some cases the NCC may be able to purchase or lease SSSI land, or offer to introduce the owner to a (non-governmental) conservation body which may be interested in purchase or lease of the land.

11  Further information

The NCC's Regional or local office will be pleased to provide further information and advice concerning SSSIs.  The address can be found in your local telephone directory.

12  Further reading

a) Statutes:

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

The Wildlife and Countryside (Amendment) A, 1985

The Wildlife and Countryside (Service of Notices) Act 1985

The Capital Transfer Tax Act 1984

The Countryside Act 1968

The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949

The Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1977

The Town and Country Planning (General Development) ( Scotland) Order 1981

b) Government circular:

"Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 Financial Guidelines foJ: Management Agreements" '

Department of Environment Circular 4/83 Welsh Office Circular 6/83

c) Explanatory memorandum:

"Capital Taxation and the National Heritage" (published by The Treasury. July 1983)

The Nature Conservancy Council is the government body which promotes nature conservation in Great Britain. It gives advice on nature conservation to government and all those whose activities affect our wildlife and wild places. It also selects, establishes and manages a series of National Nature Reserves. This work is based on detailed ecological research and survey.

This is one of a range of publications produced by Interpretive Services Branch.  A catalogue listing current titles is available from Dept. SI, Nature Conservancy Council, Northminster House, Peterborough



Standard Ref No•           Type of Operation

1          Cultivation, including ploughing, rotovating, harrowing and reseeding.

2          Grazing.

3          Stock feeding.

4          Mowing or other methods of cutting vegetation.

5          Application of manure, fertilisers and lime.

6          Application of pesticides, including herbicides (weed killers).

7          Dumping, spreading or discharge of any materials.

8          Burning.

9          The release into the site of any wild, feral or domestic animal*, plant or seed.

10         The killing or removal of any wild animal*, including pest control.

11         The destruction, displacement, removal or cutting of any plant or plant remains, including tree, shrub, herb, hedge, dead or decaying wood, moss, lichen, fungus, leaf-mould, turf.

12         Tree and woodland management including afforestation, planting, clear and selective felling, thinning, coppicing, modification of the stand or under wood, changes in species composition, cessation of management.

13a       Drainage (including moor-gripping and the use of mole, tile, tunnel or other artificial drains).

13b       Modification of the structure of water courses (e.g. streams, springs, ditches, dykes, drains), including their banks and beds, as by re-alignment, re-grading and dredging.

13c       Management of aquatic and bank vegetation for drainage purposes.

14         The changing of water levels and tables and water utilisation (including irrigation, storage and abstraction from existing water bodies and through boreholes).

15         Infilling of ditches, dykes, drains, ponds, pools or marshes. Freshwater fishery production and management including sporting fishing and angling.

16         Extraction of minerals, including peat, sand and gravel, topsoil, sub-soil, chalk, lime and spoil.

20         Construction, removal or destruction of roads, tracks, walls, fences, hardstands, banks, ditches or other earthworks, or the laying, maintenance or removal of pipelines and cables, above or below ground.

21         Storage of materials.

22         Erection of permanent or temporary structures, or the undertaking of engineering works, including drilling.

23         Modification of natural or man-made features (including cave entrances), clearance of boulders, large stones, loose rock or scree and battering, buttressing or grading cuttings, infilling of pits.

26         Use of vehicles or craft likely to damage or disturb features of interest.

27         Recreational or other activities likely to damage features of interest.

28         Game and waterfowl management and hunting practices.

* "animal" includes any mammal, reptile, amphibian, bird, fish or invertebrate.




Letter re Re-scheduling of Cave SSSI's on Mendip

Constituent member of NCA

please reply to:•


Dr Keith Duff
Head of Geology and Physiography
Nature Conservancy Council
Northminster House

7 May 1986

Dear Keith,

Re-scheduling of Cave SSSI's on Mendip

Further to our recent discussions I am writing to confirm some of the points raised to which a reply would be appreciated.

The current re-scheduling of the cave SSSI's on Mendip, specifically those in the Priddy area, is causing major problems with a number of landowners greatly concerned about the effect it will have on them and their livelihood.  The blame for the scheduling is being placed clearly with the caving community in general and myself in particular as Conservation and Access Officer of the Council, and as a result we are receiving the brunt of the criticism and suffering from the effects.  To date this has involved the closure of two caves and refusal of permission to continue a surface dig.  This situation is totally unacceptable and indications are that, with feelings running at such a high level, this may only be the beginning of the problems.

The relationship between cavers and landowners on Mendip has been extremely good in the past but has now been put in serious jeopardy.  Although we obviously wish to see caves offered the maximum possible protection we believe this must not be to the detriment of the landowners.  From their point of view the major concern is with respect to the very long list of damaging activities with which they have been presented.  Although we understand that many of these will be consented and that perhaps only in the region of six will apply, we believe that these can, and should, be further minimised in many instances by restricting their application to very limited areas, specifically in the immediate vicinity of cave entrances.  It is essential that any interference with landowners is reduced to the absolute minimum.

In 1978 when the BCRA and NCA undertook the SSSI Revision on "behalf of the NCC one of the guidelines was that whole catchment areas were included where appropriate. Consequently on Mendip the whole of the Wookey Hole catchment was proposed as a single site, this including a number of individual caves.

As a single unit there is no doubt that the catchment is nationally important and of special scientific interest, however there are a number of individual caves within the area that cannot be considered scientifically important in their own right, although these were automatically included by default.

Since the NCC has been notifying the Priddy caves it has become apparent that the original criteria have changed in that individual caves are being scheduled, not areas. Although it may seem logical to take all caves within the original area and notify each, this has presented a problem in that a number of the smaller ones, specifically Hunters Hole, North Hill Swallet, Sludge Pit and Nine Barrows, cannot be justified as being of national importance and should therefore not be scheduled as SSSI's.  In view of the changed circumstances we would therefore suggest that these caves are removed from the Revision.

Another matter of great concern to the Council is the effect of a site being scheduled on normal caver activities.  It is our understanding that it is not the intention of the NCC to try and restrict these in any way and that responsibility for looking after caves underground, whether the activities involve purely sporting caving, digging, or scientific research, will be the direct responsibility of the caving community. Your confirmation that this is the case would be appreciated.

There is however another extremely important aspect of caver activities that may have been overlooked, this being with respect to those on the surface.  Caving in the broadest sense not only includes underground activity but also a number of associated things on the surface.  If we first consider existing caves often maintenance including construction works or modification of the entrance may be required.  This could take the form of gating, building blockhouses, installing shafts etc., all of which might be considered a damaging activity within the terms of the scheduling.

The other problem is associated with surface digs which may or may not be associated with the cave in question, and could be located anywhere within the scheduled area. A major pastime of cavers is digging to find new caves and it would appear that these activities may be severely affected.

Obviously it would be unreasonable to expect a landowner to obtain permission from the NCC should cavers wish to start a dig on their land, and if this were the case it is likely that permission would be refused.  The Council considers this situation to be unacceptable and would appreciate confirmation as to how you intend to avoid these problems occurring.

We trust that you fully appreciate the difficulties with which we are now faced and will be able to take all possible steps to aid in returning the situation on Mendip to normal.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Price
Conservation and Access Officer


Great Britain Headquarters

Northminster House, Peterborough PE1 1UA Telephone Peterborough (0733) 40345

Mr G Price
Conservation and Access Officer
Council of Southern Caving Clubs

14 May 1986

Dear Graham


Thank you for your letter of 7 May.  As you know, I have been heavily involved in dealing with the unfortunate difficulties which have arisen over the renotification of the Priddy SSSI, and I am confident that the problems will be resolved in the near future.

Let me assure you, at the outset, that NCC has no intention of interfering with cave access in any way. Our aim is to safeguard cave sites of national scientific importance so that they can be used for research and education.  In this we are heavily dependent upon advice and information provided to us by cavers, since we have no in-house practical caving expertise.  We rely upon the caving community for advice on selecting SSSI’s (viz the BCRA/NCA consortium of 1978-1981) and for advice on their subsequent safeguard (viz the extensive consultation we undertook prior to responding to the recent Fairy Cave Quarry planning application).  Our view is that we should make full use of the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and the 1977 Town and Country Planning General Development Order, to protect cave SSSI in the ways that are recommended to us by cavers; we do not intend to take unilateral action of any kind.  The Wildlife and Countryside Act provides considerably enhanced mechanisms for safeguarding SSSI, and we believe that these should be used to best effect in protecting cave SSSl, but only in the ways that cavers feel to be necessary in site specific cases.  In particular, I must stress that all existing access arrangements for caves will be supported by NCC; we have no wish or intention to interfere with any of them.  I am happy to confirm that we see the caving community taking responsibility for the underground safeguard of caves, and applaud the NCA "Adopt-a-Cave scheme."

I am concerned that renotification of cave SSSI should have resulted in "blame" being directed in any direction.  The whole basis of the Wildlife and Countryside Act mechanisms is that landowners and occupiers should not be disadvantaged financially as a result of the provisions of the Act being applied.  Compensation for, loss of profits is available in the event of NCC not being able to agree to the undertaking of a listed Potentially Damaging Operation (PDO). Having said that, the number of PDO which apply to cave sites is very small, and their application is not intended to cause any restriction of normal caving activities.

"Consent letters" are issued by NCC to release owners and occupiers from many of the detailed "restrictions" which occur in the PDO lists, and these specifically include a consent to allow the unhindered continuation of normal caving activities, in which we include cave exploration, cave digging underground (including the modification of cave entrances) gating of caves, building blockhouses, collecting of samples for research, digging on the surface to seek new caves (and the works associated with such activities).

Most of the difficulties and misunderstandings at Priddy have arisen because the Priddy Caves and Priddy Pools SSSI is a joint geological and biological SSSI. The procedures which have been laid down by the Treasury Solicitor, and which NCC are obliged to follow when notifying new SSSI or renotifying existing SSSI, specify that each SSSI must have one overall map, statement of interest and list of PDO which relate to the whole site. It is then for NCC to issue, individual landowners and occupiers, a consent letter which excludes them from liability in respect of specified PDOs for their land.  NCC is not permitted to send consent letters at the same time as notification letters, and the normal procedure is that these follow a few days later.  Consequently, all owners and occupiers of the Priddy SSSI received a full list of PDO, but then received a consent letter a few days later, covering the bulk of the operations on their land.  It would appear that these consent letters were perhaps not as specific with regard to normal caving activities as they could have been, and we are now in the process of revising them, with more specific consent being sent out shortly. In general terms, the application of consents would normally follow the lines set out below:

PDO 7:             This applies only to the cave entrance area.  Normal caving activities within the cave or cave entrance, and which could involve dumping, spreading or discharge of any materials, will be consented.

PDO 12a:          In Mendip, consent would normally be granted for tree-planting.

PDO 13a:          In Mendip. consent would normally be granted for drainage modifications, but this would need to be site specific, in consultation with caving organisations.

PDO 15:            This PDO will remain.

PDO 21:            This applies only to cave entrances and areas immediately adjacent.  Normal caving activities which involve any of these operations will be consented.

PDO 22:            Normal caving activities will be consented.

PDO 23:            As for 21.

PDO 24:            Normal caving activities will be consented, and would include gating caves and building blockhouses.  We would retain consultation rights over proposals to block cave entrances.

PDO 27:            Consent will be given for this PDO; no existing access arrangements will be affected.

I note your uncertainty about the individual scientific merits of Hunters Hole, North Hill Swallet, Nine Barrows Swallet and Sludge Pit Hole.  I am seeking the views of the convenors of the BCRA/NCA consortium responsible for selection of cave GCR sites (Tony Waltham and Dave Judson), as well as Willie Stanton (in his guise as author of the write-ups for Priddy). I cannot pre-judge their advice, but can assure you that all cave SSSI notified by NCC must be justifiable, and that we will reconsider the status of these sites if the advice we receive suggests that we should.  In the meantime, amended consent letters are currently being prepared for these sites, along the lines specified above.  I will ensure that the CSCC is kept informed.

I hope that this letter sets your mind at rest with regard to NCC's intentions regarding cave conservation.  I am aware that a good deal of rumour and mischievous misinformation concerning our "intentions" is circulating, and can assure you that these are unfounded.  I must repeat my earlier statement that NCC seeks to safeguard caves for cavers, and that all our actions are taken after consultation with representatives of the caving organisations; we have no interest in 'empire-building' and do not act unilaterally.

I trust that the sound relationships that have been established between NCC and the caving organisations, including the CSCC, will be maintained, and hope that we will continue to liaise closely with CSCC over cave conservation in the Mendips.

Dr K L Duff
Head of Geology & Physiography Section


Open letter to all members of Council of Southern Clubs Member Clubs.

30th April 1986

Dear Cavers,

You may remember that up to eighteen months ago I acted on your behalf as Secretary of the CSCC but unfortunately, due to business commitments, had to relinquish the post. I have now been asked by a number of cavers to stand for the post of Conservation and Access Officer and, for the reasons set out below, I have agreed.

You may know that there has been a review of SSSI's (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) going on for some time.  The purpose of this designation is to protect any site, not only caves, considered to be of special interest.  A list of sites was approved by the CSCC in 1979/80 but due to the appearance of the Wildlife and Countryside Act it is only now that the designations are being made. What alarms me and a great many others is that the scope of the sites and the restrictions placed thereon has increased greatly from that approved some six years ago.  Not only that but it appears that these designations will have a detrimental effect on access rather than as intended.

Landowners received on 21st April 1986 details of the land which is now designated and the restrictions placed thereon.  The designations cover all land within specific boundaries i.e. whole fields not just the cave entrance and the restrictions placed thereon are such as to preclude the landowners continued use of the land without the agreement of the Nature Conservancy Council. Naturally landowners blame cavers for this intrusion into their right to use the land as they wish and I am receiving an increasing number of reports of access being restricted, permission to dig being withheld, etc.

Cavers have for many years had good relations with Mendip landowners and access has always been maintained without the need for the sort of situation that prevails in other parts of the country.  Overnight these carefully maintained relations have been swept away.

Why is it therefore that the C & A Officer of the CSCC did not see fit to specifically inform the CSCC of the potential problems when they first became apparent.  I believe that he has, in fact been involved with these designations to such a point that he has failed to see the problems that would be created.

We must now do our best to redress the situation by pursuing a policy sympathetic to the landowners who give us access.  To continue on our present route can only be to the detriment of Mendip Caving.  To this end, the present C & A Officer must step down as his credibility with the landowners involved is in serious doubt.

Likewise the situation with Fairy Cave Quarry.  Whilst I cannot comment on this as a whole as the CSCC can have no policy on a situation which is - being handled by an individual club I am concerned that the NCA has, to all intents and purposes, interfered in CSCC affairs without its agreement.  The case in point being that the NCA Chairman has written to all Local Councillors seeking their support against the granting of planning permission to Hobbs Quarries for their proposals for Fairy Cave Quarry of which you should remember the formation of a show cave forms only one part.  I do not understand how, within the terms of the NCA Constitution, they can have a policy which is, in effect, a direct contradiction to the CSCC Constitution and, ultimately, sets cavers in general as well as the CSCC against a large commercial company to whom caving interests and access requirements count for nothing.

This is the situation as I and a large number of others see it.  I believe that under the guise of a policy of. Conservation and Access we have been brought into direct confrontation over access with landowners, the results of which could have a dramatic effect on future Mendip Caving.

I look forward to your support at the AGM on 17th May 1986 in the interests of the future of Mendip Caving.  This letter, which expresses my personal opinions, has been circulated at my own expense.

Yours sincerely, Alan Butcher


Conservation And Access Officers Report 1985/86


This year has been relatively quiet until the last couple of months when all hell has been let loose, this centering around two things - the re-scheduling of the Mendip SSSI' s and the Fairy Cave Quarry business.  These two items have resulted in considerable controversy with an extra-ordinary amount of criticism being levelled at me personally.  I must say that I do not mind criticism when justified and will listen to and discuss anything with anyone who has an opinion to express. However with respect to these two matters there seems to be little reason behind the numerous totally false rumours that have been circulating, and I trust that once people become fully aware of the facts they will appreciate that I am not responsible for causing the problems but have put considerable effort into solving them.

The following items of business have been dealt with during the year:

1.                  SINGING RIVER MINE.  The parcel of land containing the entrance is now in the ownership of the adjacent householders and essentially forms an extension to their garden.  They are quite happy about continued access but have asked that everyone stick to the path when approaching the entrance and avoid their son's radio controlled car racetrack where there has been some damage to bridges over this.  The path is obvious but they are intending to gravel it in the near future and rebuild the stile.  They have also asked that the gate to the field is kept closed and the entrance to the mine locked when underground.  The access agreement with the previous owner only enabled five keys to be available from the major clubs, however it has been possible to renegotiate this and in future keys will be available to anyone upon request.  To simplify matters the lock on the mine is now the same as the one on Cuckoo Cleeves and the one key, available from myself or the Wessex at £2 each, will fit both entrances.

2.                  BROWNS FOLLY MINE.  The land containing both entrances to the mine is now in the ownership of the Avon Wildlife Trust and initial negotiations for continued access by cavers were held with them early in the year.  They required a similar arrangement as before in the form of a licence with the Company, although they would be responsible for gating.  The Trusts intention was to have new gates on both entrances by last August but due to delays this has only recently been done. There are still a few problems with the new licence but these should be resolved soon.  The new keys are currently available and will be distributed to the Company shareholding clubs soon.  The new gates should be locked by mid May.  Notices will be placed on the entrances detailing availability of keys.

3.                  LAMB LEER. Early in the year Somerset County Council sold the land containing the entrance to the tenant, Mr Burge of Beconsfield Farm.  The licence with the Company was also transferred and Mr Burge stated he wished the same access arrangements to continue except that he would like all visitors to call on him first and a small goodwill fee would be payable.  He also asked that no cars were parked in the quarry without specific permission having been given.  Notices detailing the changes have been posted on site.

4.                  SLUDGE PIT. Unfortunately the cave has remained closed although it is hoped that it may be reopened soon.  Wessex, who are undertaking the work, asked for assistance with respect to the supply of pipes for the entrance and I made arrangements for the purchase of these from ARC.  However organising the necessary transport proved a major problem and to date no definite offers of help have been forthcoming.  I believed that the problem had been solved when I was able to obtain a supply from another source complete with delivery to site all free of charge, however the pipes that turned up were much larger than arranged which presented a different problem all together.  Following discussions with the Wessex it was agreed that the solution would be to hire an excavator and to obtain the necessary funds for this and the other works I circulated all member clubs in March requesting donations.  To date 16 clubs have responded making the £160 available.

5.                  AXBRIDGE HILL. Comments were made at one meeting the Somerset Trust interfering with access to small mines and caves on Axbridge Hill.  Further information was to be supplied in order that his could be followed up but this is still awaited.

6.                  FAIRY CAVE QUARRY.  At the end of January Hobbs made two planning applications, the first for renewal of their original outlined consent for development of the whole site as a show cave and leisure complex and the second for full permission to start tunnelling works into Shatter.  Cerberus asked for CSCC and NCA backing for the comments to be submitted on the show cave development and the comments were tabled at and approved by the meeting on the 15th February.  The applications have since been considered by the District Council who decided to refuse the application for renewal of the outline permission and defer the tunnelling application pending agreement on the details between Hobbs and the NCC.

7.                  WATERWHEEL AND UPPER FLOOD SWALLETS.  In February Willie Stanton gave up his dig at Waterwheel and handed the keys and responsibility for access over to Terry Mathews at the Charterhouse Centre who has since asked MCG to operate a leader system for the cave the same as for Upper Flood.  Details of access arrangements for both caves can be found elsewhere.  Terry Mathews notified the NCC of the existence of the cave so it could be included along with Upper Flood in the SSSI Revision.  The NCC approached me for further information and a write up for Upper Flood provided by the MCG was sent along with brief details of Waterwheel, although the latter could not be justified as being of national importance.

8.                  SSSI REVISION. The rescheduling of the Mendip cave SSSI's by the NCC is causing major problems.  Full details of the history and current situation are given separately. The Council is currently taking all possible steps to try and solve these problems by discussion with the NCC and other parties and will report any progress as made.

9.                  HANDBOOK. Although I had promised to have the revised handbook ready had Easter there have been a few delays.  Much of the text is now entered on a work processor it is anticipated that it will be ready to print in the next month or two. If anyone can assist I could do with a cover design.

10.              CAVE CONSERVATION YEAR.  There was very little participation in this on Mendip although some clean-ups and tuping was carried out.  An overall review of the Year was published in Descents NCA Column.  The 'Protect Our Caves' leaflets recently became available and one is enclosed.  If any clubs can distribute these to their members it would be appreciated.  If this is possible please let me know how many copies are required.

During the year I have attended all meetings of the NCA, C & A Group in my capacity as C & A Officer and as NCA Conservation Officer.  I have also represented the Council at NCA Executive meetings and at all meetings of the Grant Aid Working Party.

Overall the work involved with respect to Council business both on a local and national level has been considerable and I feel confident that I have made a useful contribution. I would like to continue as Conservation and Access Officer for the coming year if the Council so wishes and assure everyone that I will fulfil my duties to the best of my ability.

Graham Price
Conservation & Access Officer

Conservation And Access Officers Report 1985/86 - Addendum

By the time you receive this you will have already had time to read the letter of 30th April from 'Butch' campaigning against me for the post of Conservation and Access Officer of the Council and I trust that you will now allow me an opportunity to state my case and set the record straight.  Unfortunately a number of cavers on Mendip are currently involved in a 'witch hunt' and they have decided that I am the witch, however I refuse to be the scapegoat they are looking for.  The letter from 'Butch' is a typical example of the misinformation that is currently circulating and it is essential that this is stopped once and for all.

He says that the scope of the SSSI's and the restrictions placed on them has greatly increased from that approved six years ago.  This is complete rubbish.  To start with the areas now being scheduled are minimal compared with that proposed by the Council in 1978.  If we take the Priddy caves which are causing all the problems the original proposal was to have the whole Wookey catchment as one site.  To Quote from the proposed list at the time "Whole of the Wookey Hole Catchment covering an area of ? sq. km.  Includes all major and some minor feeder caves in the Priddy area between Priddy Village and the Hunters Lodge".  Imagine the problems that this might have caused compared with what the NCC are now doing that is scheduling only the land directly above the cave.  The scope of the sites therefore has not increased at all, but quite dramatically reduced.  It might be interesting to note that in the Dunstans catchment a large block of land between the end of Stoke Lane and the resurgence has in fact been de-scheduled.  With regard to the restrictions none were approved in 1978, and none have been approved since.

A number of other people have also mentioned this problem about the sites being defined using field boundaries.  This is not a new innovation as many would have you believe, and was in fact the method employed in defining practically all the sites already scheduled prior to 1978. The reasons for using field boundaries is that the sites also have to be registered with the Land Registry and they will not accept totally arbitrary lines drawn across the centre of plots but require fixed lines to be used as defined on an ordnance survey map.  Cave entrances alone have never been covered, and all the original sites covered the full extent of the cave as known at the time of scheduling.

It cannot be denied that cavers are being blamed for the scheduling and to some extent this is a valid statement.  However it must not be forgotten that when the CSCC participated in the Revision during 1978/80 it was policy at that time, as it had always been in the past, to give as many caves as possible SSSI status.

No one could possibly have known that the Wildlife and Countryside Act was to be passed and the effect that this would have.  Unfortunately we are only now finding out albeit a bit late in the day.  If we had been aware of these things it is certain that we would not have allowed the present situation to arise, however it has and now our efforts must be turned to getting us out of the mess.  Every possible step is currently being taken in this respect.

Why did I not inform the CSCC of the potential problems when they first became apparent.  The supposition here is that I knew of the problems before they existed.  How this would have been possible I do not know unless Butch believes me to clairvoyant. I did find out at the end of January that scheduling had started and as a matter of course mentioned it at the CSCC meeting on the 15 February.  It was only after this that anyone became aware that there were problems, and immediately upon finding out steps were taken to try and resolve them.  This matter has been under constant discussion with the Councils Chairman, Dave Irwin, and others, and one of the first things to be done was to organise a meeting between the NCC and the landowners. If I had been directly involved with the scheduling as Butch suggests then it is probable that the current situation may never have arisen.

I fully agree that we must pursue a policy sympathetic to the landowners, although I have assumed that we have done this in the past and would continue to do it in the future, in any case.  We are not taking any other route, as is suggested, nor intend to do so.  It seems to me that a few people believe that if the blame can be placed on me and I can be disposed of, the problem will be a long way to being solved.  I think this very unlikely.  If my credibility with any landowners is in doubt then this can only be due to them being told that I am responsible for the problems they are now having, despite this being totally untrue.  On the other hand I have very good relationships with bodies such as the NCC. And I am currently discussing the matter with them and making representations to try and solve the problems.

Regarding the Fairy Cave Quarry business Butch also seems to be confused here.  He says the CSCC can have no policy with respect to this, however he is wrong because the CSCC does have a policy of sorts as he would know if he had attended the meeting on the 15 February.  At that meeting Cerberus tabled very detailed comments on the planning applications which they wished to be submitted by the NCA on behalf of the CSCC and the club.  This paper was accepted by the meeting and therefore, although some people consider by default, became CSCC policy.  The NCA was therefore involved at the request of Cerberus and with the sanction of the CSCC. Butch might not agree with this but it is a fact. I would therefore assume that it is quite acceptable for the NCA to send the mentioned letter if it was considered necessary.  It is impossible to see how this could be considered a direct contradiction to the CSCC Constitution.

The situation as outlined by Butch may be how he and some others see it, but this is entirely based on considerable misinformation, totally untrue rumours, and pub talk.  I hope that the information currently being circulated by the Council will put a stop to all these rumours which are causing problems in themselves at a time when it is essential that we show a united front.

I have no intention of stepping down as Conservation and Access Officer of the Council.  To do so would be to admit to being guilty of something which I am not, and in any case I feel an obligation and need to try and sort out the problems with which we are now faced.  I feel certain that I can contribute much in this respect and hope that you will be able to support me at the AGM on the 17 May.

Graham Price


Chairman’s Report for the Year 1985 - 1986


The past year cannot be considered a happy one for the CSCC - in many ways it became worse as the year progressed.  On the positive side however, the organisation has been revitalised by new faces in the various official positions and the minutes and communications as now being sent regularly to member clubs.  It is vital to an organisation such as ours to ensure too, that Clubs regularly send delegates thus enabling the Council to state clearly the views of its members.  If clubs do not undertake their responsibilities how can the Council reflect the views of the "grass-roots"?


The thorny problem of the merger between BCRA and NCA has reared its head yet again and no doubt will do so again in the near future.  The Officers have decided to prepare a discussion document proposing methods of improving the efficiency of the NCA network and why it believes that the federal system that currently exists must remain to reflect the views of the caving clubs.  Draft copies of this document  will be circulated to clubs as soon as it has been prepared for comment and discussion. At recent BCRA conferences cavers have expressed a wish that the BCRA merges with the NCA and that they felt it, the BCRA, is best suited to reflect the views and opinions of the British caver. This is simply due to lack of knowledge of what the NCA does on a day to day basis.  The BCRA, a constituent member of the NCA, does what it has always done for the last couple of decades (including the years before the merger between BSA and CRG) - that is to produce a national magazine and hold conferences and symposia.  There is no need for the NCA to duplicate or take over what the BCRA does well.  The NCA should be left to be the umbrella organisation to negotiate and fend off external pressures that is closing in on the caving scene.

At the same time there is a clear need for the CSCC to review it’s activates and procedures. The Fairy Cave Quarry problem has highlighted a problem where an officer of the CSCC is also an officer of NCA and his club.  This has caused problems, not necessarily of his own making, attempting to wear several caps at at once.  I believed for a long time that an officer of the CSCC should be able to represent the collective views of the member clubs without having to look over his shoulder to see what his club at the NCA would feel about his actions.  There is clear need for this situation to be resolved: by amending the CSCC Constitution if necessary.  If the meeting agrees then the Council's officers should investigate the situation in the coming year and propose any amendments necessary to the constitution.

Secondly, the CSCC should make clear its role in the federal system.  Apart from receiving information from the NCA for distribution to member clubs it also has a role in the reverse direction.  Should a Club have a problem of access or require the help of an outside organisation such as the Nature Conservancy Council or the Sports Council then the CSCC is there to give guidance and help should it be required. If the Council feels that it requires the assistance of an outside organisation then the NCA can be simply and quickly brought into the discussions - the approach being made by the CSCC in the first place thus ensuring that the NCA is aware that the council has fully approved the NCA action.  Whatever help is required by a Club they should formally approach the CSCC in writing to ensure that approach is fully documented in the council's minutes and enabling a full discussion to take place.  The CSCC Officers should be empowered to take decisions on behalf elf that Club for the CSCC prior to action being taken by a Council meeting if they feel that this help is justified.


The re-scheduling of the SSSI's for the Mendip sites has been in the pipeline since NCA accepted a work package from the Nature Conservance in 1977.  A sub-committee was set. Up to define and write up the sites under review and felt to be included within the revised schedules areas.  Work for this revision here on Mendip was completed by 1980 and submitted to NCA at that time, NCA collated all returns from the caving regions and submitted the whole compilation to the Nature Conservancy Council in 1980.  Since that time the NCC have been preparing the necessary documentation and have only recently contacted the landowners and farmers in Eastern Mendip and the Charterhouse areas (1984) and here at Priddy (1986) who are affected by the re-scheduling exercise.  The actual scheduling for the Charterhouse area was postponed for nearly two years and hence the earlier date.  The action is also unique in that this small area of Mendip is one of first to be scheduled out of seven sites; indeed Mendip appears to be the first area of all the caving regions and no doubt will be a test case for the caving community.  SSSI's were initially introduced in 1957 and several important caves were included, e.g. Swildons, Eastwater, St. Cuthbert’s and Stoke Lane etc.  So in 1977-78 the policy of the CSCC was to include as many sites as possible located in the same locality of a larger system to enable them to have the limited protection that the SSSI offered them at that time. Since the completion of this work package by NCA the present government in 1981, passed through Parliament the Wildlife and Countryside Act which stated, in so many words, that there would be a list of damaging activities added to the conditions of an SSSI.   The addition of a list of damaging activities to the SSSI requirements give full protection to the scheduled caves.  This poses a dilemma for Mendip cavers; it satisfies those cavers who believe that the SSSI never had any real protection - now it has.  On the other hand the whole change has upset the relationship between landowners and farmers and the cavers.  The CSCC was not aware of this new twist until earlier this year, though letters referring to these activities were sent out as early as 1984, when farmers and landowners were being contacted by the NCC in the East Mendip area; the CSCC wasn’t aware of this action.  Inevitably this was a considerable shock to both landowners, farmers and cavers generally here on Mendip.  The CSCC immediately requested the NCC to attend a meeting between the landowners and farmers in the Priddy area to enable a dialogue to take place. The meeting was attended by the C & A Officer and myself.  The end result was that the villagers went away discontented with the answers given by the NCC Officials.  The situation is now is one that requires the most delicate handling and the officers are currently attempting to resolve the situation.  Until cavers are fully aware of the situation there cannot be a useful dialogue with the local villagers, bearing in mind that the whole of the Mendip caving is firmly cased upon the goodwill and confidence of the local residents; it must remain so even if some of the caves an Mendip eventually have to be stripped of their protection afforded by the current SSSI.  The whole situation will be discussed at the Annual General meeting on the 17th May 1986.  A full investigation of the background to the reassessment is being carried out by myself and hopefully more information will be available at the Annual Meeting on May 17th.  The Council can be sure that this problem will be placed as top priority of the actions the CSCC in the forthcoming year.


The problems associated with the Hobbs proposals to converts Fairy Cave Quarry into a recreation site has been met here on Mendip with very mixed opinions – or so it would seem.  By the time of the Annual Meeting this subject will have been fully discussed by CSCC at the emergency meeting on the 10th of May.  But it might be prudent of me to include some of the facts in this report for the record.

Hobbs Holdings Ltd closed Withyhill and Shatter Cave to cavers in 1981 and they informed the Cerberus Spelaeological Society of their action.  The Cerberus S.S. then informed the CSCC.  The CSCC response was simple: they requested that the Cerberus wait for the appropriate moment to negotiate with Hobbs to get the caves re-opened as soon as possible. The CSCC couldn’t take any action as the autonomy of the Cerberus would have been affected and they could well have applied the veto.  The Cerberus then published their document proposing that Shatter Cave would be best preserved by converting it into a limited "show" cave.  To back up this report the Cerberus requested the NCA for support to their plan and told the CSCC of their intentions.  The NCA gave this support through the NCA Conservation and Access Group and it’s Executive.  Though the Hon, Chairman and Hon Secretary of the CSCC were aware of the Cerberus action and approved their approach to the NCA, it did not formally become policy of the counci1 as the Cerebus made it quite clear that they were quite capable of handling the situation.  The matter rested there for nearly five year’s, the Cerberus reporting the latest situation for information only to the CSCC at each meting.  As far is the CSCC was concerned it did not have any formal policy regarding the quarry.  The first time that it did have a policy was when the report was tabled at the CSCC meeting on 15th February 1985 but it was not discussed and it was not highlighted for discussion; merely being noted in the minutes by the Hon. Secretary.  Later the same report was circulated to members of the Planning Committee with a covering letter from Mick Day, Chairman of NCA. This was done without any consultation with CSCC as the NCA believed what they were doing was with the full knowledge of the council.  Consequently the CSCC now has a policy.

At the time of the Planning Committee’s Site Meeting I wrote to Graham Price stating that I was unable to attend and wrote “I think the point ought to be stressed that the CSCC is not adverse to the principle of Shatter Cave being converted into a show cave provided that it is carried out in a controlled manner so that it’s intrinsic beauty is not harmed.  This I understand is to be monitored by the NCC and Dr. William Stanton, who is well known for his views in the conservation of caves”, a letter from himself or Mr, Jeremy Hobbs, stating their policy regarding the conversion and exploitation of the cave.  This has yet to arrive, though from a letter sent from Hobbs to the Planning Committee (8th April 1986) would appear that our conditions set down in my letter would be met and many of the conditions set down in the submission to the Planning Committee would be met. Since that time the Planning Committee has decided not to extend the outline planning permission that ran out at the end of April.  Should Hobbs take the matter to Appeal or just leave the matter to rest, only the future will tell.  Whatever happens the CSCC must have a clear outline policy.  As I understand the situation at the time of writing, Hobbs have requested that all caves including the two caves, Shatter and Withyhill, remain closed.  Hence the meeting on the 10th May 1986.


There are a number of difficult tasks facing the CSCC in the coming year and for this reason I’ve withdrawn my intention to resign as Chairman of the CSCC and am now prepared for my name to be put forward for re-election.

Dave Irwin, Chairman CSCC, Priddy, Nr. Wells, Somerset
28th April 1986.


Notes on the Council of Southern Caving Clubs AGM. 17th May 1986

Club rep., Bob Cork.

SSSI Special Meeting. The AGM was preceded by a special meeting to discuss the problems regarding the scheduling of caves in the Wookey catchment area.  Those affected being; Swildons Hole, Eastwater Cavern, Sludge Pit, Nine Barrows Swallet, North Hill Swallet, St Cuthbert’s Swallet and Hunters Hole.  Mr Bob Corns the Nature Conversancy Council representative who is handling this matter was invited to attend this meeting.

Dave Irwin (chair) opened the meeting by giving a resume of the events so far plus a history of the events which led to the present revision taking place, a long address but succinct (this will appear in the BB in full in due course).  Phil Romford was then invited to speak on a meeting which he and Dave Irwin had with Bob Corns (NCC) on Tuesday 13th May 86.  The major outcome of this meeting was that the NCC have no intention to change caving in any sense as we now know it, he was asked to substantiate this in writing, he agreed.  A letter from Keith Duff (NCC Peterborough) was handed out to all club reps to clarify and substantiate this. It was made clear to the meeting that although the NCC may not have bad intentions to cavers, the way the scheduling of Priddy caves was conducted has resulted in antagonism which may well result in our access being restricted in the long term.

The letter from NCC Peterborough also revealed changes to the application of some Potentially Damaging Operations which may be of some help to the Landowners, although Bob Corns (NCC) explained them a full understanding is yet to realised

Tim Large was invited to give a resume of a meeting called by Roger Dors to which he invited all affected landowners to discuss the problem; Roger called Dave Irwin, Tim Large and Phil Romford to present their case as cavers and to offer any solutions if possible.  A more full report of this meeting is elsewhere in this BB.

A question and answer session was held with Bob Corns in the firing line.  He was asked some relevant and some irrelevant questions from the floor, of course he was unable to make policy changes that would have settled some people, changes can only be made on representation to the NCC from interested parties.  He left the meeting with a reasonable idea of the feelings abroad.  A vote of thanks to Bob Corns was made by Rich Whitcombe.

Resolutions were taken before any CSCC policy and actions could be decided.  EGONS and BEC both put forward proposals to form a working party under the council.  After much tooing and froing the working party idea was accepted and would comprise the Chairman, Hon Sec, C&A Officer, Geological Adviser, Legal Adviser and up to two Liaison Officer's.  Personnel would be voted under AOB of the AGM.

CSCC policy is to unequivocally support the landowners using the working party to make representation to the NCC and other bodies to help resolve the situation.  The working party would also make attempts to de-schedule as much as the NCC will allow.

Fairy Cave Quarry.  This was the subject of a CSCC special committee meeting on 1oth t1ay 1986.  The resolution tabled at that meeting was deferred until the SSSI policy had been established at the AGM.  The outcome was that with reservations Shatter Cave could become a show cave providing its intrinsic beauty was preserved.

The CSCC would wish that the NCC obtain advice from suitable advisers.  If the CSCC did intend taking any action on the matter they would advise the Cerberus S.S. of their intentions.


CSCC Annual General Meeting.

Club rep; Bob Cork, later Phil Romford.

Chair; Dave Irwin.

Officers Reports. All reports (which will appear in a later BB) were accepted as read.

Grant Aid. After much discussion on who would benefit from grants and whether they should be accepted the council decided that the committee should fully investigate the why's and wherefores of the Sports Council money (£110,000.00 to NCA), then report back to the council before any policy is made, most people present were concerned about the implications that taking government money may have.

Paid NCA Officers. The council was left with no doubt that the general feeling was that paid NCA posts were very definitely a bad thing, the committee was directed to make strong representations to any NCA meeting discussing the matter.

CSCC Subscriptions. To cover costs it was proposed and accepted to increase the annual membership subs to £6.00 inclusive. Grants would not be applied for to cover admin costs.

NCA Equipment Committee.  The rope testing programme was queried regarding cost and ultimate usefulness. CSCC will investigate the programme to check its value and how £100 of CSCC money was the programme used.

Election of Officers. The new committee is as follows:-

Chairman                      Dave Irwin (BEC)
Secretary                      Martin Grass (BEC)
Company Secretary       Mike Rendell (CSS)
Treasurer                       Chris Smart (BEC)
Conservation & Access  Tim Large (BEC)
Training Officer               Alan Dougherty (MCG & ACG)
Equipment Officer          Jerry Breakspeare (CSS)

Any Other Business. The working party officers were voted on as follows:-

Chairman                      Dave Irwin
CSCC Hon Sec Martin Grass
C & A Officer                 Tim Large
Geological Adviser         Jim Hanwell
Legal Adviser                 Mike Thompson
Liaison Officers              Phil Romford & Graham Price.

The working party will report to the executive committee at regular intervals.

There being no other business the meeting closed at 2245 hrs after a marathon 8 1/4 hrs.

Correspondent:  Phil Romford.


Landowners Meeting 15th May 1986.

Report on a meeting with Priddy landowners held at The Hunters Lodge Inn on 15 May 1986.  Caving interests were represented by Dave Irwin as CSCC Chairman accompanied by Phil Romford and Tim Large.

Dave Irwin outlined the history of events leading up to the latest revision of SSSI's on Mendip by the N.C.C.  The landowners expressed concern and disappointment that cavers have been involved in the revision and without consulting them beforehand.  They were told that the NCC would have gone ahead regardless of caver involvement or not.  They consider that the good relations with cavers built up over many years allowing access and exploration are now severely affected.

The landowners are aware that the extent of an SSSI can be extended to include land above the cave wherever new discoveries are made.  If this decision by the NCC prevails then landowners may refuse permission to dig new surface sites and underground digs. They will be opposed to any escalation of restrictions on their land usage and effect on its market value.

They were given every support and sympathy for the situation.  They were told that cavers are doing everything possible to restore the situation.  Of course, we could not give any firm guarantees as to the outcome of our efforts.

Dave Irwin outlined the proposed actions the CSCC will take subject to approval by their AGM, these included: -

1.                  Lobbying MP's, Minister of the Environment, Sports Council and CCPR.

2.                  Engage the help of specialists in the scientific and legal fields.

3.                  Combine action with other regional councils and the NCA.

4.                  To recommend that in future details of new cave discoveries and their surveys should not be published anywhere.

5.                  To set up a working party to conduct the above activities.

The landowners propose to obtain media coverage for their cause.  The meeting appeared to accept that cavers are on their side and that our interests are closely linked to their own.  To this end it looks now as if a joint action by cavers and landowners could be made to combat the problem.  Close liaison will be essential and Dave Irwin told the meeting that he would supply the landowners with a copy of his CSCC report.

To emphasise their position the landowners of Swildon's and Eastwater have decided to close their caves for an indefinite period as of 17th May 1986.  This action is to demonstrate to the cavers that they do in fact control access to the caves.  The point was raised that until the consents are signed it would be technically illegal for them to allow access.

Tim Large and Phil Romford
16th May 1986


Late News - 10/6/86

Unfortunately there has been a delay at the printers with this BB (nearly 4 weeks instead of the usual 2). With luck you should get your next BB on time at the end of July.

Caving films

The BCRA have organised a film evening at the Chemistry Dept. Bristol Univ. at 7pm on Thursday 26th June. Tickets @£2 each from Dick Willis, 56 Granby Hill, Bristol BSS 4LS.  Cheques payable to SCRA and s.a.e. please.

Members Weekend

There will be a members weekend at the Belfry on 22/23 August with a barrel provided for those members undertaking some work on the hut.

Daren Cilau - The Wild West Frontiers.

This carries on giving up passage to the BEC/Cardiff diggers who have now found over a mile of passage this year.  On 29/5 to 1/6 another 750m to lkm of new passage was entered by forcing a very tight horizontal squeeze at the end of " Brazil".  This is superbly decorated with large crystal clusters on the floor and contains 70m of very large passage terminating in a draughting boulder choke.

The team returned on 6-8 June and pushed the side passages in the new extension.  One high level passage doubled back with a pushable side passage leading off north, hopefully dropping down into the diver’s extension. Another passage is leading south requires digging.  Arthur Millet and Steve Allen started the survey of the latest extension and surprisingly after 150m in a NNW direction the main passage turns West.  This was not properly surveyed but continues in that. Direction for at least 400m and the end must be very near the terminal sump in Agen Allwedd.  If a connection is made then the combined length will be over 50km! as Daren is now over 20km in length.

Martyn Farr is going to be filmed by HTV on his attempted throuqh trip from Danen Cilau to Elm Hole. This will be a record through trip, unless, of course, the BEC connect Daren and Aggy first.

Snablet kept the BEC spirit going by arriving at the campsite with a pewter tankard and 3 pints of beer, no mean feat as anyone who has been there will confirm.

Mark Lumley

Derbyshire weekend

Due to the amount of effort put in at Daren Cilau, Mark has not organised anything for the Derbyshire meet. If anyone is thinking of going then they will have to make their own arrangements.