The best known cave dwelling species are bats. They are an endangered species
with legal protection in Ireland (North and South). They are particularly
vulnerable when hibernating (October to April). They should not be disturbed,
especially during these months. SUI will support reasonable measures taken
for their protection, including legislation and the use of gates and access
restriction on sensitive sites. Other cave dwelling species - insects, worms,
fish etc. - are also at risk and are just as important as the better known
bats. Little is known about the fragile ecology of caves, especially in Ireland
and the varied flora and fauna that constitute it. Cavers should treat them
with respect and SUI will support reasonable measures taken for their protection.
Cave sediments are one of the most important features of the cave environment.
Older sediments are of particular interest. Preserved underground, they are
protected from normal surface processes and hold a rich and irreplaceable
store of information - sedimentological, biological, and archaeological -
for the scientist. The greatest threat to such sediments is the caver himself.
Persons should not damage, throw about, trample on or otherwise interfere
with sediments. When sediments must be walked on, damage should be kept to
a minimum. SUI accepts and encourages the identification and protection of
important sites by appropriate means. The existing legal restrictions on the
excavation of archaeological deposits must be upheld.
Cave digging - i.e. the excavation of materials in an attempt to find new
passage - is a legitimate part of caving and has greatly extended our knowledge
of caves. Given the precedence of conservation over access, it will on occasion
be ruled out especially where the sediments or formations blocking a passage
are of scientific or other value. Digging should also be avoided where it
is simply opening an easy alternative to an existing route. It is reasonable
to seek to bypass a sump or open a through trip, but the benefits of the dig
should always be weighed against the damage and alterations caused by it.
Abandoned dig sites should be cleared of all introduced materials and equipment
and left as unspoilt as possible. They must be made safe/secure from animals.
In all cases the onus is on the digger and, if in doubt, he should seek expert
Calcite formations - stalactites, stalagmites, columns, curtains, straws,
gour pools etc. - are the most obvious and the most delicate of cave features.
Their delicacy makes them highly vulnerable and their loss would detract greatly
from Irish caves. They should never be willfully damaged or broken. They should
never be removed from caves - whether attached or already broken - except
for valid scientific purposes. Well decorated, constricted passages are the
most vulnerable and should be avoided by large groups and beginners. In extreme
cases, SUI will investigate formal methods of protection including gating,
taping, leadership systems etc. Other formations - scallops, passage forms,
rock structures etc. - are generally less vulnerable. Again, willfull damage
The limited development of show caves at suitable sites is acceptable as a
means to introduce the public to caves. They provide an opportunity to inform
and to educate. As such, developers should present a cave as it is and not
as they or the public think it should be. Works should be tasteful, sympathetic
to the cave environment, designed to show the cave as close as possible to
its natural wild state with the minimum of alterations and the maximum of
AND ORGANISED CAVING.
SUI recognises that problems and pressures can arise from the use of caves
by large organised groups such as commercial bodies, outdoor education centres,
school groups, scouts etc. SUI will endeavor to identify these problems and
seek their solution.
Materials should not be introduced to the underground environment. This applies
especially to spent carbide, abandoned equipment, cans and other litter. Exceptions
do exist of which the most obvious are rescue dumps, scientific equipment
and fixed aids. The guiding policy is to leave the cave unaltered and only
introduce materials where they can clearly be justified and are as inoffensive
as possible. Location cairns and directional arrows are generally unacceptable.
Graffiti should never be put on cave walls.
FIXED ARTIFICIAL AIDS
The most commonly used are bolts. These should be used sparingly avoiding
any suggestion of proliferation. They should be well placed with safety and
conservation in mind. Other artificial aids such as ropes, diving lines, guide
lines in unstable boulder chokes, ladders, planks etc. should only be introduced
when they are demonstrably necessary; where a natural alternative is not available;
and where they will be useful - not to mention safe.
This policy document cannot cover all the possible considerations on scientific
research. Normal scientific codes of practise and legal requirements should
be observed and the following general points should be noted: Cave sample
removal for scientific study should comply with the following criteria;
1.It should be for original research rather than project based.
2.Where digging/breakage of materials is necessary the site should be chosen
with great care to avoid damage to important sites or unique formations/deposits
and should not result in unsightly remains. Exploration of an archaeological
nature may only be conducted under the supervision of a licensed archaeologist.
3.Results of research should be made available to the caving community either
by publication in an appropriate national caving journal or by providing the
SUI library with an opportunity to make a copy from a thesis or specialist
publication. Results should also be made available to the local community
All the forgoing are internal threats. Caves may also be threatened by external
activities of which the most significant are quarrying, refuse dumping , drainage
works and agriculture. Quarrying has rarely been a problem in Ireland where
limestone covers 40% of the country. When a cave of merit is threatened, SUI
will oppose quarrying and propose the relocation of the quarry. Dumping in
cave entrances is never justified and shall be strenuously opposed. Apart
from the obvious irritation to the cave user, it is a potential hazard to
water quality and public health. Such dumping is often due to ignorance of
the caves and of karst hydrology. A convenient hole for one person's rubbish
may drain directly to another's water supply. SUI will attempt to improve
public knowledge of the impact and dangers associated with such dumping and
will promote the clearance of entrances already fouled by such activity.
The greater the threat to a cave, the more restrictive the solutions become.
Where ever possible, the least draconian measures should be taken. Three types
of action are considered - education, voluntary restrictions and compulsory
restrictions. All or any may be used to solve a specific problem but if education
alone is sufficient then restrictions should not be considered and if voluntary
restrictions are enough, compulsory ones need not be used.
SUI supports and assists in the education of all cave users, and of others,
whose activities affect caves, to control damage caused purely by ignorance.
Cavers should act at all times with respect for the cave. As the most involved
group, their behaviour should set an example for others. Unacceptable activities
include destruction of sediments or formations, littering of all kinds especially
spent carbide, interference with flora and fauna , and damage to any special
cave sites such as recognised sites of scientific interest. Other members
of the public may damage caves through dumping, quarrying etc. The damage
is rarely malicious. Education can solve the majority of the problems and
SUI will seek to inform the public generally but also the more important groups
such as landowners, farmers and those who live near caves.
A range of voluntary restrictions
are possible, many of which may also be invoked in a compulsory format.
These include restrictions on carbide, restrictions on beginners and limits
to party size. All of these may be acceptable if suited to the situation.
SUI will advise on caves that should be protected in such a fashion. For
example, caves may be nominated by SUI (in consultation with interested
groups such as Outdoor Education Centres), which are considered unsuitable
for beginners due to underlying conservation problems. Members will be
requested to abide by such advise. Another voluntary restriction is the
use of tape to mark off areas that should not be entered. Such a system
is most suited to heavily trafficked or very delicate sites. Again, should
such areas be taped, members will be requested to respect that restriction.
The key to such restrictions
is gating. It is a draconian measure by virtue of which it is both effective
and controversial. It has at times caused great offence in other countries.
It should not be undertaken lightly; should not be introduced without
the broad acceptance of cavers; and should not be introduced without a
prearranged policy on access, keys and related issues e.g. leadership
schemes. Where gates have been placed with the broad acceptance of the
caving community, those opposed to their introduction must abide by the
decision of the caving fraternity as a whole. There is unlikely ever to
be unanimity on this issue, but the term "broad acceptance" should mean
at least a two thirds majority of an AGM or EGM. The voluntary restrictions
mentioned already - restrictions on carbide, on beginners, limits of party
size and leadership schemes - can be combined with gating in a compulsory
format. Normally, gating should be combined with some such pre-arranged
system of access individually designed to suit a particular cave. Some
caves may be gated to protect bat colonies. These are usually short caves
of little interest to the caver but consultation should still precede
Apart from education, SUI will also become involved in positive measures to
pre-empt and avert conservation problems. SUI will promote the use of one
appropriate, robust site as a honeypot for large groups and beginners. This
can be an effective system, diverting pressure away from delicate sites. On
the principle that prevention is preferable to cure, such developments will
be encouraged. Cavers should not take beginners to delicate or protected caves.
A few sites have legal protection or official recognition. Possible designations
include National Monuments, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (Northern
Ireland), Areas of Scientific Interest (Rep. of Ireland), properties owned
by official bodies and bat roosts protected under wildlife legislation. All
such sites should be respected by cavers. The principle of legal protection
- which has long been fought for - must be encouraged and defended by SUI.
Sites that are in danger and can be suitably protected by such official involvement
will be nominated by SUI and official protection sought.
In Ireland, access is usually freely available but there is no legal right
of access save in a rare circumstance where a "right of way" exists. SUI will
strive to protect rights of way where they exist, and to establish additional
rights of way at designated sites. It is highly desirable that the generally
good relationship that exists between landowners and cavers should be preserved.
This is not always possible but cavers should do all in their power to maintain
good relations by being polite and avoiding damage.
Where no right of way exists, access will be possible only at the discretion
of the owner. It is SUI's policy to be helpful and constructive in its dealings
with sensitive showcave developments but it is asked that owners extend a
similarly co-operative approach to access for cavers.
CLOSURE OF ENTRANCES.
An entrance might occasionally be closed for conservation reasons. Otherwise
SUI objects to the closure of entrances and will campaign against such closures
subject to the importance of the entrance and the effect on the legitimate
activities of others.
As with conservation,
the appropriate solution should involve the minimum of change, complexity
and organisation. In the absence of a statutory right to cross land, it is
best if the existing informal access arrangements can be preserved. Unlimited
access to the general public is not desirable except in a small number of
well managed show caves. Apart from issues of safety, such unlimited access
may create severe problems of damage and vandalism by bringing into a cave
- without experienced leaders - persons who are ignorant of caves and of the
damage they can cause. For these reasons, signposting of entrances and the
construction of paths to entrances is to be discouraged .
Voluntary restraint on access by members will solve many problems. SUI will
nominate sensitive sites to be avoided by large groups, schools, outdoor persuits
centres, beginners etc where the pressure of such numbers is creating problems.
Sites may be nominated to be avoided by al cavers at all times except for
occasional trips with a specific purpose e.g. surveying. Cavers will be asked
to observe such voluntary restrictions.
As with conservation, the behaviour of cavers can ameliorate or exacerbate
an access problem. Cavers should never give offence to landowners nor should
they cause damage to field boundaries, crops, trees, animals etc. Fences and
other protection around cave entrances should, above all else, never be damaged.
Cavers should also strive to solve problems, improve relations with landowners
and generally improve the quality of access.
The first approach to any access problem is to improve relations with the
owner, if at all possible. This may involve no more than establishing friendly
contacts and listening to the owners point of view. It may involve concessions
or offers of assistance, e.g. to repair fences. Whatever is involved, this
is the preferable first course of action.
Written access agreements between SUI and cave owners, which do not involve
payment, are an acceptable solution where they will solve a problem. They
involve little more than a written version of the above.
The use of a system by which cavers make a nominal, non-profit making payment
(i.e. goodwill payment) to a landowner to enter a cave has not yet occurred
in Ireland. Existing unrestricted and free access is greatly valued and every
effort will be made to protect it. Goodwill payments are certainly preferable
to loss of access but before agreeing to the first use of such a system, SUI
will carefully consider its wider implications on other sites.
RIGHTS OF WAY.
This should rarely be proposed as a solution where they do not exist already.
A right of way would only be appropriate at a site that is busy and important.
As with paid access, consideration will first be given to the implications
of such an agreement on other unrestricted sites.
PURCHASE OF CAVE / ACCESS ROUTE.
The same points apply here as above. A very few special sites might be
brought into public ownership, such as Pollnagollum, Co. Clare which is
already the property of Clare County Council. Even in such cases, purchase
is more likely to be prompted by the site's significance than by an access
problem. At an important cave, where all else has failed, such a solution
may be considered. Return