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Friday, 20 October 2017
National Cave Conservation Policy Print E-mail

Caves form a unique and vulnerable part of our natural and archaeological heritage. Their conservation is important for many reasons. As a nationally rare and integral element of our natural heritage, caves are worthy of conservation in their own right. There is a moral duty to conserve them for the benefit of future generations.

Caves also constitute a valuable scientific resource, providing evidence of human cultural change and the development of our landscape as well as changes in our climate. Current concerns about global warming only serve to increase the importance of cave research in helping to understand the impact of past climatic changes, so that predictions can then be made for the future.

If caves are to be conserved for the future, action must be taken now. To achieve cave conservation there must be a close working relationship between owners, cavers and the statutory conservation agencies. It is through such a partnership that both the external and internal threats to the cave environment can be mitigated. The caving community must also accept more responsibility for the practical conservation of features underground.

In consultation with the statutory conservation agencies and the caving community, a national cave conservation policy has been formulated. The resulting policies are reproduced here. The full policy is published as a separate document, along with a Cave Conservation Handbook, as detailed below.

Cave Conservation Policy

The aim of this document is to set out a policy on issues affecting cave conservation and to propose a number of initiatives to take cave conservation forward. Throughout, factors affecting cave conservation are discussed resulting in the development of the policies reproduced here.

This document has been produced in consultation with and has the support of all the statutory conservation agencies and sets out the policy of the National Caving Association (NCA) and cavers to cave conservation.

Cave Conservation Handbook

The Cave Conservation Handbook includes and builds upon the policies set out in the policy document. It contains considerable background and specific cave conservation related material, much of which is essential to the implementation of the national cave conservation policy. Each caving region is looked at in detail and a number of appendices are included which provide a valuable reference source for anyone interested in, or involved in cave conservation.

National Caving Association Conservation Policies

Quarrying and Mining

The NCA opposes quarrying or mining where it is likely to cause significant damage to known or probable cave passage or have a detrimental impact on a cave system by, for example, altering the hydrological regime or causing pollution.

Landfill and Waste Disposal

The NCA opposes any landfill or waste disposal scheme which would have a detrimental impact on any cave or result in the destruction or loss of a natural karst feature such as a depression or doline, where these caves or features are of scientific or recreational value.

Land management practices

In general the NCA opposes any land management practice which will have an adverse impact on any cave, cave system, or karst feature of scientific or recreational value. Where there is sufficient evidence of a likely adverse impact, the NCA will urge the relevant statutory conservation body or local planning authority as appropriate, to enter into a management agreement with the land owner or manager.

Water Extraction

The NCA encourages careful consideration of any proposal to extract water from a stream that feeds a cave system, or from boreholes, as to any possible effects on the system.


The NCA believes that careful consideration should be given to developing the most appropriate form of access management to ensure both the conservation of the cave and its continued use.


The NCA supports moves to encourage novice groups to avoid sensitive caves and focus activities on those sites which are capable of sustaining their pressure. Restricted access to parts of caves which are particularly vulnerable may be justifiable. Consideration may have to be given to agreeing specific sites as "sacrificial caves" where conservation interests are no longer the prime consideration.


The NCA advocates that the potential benefits of any dig should always be weighed against any disadvantages. This procedure ought to be organised by cavers, either under the auspices of the appropriate Regional Council or through a club which has an access agreement. In the case of open-access caves a liaison group of the interested parties ought to be established. Because of the problem of 'pirating' of digs, confidentiality must be a consideration.

Where digs take place, care must be taken to minimise the damage done. Excavations should be kept to the absolute minimum. Speleothems and deposits of archaeological value should be left undamaged where possible. If unavoidable, removed speleothems must be recorded in their context and made available for research. Sections cut in sediment should also be sampled, recorded, or made available for research.


Particularly through education, the NCA supports moves to reduce the leaving of litter in a cave. We also support the 'cave adoption scheme' where clubs and cavers take responsibility for a particular cave, monitor its condition, and undertake regular clean-ups.


The NCA does not condone the leaving of any graffiti underground, including waymarking. It must be actively discouraged through education and strict control of parties by their leaders.


The NCA actively discourages the continued use of carbide in inappropriate locations. Cavers should be made aware through education where the use of carbide is appropriate.

Scientific work

The NCA supports all scientific work carried out to proper scientific standards, where that work does not affect other scientific work. The results of such work should be made available to the wider community wherever possible.


The NCA supports essential measures necessary during rescues to preserve life, subject to a careful analysis of the situation at that time.

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