Legal protection has been given to a site in Skye where dinosaur fossils and footprints from the Jurassic age have been discovered.
The site at An Corran in Staffin, previously described as the “dinosaur capital of Scotland”, has provided evidence of how the creatures and other early mammals lived millions of years ago.
Discoveries include the fossil evidence of dinosaur parenting, with a rock slab found with the footprints of baby dinosaurs next to the print of an adult.
A Nature Conservation Order (NCO) has now been signed by the Scottish Government in order to protect the site, which has been targeted in the past by ‘fossil poachers’.
In 2016, an attempt to take a plaster cast of a dinosaur footprint at An Corran risked causing significant damage.
Scottish natural environment minister Mairi Gougeon said: “Skye lays claim to the most significant dinosaur discoveries of Scotland’s Jurassic past and this Nature Conservation Order is a vital step in protecting and preserving this important part of our natural heritage for future generations.
“The order gives extra legal protection to these special sites whilst providing for important artefacts to be collected responsibly for science and public exhibition.
“I hope the order gives even greater awareness of the significance of these important sites, and the important and valuable role everyone has in helping protect them.”
The NCO will aim to prevent rare vertebrate fossils from being damaged through irresponsible collection and removal from Skye’s globally important fossil sites.
It will also attempt to encourage local people and the wider public to take an interest in and report any potentially important fossil finds.
Scottish Natural Heritage geologist Colin MacFadyen said: “This vital extra legal protection is important to ensure Skye’s unique dinosaur heritage is available for everyone to learn from and enjoy.
“The NCO covers areas of coastline where 165 million year old Middle Jurassic sedimentary rocks are gradually being eroded by the sea.
“It is crucial that the footprints and actual skeletal remains of dinosaurs and other vertebrates that are being revealed by nature are protected.
“These fabulous fossil finds can help answer crucial questions about ancient ecosystems and pave the way for exciting advances in our understanding of vertebrate evolution.”
Staffin Museum owner Dugald Ross said: “Everyone has a role to play in making the order a success, and we are encouraging local people who think they may have found a vertebrate fossil – or a dinosaur bone or tooth – to contact Staffin Museum for advice.
“We are encouraging everyone to find, report and help protect – but not collect – Skye’s wonderful dinosaur heritage.”
It is expected that Skye is also home to fossil remains of flying reptiles, and confirmation of this is expected to place the island in the international dinosaur hall of fame.