A cave is one of the most fascinating environments known to man. Each cave is almost a closed world and a clumsy intruder such as man always disturbs it. The slow steady dripping of water, over almost immeasurable time, has produced exquisite but fragile formations. The cave earth is the home for tiny creatures, bats find the cave environment ideal for winter hibernation, whilst various types of flora struggle for existence in the semi-dark zones. As you walk along you compact the cave earth. Organisms from outside are brought in on your boots and clothing and affect the cave ecosystem. Formations get knocked. The first duty of every caver should be to protect the cave from his or her own actions and to educate others in basic cave conservation.
Mines are regularly used by cavers and pose both the same and different challenges. There are quite often artefacts and graffiti in the passages. Artefacts should be left where they are and not touched, they are very fragile. Removing them from the mine will result in their decay, it should only be done for good reasons and by properly trained conservators that know the correct way to preserve them. Removing them also removes some of the interest of the mine and prevents others from enjoying and understanding how the mine was worked. Graffiti is often found, particularly in the stone mines of Wiltshire (Box, Browns Folly, etc.). Some of the graffiti is new but quite a lot is very old and of historic significance. There has been a recent phase of cleaning the newer graffiti from the walls to try and improve the areas, but in some cases this has resulted in older graffiti getting damaged. If you are cleaning graffiti from the walls, please avoid any that is on or near older stuff. If you have any doubts as to the significance then please ask.
The cave floor is the most easily damaged part of the cave and requires special attention. Take a close look at the floor and get to know it. Observe the creatures that live on it. Never walk on crystal floors, gours or flowstones. Many mud formations are also unique and should be avoided. Where areas have been taped off never cross or move the tapes.
Stalactites, especially straws, are very brittle and may break at a touch. Special care should be taken to avoid walking into these.
Everything in a cave should be protected. This obviously means formations, cave pearls and all cave life such as spiders and beetles. Not so obviously it also means broken formations, rocks, bones and other naturally occurring items. Any material that you take may remove evidence that a scientist may need to understand the cave.
Leave no litter, no cigarette ends, no chocolate wrappers, no flash bulbs and no spent carbide. The latter is one of the most difficult things to clear up and should always be removed even in a cave with an active stream. The cardinal rule is to take everything out that you take in.
Feeling the texture of the rock can be a rewarding experience. However handling any formation leaves fingerprints which when covered with a new layer of calcite (this may happen in a very short space of time) are preserved for ever. Never give in to the temptation to touch any formation, whether wet or dry.
* BCA leaflet on Cave Conservation: “Minimal Impact Caving Guidelines” http://british-caving.org.uk/wiki3/lib/exe/fetch.php?media=conservation_access:micg.pdf
* Thought provoking slide presentation produced by the Belgium caving club SC Avalon.