CAVE CLASSIFICATION SYSTEMS: TIME FOR REVIEW
Yallingup-type Cave Classification Systems have been a prominent management tool in Australia for many years. The author contends that these Systems are based on a policy of reconciling conflicting human needs of user groups and managers rather than on a policy of conserving or karst heritage. In consequence, there are three major defects in these Systems:
- The fundamental of the Systems are flawed
- The particular classifications and processes contemplated by the Systems are flawed
- The management product produced by the system is flawed
Some aspects of modern environmental management are considered and the indications for future karst management are also considered. Aspects of a more modern approach to karst management are suggested.
1. The Yallingup-type Classification System
At the fourth Australasian Conference on Cave Tourism and Management held in Yallingup, Western Australia, in September 1981, a paper entitled "Report on Cave Classification" (the Yallingup Paper2) was given. This paper proposed a classification system for caves with the following categories3:
1 Public Access:
2 Special Purpose:
2.2 Outstanding Natural Value
3 Wild (and unclassified)
3.1 Caves Classified as wild
3.2 All unclassified caves
The paper proposed4 that "management action relating to any particular classified feature will depend to a significant extent on the classification concerned."
This system has been modified and adapted by a number of Plans of Management5 and other papers. Some significant amendments include the application of the categories to "sites" rather than "caves" and modification of the "Outstanding Natural Value" category to "Outstanding Natural or Cultural Value". However, these Systems have very similar underlying structures and objectives, and these will be referred to as "Yallingup-type Classification Systems".
2. The Objectives of Yalllngup-type Classification Systems
According to the Yallingup paper, the "fundamental objectives" of these Systems are6
- to provide cave managers with a flexible framework upon which their management operations may be based
- to permit consistency from one area to another, such that users and other interested persons may readily understand management objectives and practices.
It is upon these objectives that the original System and the subsequent modified Systems have been built.
Both of these objectives are human-centered (anthropocentic), and not cave-centered (ecocentric). The first focuses on the interests of the cave manager. The second focuses on the interest of cave users. These objectives may be useful objectives, but they are not the "fundamental" objectives for management of caves and karst.
The fundamental objectives should be:
- The conservation of our limited and unrenewable cave and karst resource; and
- reconciliation of the conflict between human desire to use the cave and karst resource (for example, for tourism, adventure caving, speleology) with conservation of the resource.
Because the Yallingup-type Classification Systems were conducted without these most important objectives, the Systems have fatal flawed foundations and cannot achieve the best management results for caves and karst.
3. The Particular Classification and Processes contemplated by the Yallingup-type Classification Systems are Flawed
3.1 A Classification of User Groups, not Caves
The processes and categories within the System reflect and build upon the flawed foundation to which reference has just been made. Most of the categories reflect human need rather than the caves needs. This is so because most of the categories are built upon accommodating particular user groups:
- Adventure Caves/Sites - For adventurous members of the public
- Show Cave/Sites - for the public generally
- Reference Caves/Sites - for scientists
- Dangerous Cave/Sites - for the protection of speleos, and the protection of cave managers from litigation
- Wild Cave/Sites - for speleos
In substance, the Systems are a classification of user's need, rather than of caves.
This is a serious defect because it approaches cave and karst management from precisely the wrong direction. The prime considerations should be the sensitivity of particular caves to human disturbance and how best to protect the value of that cave, rather than the classes and needs of users.
In the preceding passage, reference has not been made to the particular classification "Caves/Sites of special natural and/or cultural value". This is because this classification is somewhat different to the other classification and will be separately considered in this paper. It is also this classification which has changed the most in some subsequent modified versions of the original system. These changes, when analysed, offer instructive insights into the flaws in the system as a whole and the future direction of karst and cave management.
Turning now to the particular classifications and processes of the Systems:
3.2 Adventure Caves
Neither the Yallingup paper, nor any plan of management adopting these Systems of which the author is aware, provides guidelines of criteria that may be used to determine whether a cave should be classified as an "Adventure Cave". That is, the Systems do not address the more fundamental questions of whether adventure caving should be permitted in a particular cave, and if so, subject to what limits and controls. The actual decision of how to classify a cave as an "Adventure Cave" is left totally arbitrary. Though this, in itself, is a serious omission, it is really a manifestation of the failure of the Systems to address the needs of the caves rather than the needs of the users.
3.3 Show Caves
There is a similar problem in relation to the Show Cave category. When should a cave be classified as a Show Cave? In relation to existing show caves, the management act of classification is, at best, trite. It is necessary to have a classification system to tell us that a particular show cave is a Show Cave? The Systems fail to address the real issues of whether that use should continue, or continue at its present levels. At worst, the Systems may be adopted and fully implemented without these issues being given a passing thought.
The original Yallingup paper proposed that "management actions will depend to a significant degree on the classification concerned" 7. In relation to undeveloped caves under consideration for development as a show Caves, that paper recognised that "management programmes would include the provision of appropriate development to facilitate presentation of caves to the public" 8 and that "a significant degree of physical development will be required" 9. However, that paper said nothing about the fundamental issues: Is development of the cave consistent with conservation of its values? How should its values be protected? When should a cave which is not a Show Cave be classified as a Show Cave? The failure of the Systems to consider or even refer to environmental implications of "classifying" such a cave as a Show Cave once again reflects the misdirected foundations of the Systems.
3.4 Reference Caves / Sites
Like the Systems as a whole, the reference caves/sites category is not based on a paramount conservation ethic. It is therefore defective for the same fundamental reason the Systems failure to have a paramount conservation ethic as a fundamental objective. In fact, the reference caves /site classification, according to the original Yallingup paper and the following plans of management, has very little to do with conservation. The perception that this category is about conservation is a misconception.
A number of managers, however, have acted on that misconception and used this category in an attempt to achieve conservation objectives. Those attempts to achieve conservation objectives are admirable. The exclusion of people from caves may well be a desirable management practice. If this is done, however, the manager should state the precise conservation purpose and rationale for which it is done. Using a terminology drawn from these Systems which has a fundamentally different purpose makes likely misunderstanding and, since restrictions on user groups liberties are involved, raises the likelihood of disrespect for the system of management. It is vital for the future of our karst heritage that managers play their part in fostering understanding of conservation issues. using ill chosen terminology has the opposite effect.
The objective of the reference category, according to the Yallingup paper, is to provide "undisturbed baseline sites for scientific reference" 10. Like the preceding categories, the category is thus designed for the benefit of a user group - scientists.
However, the category has only limited scientific value. Whilst the concept of a reference trial or reference set is an integral part of any experiment the reference caves/sites are not likely to properly fulfill this role. One must ask what sort of experiments are likely to be carried out. Since the reference caves/sites are kept free from human disturbance, the most likely experiments will seek to monitor environmental or biological conditions in the presence of human disturbance in caves or sites which are not reference caves/sites, and compare the data so gained with the date from reference caves/sites in an attempt to measure (quantitatively or qualitatively) the effects of human disturbance. However, scientific method demands that the reference caves/sites concept is of limited use because no two caves or cave sites are identical. This is perhaps particularly so in relation to biospeleology. In general, every biological site in a cave is different to every other site. For example, a biospeleogical survey at Jenolan Caves revealed that each surveyed site had a species unique to that site at Jenolan. Accordingly, experiments based on reference caves/sites are likely to be comparing "apples" with "oranges". Such experiments would be flawed. The best way to construct a reference for experiments involving human disturbance to caves is to use the same site at different times without any disturbance and then subject to disturbance. At least this methodology is founded upon a valid comparison - "apples with apples".
Unlike the preceding categories, there are principles set out in the Yallingup paper which suggest when a cave or site may placed in the reference caves/sites category. However, those principles are scientifically unsound and completely arbitrary. The principles are12:
"It is envisaged that sites so classified would be representative of wider classes of sites, and that the system of reference would provide, as far as possible, an adequate sampling of all significant classes in the national estate."
In more recent versions of these Systems, "sites" have replaced "caves". However, site has not been defined, other than to say that a "site may vary in size from a few square metres up to a whole cave or group of karst features"13. Since each site is likely to be unique, representative of itself and no other site is representative of it, the Systems either encourage arbitrary decision making or are in practice, unworkable. This is so because the inclusion of any site or cave in the classification is justifiable and therefore, the decision to include a cave in the category is arbitrary. Yet no collection of sites, other than the whole resource, is truly representative.
Structure and product of Yallingup-type Classification Systems, borne of the fact that these Systems were designed in a time when our approach to environmental policy was quite different. It is time to recognise this, abandon the old philosophies, learn from other fields of environmental management, and take karst management to the forefront of environmental management. Our caves and karst deserve nothing less than the best management practices which can be devised.
Accordingly, the objective for which the clarification is designed cannot be achieved.
3.5 Dangerous Caves Sites
The purpose of this category is said14 to be as follows:
"...in recognition of some of the legal and practical difficulties involved, it is acknowledged that there may be a case for restricting entry to some specific caves which are considered to be particularly hazardous..."
The classification is therefore also designed to serve human need: the safety of persons entering caves and protection of managers from litigation. These are important management objectives. However, the defect in the Systems, once again, is to try to put particular caves into categories built upon these human needs. So far as practicable, safety should be encouraged and management protected from litigation in relation to caves. Across the board methodology such as the Australian Speleological Federation's proposed national caving leadership scheme, insurance for managers and so on, would be far more effective at achieving these objectives. The problem with the methodology of the system is that if an accident occurs in a cave not classified as dangerous, a court is likely to regard the manager as having been negligent by failing to give any warning in relation to that cave. It is the very existence of the category, in which only some caves are placed, which significantly increases the likelihood of liability in the event of an accident in a cave to which the category has not been applied. To a barrister, the existence of this methodology and the test of the Yallingup Paper sounds like a manager crying out "Please Sue Me" 15.
"This sub category would be used very rarely ... Danger is a very subjective thing and managers... are not very well equipped to make prescriptive judgments on the safety of otherwise of persons knowingly entering caves."
Despite recognition that managers are not well equipped to make judgments, managers are required to make these judgments, occasionally. When the judgments are not made, or worse, are made and not applied to a cave in which the accident occurs, there will probably be liability. I will not want the brief for the defendant when the law suit happens.
3.6 Wild and Unclassified Caves / Sites
The Yallingup Paper says of these classifications16: "Apart from any general management practices arising from the reservation and/or management objectives of the surrounding area, it is not expected that there would be any specific management practices or controls in individual caves in this category."
No guidelines are given which suggest which caves are to be put into this category. Once again, the most important decisions - how caves are to be classified, how to deal with the effects of human visitation on individual caves are not dealt with by the Systems. Despite this, the Yallingup Paper says of the "wild" classification17.
"It is anticipated that a substantial number of classified caves (in many cases, the majority) would normally be managed under this category."
4. The Ultimate Product Is Flawed
The management product produced by the Classification Systems is flawed. A system which does not have as its first priority the conservation of the caves will not achieve conservation of the caves in an effective manner. Human nature being what it is, Systems built exclusively on reconciling and satisfying conflicting human need are even less likely to do so.
The other problem with these Systems is that they do not deal with or direct attention to the critical issues in cave and karst management. The effects of human use of caves and karst are so complex that, it is probably fair to say no-one has ever completely understood or addressed them. The task of reconciling the effects of such usage with conservation of the caves and karst which should be the prime job of the cave and karst manager is therefore a most difficult one. These Systems do not even direct the manager's attention to this fundamental aspect of the manager's job.
Two problems arise from the failure. First, those who are newcomers to karst management may adopt the Systems, completely implement them according to their terms, never really consider or address the fundamental issues and believe (and represent to the rest of the world) that they have achieved a worthwhile plan of management. Second, even those who do not appreciate the real issues have their attention and energies diverted from addressing the real issues by the need to put energy into implementation of the Systems.
It has occasionally been said that these Systems "do not preclude" directing energy towards the fundamental issues. This is wrong because, human nature being as it is, the underlying fundamental objectives of the Systems are reconciling and satisfying conflicting human needs which operate to the detriment or exclusion of conservation objectives. Even if it was not wrong, it would not be to the point. So long as the system does not require a commitment to addressing the fundamental issues, there is always the risk (perhaps a likelihood in times of fiscal and manpower constraints) that the less difficult, less expensive and philosophically less sound approach will be taken, or forced on the manager by the bureaucracy above, and the principles "not precluded" will not be practiced. They should be required.
5. The Implications to the Original System and "Caves Sites of Special Natural and/or Cultural Value"
Plainly, caves do not fit into neat pigeon holes. The original system in effect tried to do this. It is not surprising that there have been attempts to modify it.
The original paper stated: "A few large and/or complex caves may need to have several different classifications applied to specific areas within the cave."
Parts of caves, however, fit into pigeon holes no better than whole caves.
In response to this problem, it was the draft Jenolan Caves Plan of Management19 which first proposed "dual categorisation". This involved applying more than one classification to one site. Since the large and varied caves always had special natural or cultural values, the show caves could be classified both as Show Caves and "Caves of Special Natural and/or Cultural Value". The caves in which adventure caving occurred were also, similarly, in practice, large and varied caves with special natural or cultural values, and so could be classified both as Adventure Caves and Caves/Sites of Special Natural and/or Cultural Value.
It also emerged from discussions relating to this draft plan that, since many caves have special natural or cultural values, relatively few caves would be classified as wild or unclassified. Most caves frequently visited would, in practice, be Caves/Sites of Special Natural and/or Cultural Value. Finally and importantly, the draft Plan also proposed site specific management of the Caves/Sites of Special Natural and/or Cultural Value.
What are the implications of these developments? If the Adventure Caves and Show Caves are managed, site specifically, having regard to their special natural or cultural values, the categories "Adventure Caves and" Show Caves" are in practice, redundant and trite. Reference Caves and Dangerous Caves are misconceived categories for the reasons set out above, and only caves with no, or few, natural or cultural values should be in the wild/unclassified category. What Cave Manager would classify large numbers of his or her caves as having no or few natural or cultural values? Only one who did not recognise or understand the values of the caves. The implication is that site specific management based on the needs of the caves is the most desirable management strategy. It is time to recognise that in this trend there is a message: get away from the flawed foundation of the Classification Systems.
6. The Trend In Environmental Philosophy and Policy
The foregoing discussion, like many aspects of karst and general environmental management policy, reflects just how much our philosophy has changed in the last few decades. Many decades ago, a Professor of Town Planning at the University of Sydney once described the whole of town planning as the technical exercise of connecting toilets to the sea. Exploitation of the environment to satisfy human needs was the paramount, and at one time the only, consideration. The same value was true for caves and karst: caves were used for the paramount purpose of satisfying human needs: satisfaction of the spirit of adventure and expedition, recreation, tourism, emotional aesthetic appreciation, the needs of managers to be in control of that which they were required to manage. The Classification Systems were a good attempt to reconcile these often conflicting human needs.
However, times have changed. The conservation of our cave and karst heritage must be given the paramount priority in the management process. Until the Yallingup-type Clarification Systems, built upon a fundamentally different philosophy, are done away with, this will not be done. Nor will it be seen to have been done.
Karst is really a microcosm of environmental policy. The issues raised in karst management - reconciling human impacts and the conservation of sensitive, natural resources is a common theme. It is therefore instructive to examine how modern, environmental policy attempts to deal with some of these issues.
The following are some aspects of how the lessons of modern, general environmental policy might be applied to karst management. It is not to be a complete discussion because of the enormity of the subject matter.
In general environmental/resource management, and in karst management, perhaps the most important issue is whether particular human uses of the resource should be permitted. Should certain land be used for recreation, residential use, industry, mining, forestry or any other purpose? Should tourism, adventure caving or speleology be permitted in a particular cave? If so, at what level of intensity? Subject to what controls? The starting point is a sensitivity analysis of the land or cave concerned. Plainly, a littoral rainforest or alpine zone may be more sensitive to disturbance and degradation by human activity than some other types of environments which have already been disturbed by human uses. The same is true for caves.
The starting point is gathering baseline information about the resource and a baseline sensitivity analysis how sensitive to human disturbance are parts of the resource? A useful management system would then build upon the information gathered from those studies and consider whether a proposed activity could be carried out, perhaps in a controlled or modified form, consistent with conservation of the resource. This is environmental impact assessment. This assessment, if carried out properly, will usually very readily reveal whether the carrying out of an activity is consistent with conservation of the resource.
One of the problem points for general environment/resource management has been "existing (or non conforming) uses". These are uses commenced before the implementation of the planning or management regime which are inconsistent with the new regime. It is not possible completely and immediately to eliminate existing uses. Such drastic restrictions on individual liberty is not politically or economically possible, or perhaps even desirable.
Accordingly, some provision must be made for transition from the existing regime, where there may be environmentally damaging activities occurring, to the preferred management regime where these activities are controlled to minimise impact, and/or restricted to appropriate parts of the resource.
In the author's opinion, existing uses should not usually be permitted to continue indefinitely without environmental assessment. This has been one of the defects in some general environmental planning systems. Karst managers should not adopt practices from other fields indiscriminately we should learn from other's problems. In karst management, perhaps initially provision should be made to permit the existing activities to continue in defined places, and at controlled levels. Initially, these controls should be acknowledged by managers as being completely arbitrary. But the system of management should require (and not merely 'not preclude') monitoring and environmental impact assessment of these activities and a timetable for implementation of the new management regime based upon the data gathered from the monitoring.
Indeed, the whole system should be built on monitoring human effects on caves, so that the future permitted usage patterns are determined by the effects measured. In this way the management system has built into its structure mechanisms for change as our knowledge of the resource increases and (hopefully) our impacts upon it are minimised. User groups may or may not like the answers such an approach would yield, but at least the decisions affecting their interests will be soundly based.
No user group (for example, forestry, mining etc) is given access to all of the resource. Some is set aside for wilderness purposes. The only human activities permitted in wilderness areas are those in respect of which it may be safely shown will not degrade the values of the wilderness. In the author's opinion, there is a powerful case to be made for setting aside some of the karst resource, particularly sites of biospeleological importance, for wilderness.
Equally it may be legitimate to set aside parts of the resource for human exploitation. Depending upon one's value judgments, this may be legitimate, provided the purpose is expressly stated and it is done with knowledge of the consequences.
Consultation is a critical element of all aspects of modern, environmental management. Without it, the manager risks hostility, conflict and undermining of management decisions. The more management decisions affect personal liberty, the more important consultation is. Not only does consultation provide the manager with additional, valuable information from a skilled populace, it is the most time and cost efficient method to introduce management changes.
Almost by definition, a karst manager has a most difficult job - reconciling human uses of karst with the conservation values of a fragile and complex resource. There are serious deficiencies in the objectives, structure and product of Yallingup-type Classification Systems, borne of the fact that these systems were designed in a time when our approach to environmental policy was quite different. It is time to recognise this, abandon the old philosophies, learn from other fields of environmental management, and take karst management to the forefront of environmental management. Our caves and karst deserve nothing less than the best management practices which can be devised.
1. B.Sc, LLB (Syd)
2. Worboys, Graeme et al, "Report on Cave Classification" (the Yallingup Paper) in Cave Management in Australia IV: Proc. Fourth Aust. Conf. Cave Tourism and Management, Yallingup, September 1981
3. ibid, at p13
4. ibid, at p12
5. For example, Jenolan Caves Plan of Management 1988, Wellington Caves Plan of Management 1991, Abercrombie Caves Plan of Management 1993
6. The Yallingup Paper, at p12
7. ibid, at p12
8. ibid, at p14
9. ibid, at p14
10. ibid, at p14
11. Gray, Michael and Gibian, Michael, 1988 quoted in Gibian, Michael, 1988 submission to the Steering Committee for the Jenolan Caves Plan of Management
12. The Yallingup paper, at p14
13. Jenolan Caves Plan of Management, Volume 2, Appendix 2.1
14. The Yallingup Paper, at p15
15. ibid, at p15
16. ibid, at p15
17. ibid, at p16
18. ibid, at p13
l9. Jenolan Caves Plan of Management, Volume 2, Appendix 2.1