Rauleigh Webb, ASF Conservation Officer

The definition of what is a 'caver' is heavily debated by speleologists and cave managers. In this paper I would like to bundle into the 'caver' category all of those human beings and those not so human beings that enter caves. For if we are to constructively discuss a minimal impact caving code (MICC) for Australian caving then it would be ludicrous to exclude the majority of the cavers who recreate in Australian caves. These groups include outdoor groups (e.g. university), scouting associations, commercial operators, school groups and religious organisations. These user groups are all heavily using caves and any MICC must apply to all of these groups and if at all possible to anyone entering a cave.

The Australian Speleological Federation (ASF) Inc voted in January 1993 to prepare a draft MICC that would apply, when accepted, to all ASF members. I believe that such a code should be applicable to all cave users by cave managers. If this is to occur it is very important to ensure that all user groups and cave managers are allowed to comment on the MICC during its development. As the Australasian Cave and Karst Management Association (ACKMA) only meets, as a group, once every two years this is the appropriate forum to draw comment and debate from cave managers regarding the proposed code.

Hence I would like to propose the following practices (Appendix 1) as typical of those that are currently under consideration for inclusion in the MICC. In doing so I would ask delegates to comment on them and also suggest any additions they would like to see in the MICC.

Proposed MICC Practices

It is proposed to break the practices into at least two sections.

  1. New Cave Exploration
  2. General Cave visitation

The following practices may fall into both sections and may be modified depending on the type of cave being visited. In general it should be stated that we are discussing here a code which will ensure that cavers have a minimal impact on the cave they are visiting. In many instances the practices may not apply as the impact that cavers have, may be minuscule, compared to the impact of flooding of the entire cave, for example. These practices are generally intended to apply in caves where cavers are likely to have a detrimental impact on the cave purely by entering the cave. Qualification of this point will be necessary.

In-cave marking refers to the use of a variety of materials to define tracks, routes and barricades in a cave.

FIRST DRAFT Minimal Impact Caving Code

This code is divided into two sections. One relating to the exploration of a newly discovered cave or section of cave and the other relating to general cave visitation.

New Cave or Extension Explorations

General Cave Visitation

What is the caver impact on caves?

Recreational caving is a very important facet within the range of activities conducted in caves. It is the BEST method of training cavers about the fragility and importance of caves.

HOWEVER due to the very high number of recreational cavers who have little or no knowledge of the fragility of the caver environment, caves are being severely and irreparably damaged.


This means that if a cave is damaged it can NEVER be returned to its original condition. Some damage such as graffiti, may be removed. Sometimes stalagmites can be glued back together but in general once a cave is damaged it is permanently damaged.

Caves being visited only by speleologists are also being damaged. In general this damage is not deliberate but relates to a lack of knowledge or accidents.

The type of damage that is occurring in caves varies dramatically. Spate and Hamilton-Smith (1991) in their paper on "Caver Impacts - Some Theoretical and Applied Considerations" discuss many of these caver impacts and here are two examples from that paper.

The effects of cavers on cave biota

"Dave Gillieson (pers. comm.) cites the Russenden Cave at Texas as an example. This cave when first discovered had a flat, silt floor rich in organic material 10-15cm deep. The first trip numbered five, the second 12 and after about six trips the total visitor numbers had reached about 100. One of us (EHS) collected a rich invertebrate fauna. By the sixth trip the fauna was demonstrably impoverished, water flow had been channelised and the low density silt had been compacted over large areas."

The effects of cavers on speleothems

"Anemone Cave at Wee Jasper provides an example of almost wanton destruction of a beautiful speleothem by mud transfer and stalactite breakage. There are two routes through this tiny cave. One lies through the 'Anemone' itself - a perfectly round hole fringed with white calcite stalactites - the other by an unexciting low ramp. The Anemone is but destroyed and caked with brown mud."

Another example was provided by Andy Waddington (1994) who describes the pitch head of a cave in France when discussing excessive bolting like this:

..... in the Jura, there is an easy shaft right next to the road. Only three of the 65 (sixty five) anchors placed in the square metre or less of rock above the pitch were still usable when I visited. I was able to rig from the substantial steel fence and a friend (TM) placed in a natural crack, suggesting that none of these bolts were actually required. There was also a forest starting maybe 10m up the hillside, providing several trees which would have made bombproof belays. A further rash of twenty anchors appear at a rebelay 5m down the pitch...

Sixty five (65) (yes that is SIXTY five) bolts! This extravagant bolting is only just beginning in Australia. Let's ensure that we never reach such ridiculous extremes.

Such thoughtless acts by cavers have to stop, if we are to have anything for future cavers to appreciate. The MICC is just a small tool that can be used in educating the next gene ration of cavers. But it also requires US, right now, to change the way we cave. In delicate systems such as those of the Nullarbor Plain, we must cave constantly with track markers at hand, to ensure that those that follow behind us are able to enjoy the visual delights just as we are able to enjoy them today.

Let the education, for all, begin.




Spate A and Hamilton-Smith E (1991) in the Proceedings of the 9th ACKMA Conference, pp 23-24, P. Bell (Ed)

Waddington A (1994) Caver's Internet Forum #4746.