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...our point of view

Back to "Cave Protection Home"

Totally muddied formations in the average Belgian caveThe first picture shows an average Belgian cave, which has suffered much from overvisiting. All formations have been totally covered with mud, coming from the muddy hands of careless visitors. Terrible damage in a French cave

In our club we do our utmost to protect the underground environment. We are in a privileged position, since we have known the pleasure to discover multiple new caves. So, we very well know what a "virgin" passage looks like. Since the discoverer is the first one to disturb such a virgin cave or gallery, the consciousness or desire to protect all this, is very often a major concern of those who actually discover caves... not of those who visit caves...
Of course, over the years, we learned a lot about cave conservation, and when we look back on the very first years of our careers, we must admit that we too did fail sometimes (often due to ignorance, unintentionally). Above all, we must blame the very poor training that novice cavers receive: in a lot of clubs, and even federations, training is focussed on caving techniques, not on cave protection! Slowly, times are changing, but right now the situation is still quite miserable.

In our club, when training new members, we do pay a lot of attention on all aspects of cave protection.

Some examples of our "cave protection rules" are:

  • Carbide soot dripping of formationsIn Belgium, we do not use carbide lighting (electric light only). Abroad, we only use it in very big, non decorated caves, were autonomy and heat is important. Motivation: carbide is very polluting. People often think that we mean the used-carbide dumps, that one sees in most caves. Of course this is a very sad thing, but it is perfectly possible to take all carbide waste out of the cave and thus NOT pollute. No, it is especially the production of soot that has devastating effects: it floats through the air, carried by the draught (sometimes over considerable distances: hundreds of metres), and it is deposited on nearly every horizontal surface. At long term everything gets black and grey. (see picture). Imagine the yearly soot-production in frequently visited caves (Weron, Bernard, Haquin etc) that are visited weekly by dozens of carbide-cavers! In all 3 of these caves, we have discovered important prolongations: those (never visited) galleries were black as night!  In trou Weron, one of those discoveries has been baptized "Réseau Noir" (translation: The Black Network)
  • Formations are treated with respect: Exploring in underpants...
    we don't touch them; we don't trample upon them with our (muddy) boots; we keep at a safe distance. If physical contact is inevitable, we remove our boots or even overalls (unless the formation is already muddied or ruined by our colleagues!). Same rules apply in case of nice sediments (e.g. mud floors) Have a look at this picture of an "explo in underpants"! Indeed, if even the undersuit has become muddy, then exploring must continue...in underpants!
  • During al kinds of "digging acitivities", we use our common sense:  
    the cave is of paramount importance! As a result, in some of our discoveries, we have NOT explored or worked in certain parts of the cave, because a nice formation stood "in the way" or because the direct surroundings did not permit it (nice sediments, formations etc..). Digging is often making a "result and loss" calculation. In our club, the "loss" (= the damage to the cave) has to be minimal, the "result" maximal. If uncertain about the results, we don't start the dig... Of course, this is sometimes a real dilemma. One of our discoveries; a very decorated room in a very muddy cave, got its name (Salle du Dilemme) because of the dilemma that we were confronted with (do we continue the exploration, yes or no? ... we didn't!).

  • Formations, taped off by means of thin, orange ropeThe discoverer has a big responsibility:  
    he/she is in the first place responsible for the future protection and even survival of the cave. We have always accepted this responsibility! This means: taping off formations (with thin, red rope) from the very first day of the discovery, constructing and installing gates, or even re-closing (parts of) caves if they are truly too valuable. This last measure is really exceptional and we'll always try to find a solution that permits the cave to be visited by the caving community

  • Of course, we apply the "deontological code" of our Federation (VVS):  
    we even made it more severe! Example: we do not guide all kind of groups (scouts, students, managers) around in caves! We'll only guide people who are really interested in the underground world: max 4 people at a time and without asking much money for it. Making money out of caving is, in our eyes, the most rejectable thing a caver can do...

  • We respect the surroundings of the cave; the people who live nearby and the cave owners:Cleaning formations...
    we try to be discrete and always as diplomatic as possible.

  • We participate or organize "cleanup actions" in caves.  
    Examples: Galerie des Sources, Grotte du Maye-Crev? here we cleaned up formations that were muddied or even stained with red paint! See picture.
  • We have "adopted" 3 caves that we discovered  
    (Grotte Strauss, Système de Bretaye and Grotte aux Contrastes). A special contract was made and signed between the Union Belge de Speleologie en SC Avalon. 

Finally a picture of an in 1998 held high-pressure cleaning operation in a very decorated cave, that unfortunately has been very damaged by visitors who have put their muddy hands on the white formations (again: PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH FORMATIONS!).
We cleaned it with Karcher high-pressure cleaners.  As you can see, 3/4 of the formation is already snowwhite again (and 15 minutes later it was cleaned entirely). But it does not always work that good, and organizing such operations is difficult (you need electricity and a lot of water). .  


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