The following are my observations and thoughts after a recent trip to Nannup Cave, and as such are probably unpalatable to some. My purpose in writing this report is not so much to cause waves as to attempt to save part of a cave from inevitable destruction.

Recently, myself and John Cugley, with assistance from others, spent several days in the south-west doing various chores in the SG caves. Mostly we were overhauling and re-positioning the ten visitor monitoring units that WASG has scattered around the place, however we also had on our list to replace the track marking in Nannup. We were not there to move the track but to simply replace the track markers that the CALM employees had callously glued on to formation. It was fairly obvious that the cave had done part of the job for us, as many of the markers had simply fallen off as silicone does not bond well to wet calcite. Those that had bonded, we flipped off with a screwdriver and replaced with a marker hanging from a little loop of fishing line. Not ideal, but an improvement.

The first trip in covered the lower “to the left” section. The second trip in was for the “up and to the right” and the back chamber. It was here that I began to get annoyed. I had been told that the track marking in Nannup was awful but I had assumed that that the concerns stemmed from the glued markers and liability issues with the badly eroded climb at the top of the slope. Well, liability is CALM’s concern (providing they don’t allow people to bleed on the decoration or cause the cave to be trashed removing the victim) and here we were removing the errant markers, if not the lost ones and the residue silicone.

The back chamber of Nannup has a lot of flowstone in it. If you wish to get right down to the bottom and view the little crystal cave it is inevitable that you are going to have to walk on some. Given that you have just come down a sandy slope your boots are going to transfer grit to the calcite surface and that surface is going to be destroyed. This process is already well under way at the bottom of the back chamber, due to the past lack of any real track or guidelines to limit damage to one spot.

What I was not prepared for was the continuation of the track straight up the flowstone on the other side of the chamber. It is obvious that in the past people have taken shortcuts that way and ever since I’ve been visiting Nannup there has been a succession of barricades at the top to stop them doing this – bits of fishing line, tape, little signs. All have come and gone. I personally had never before gone this way, having a severe aversion to trampling flowstone. This trip was to be different. Up the slope we went, with no worries about slipping as there were several nice stals conveniently positioned for handholds (and to stick markers to, of course). The top of the slope changed from flowstone to loose limestone and sand, nicely positioned to be kicked down the slope all over the flowstone.

It was around this point I started to get agitated and to make enquires of John as to just who was responsible for this. I was flabbergasted to be told that this was the official CMAC route and that CMAC had actually visited the cave and approved the exact path I had just taken. I then declined to have anything more to do with track marking in Nannup and we left the cave, following the official route, which continued with more of the same. Straight over active flowstone and through areas that there is no need to traverse. At one point there is a “more difficult” diversion marked. This comprised a 3m (rough estimate) climb down a hole comprised mainly of wet flowstone, coated with grit. Call me chicken if you like but I declined the challenge as I had no wish to start the new year with a sprained ankle or worse.

This brings us back to the question with which I started. What are they doing to Nannup? I was seriously upset to hear that this was the official CMAC route. This means that there is something fundamentally wrong with the CMAC process. It was obvious that the track had been laid out with complete disregard for the welfare of the cave and maximum attention given to the adventure of those visiting. Why else would you establish two tracks down into an area where one is really too many? Why lay out a alternative return route, complete with a climb that I foresee landing CALM in court?

It appears to me that there is a thinking within CMAC, and dare I say it, within the caving clubs, that destruction of the Adventure Class caves (and I so describe them intentionally as they are not self guiding) is inevitable, so it really doesn’t matter how much damage is caused along the way to ensuring people have a good time. The new track looping up the flowstone in Nannup is obviously wrong. The loose sand and stone at the top of the slope are an obvious hazard just waiting to be kicked down the slope. Vertical climbs on wet flowstone without a belay are obviously dangerous. Why are these obvious points being lost on a panel supposedly comprised of people experienced in these matters? A quick look at the make-up of CMAC doesn’t reveal any major shortfalls. A member from each caving club, fair enough. A commercial representative, fair enough again, it’s their living. The Scouts, they’re a large organisation with a long history of caving; Education Department, can’t see much point myself as by now most of their caving should be undertaken by commercial operators or teachers with a specialised interest (usually club members); and lastly CALM as the land managers.

These are all people experienced in caves. Why have they laid out a track so obviously in breach of minimal impact caving and their own code of practice? “Caving activity must be conducted in a manner responsible to the cave environment, taking particular care to avoid damage to speleothems....” (LNNP Permit System). It appears to me that CMAC needs the addition of a conservation representative, someone whose sole task is to argue on behalf of the caves. It might be argued that the club representatives should provide this but a little reflection shows that clubs are full of cavers and cavers’ needs are different to those of the caves. Cavers are concerned about access, huts and all the various other political axes that need grinding. It does not seem fair or reasonable that our representative should have to tackle these issues and all the conservation issues as well. It is after all a voluntary position and one which receives little support or assistance from within the club.

This brings me to the core of the matter: what can you do about this? As a club member you are bound by our constitution “to foster preservation of caves...”. It’s no good ignoring the issue and hoping that the committee or CMAC will attend to it. This is what has happened in the past and the results are not pretty (visited the “adventure” section of Calgardup recently?) In other parts of the south-west we have people chaining themselves to trees in an attempt to save things that have taken hundreds of years to create. Why? In a few hundred years a tree will grow back! The stuff in our caves has taken thousands of years to form and if it keeps getting drier will probably never grow back. What are cavers doing to save them? Very, very little. Every trip I take into a SG cave I note further degradation. I strongly object to this. These are national assets; they belong to us all, not to CALM or Caveworks who are merely the caretakers. The only solution I can see is for the club to get off its collective backside and start taking an interest in what’s happening. Start by taking a trip to Nannup and viewing the loop track. If you don’t like it, write to CMAC and tell them. Can’t write, fine – ring up CALM (sorry Anne) and tell them.

Personally I think Nannup Cave, or at least the back section, should be closed whilst the track is reassessed. I really don’t care if people would be inconvenienced or even out of pocket by this. Every time a party tramps over that path they are doing more damage.

It is of course possible that you will visit the cave and disagree with my assessment. That’s fine too. Ring me up and tell me (0412381803). At least there will be some opinions coming from the club rather than this monstrous apathy!

As a corollary to the above I should mention that we also visited Block Cave where a new track is in the process of being laid out. Can’t go too far wrong in Block? Wrong! It appears that the best way to view decoration is through the soles of your boots. Straight over flowstone, over little gours, too close to stals, and all unnecessary. I spoke to Anne Wood regarding this and she promised that CMAC would investigate. This was prior to our visit to Nannup. I await CMAC’s opinion with bated breath.

Steve Wright,  January 2000

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