In 1974, shortly after it emerged from the fusion of the British Spelaeological Society and the Cave Research Group, the British Cave Research Association published Limestones and Caves of North-West England. This seminal volume was the first attempt at summarizing in one place the great body of multidisciplinary information that had accumulated on the caves and karst of northern England during the first two thirds of the 20th Century. That work is now very outdated, and so it is a pleasure to see that BCRA has published its successor, also edited by Tony Waltham, but with a new slate of authors and a thoroughly modern approach. Its genealogy notwithstanding, Caves and Karst of the Yorkshire Dales is not a revision, but a completely fresh analysis. The antecedent volume contained chapters on the karst sciences and on the specific caves of various sub-regions. The current volume takes a different approach, dealing solely with the karst science overviews and moving the descriptive cave accounts into a forthcoming second volume.
This first volume is beautifully produced, in full colour with 165 maps and diagrams and more than 350 photographs. The softback volume is very reasonably priced, so it is unfortunate that the hardback version is so expensive—the UK£50 surcharge for adding a hard cover is presumably aimed at the library market but may well reduce the attractiveness of the book to non-specialists.
Individual chapters on the geology, karst geomorphology, karst hydrology, bio-speleology and archaeology recapitulate equivalent chapters in the 1974 volume, but do so in a manner that spectacularly illuminates the great advances in these disciplines over the past 40 years. Chapter 2, by Waters and Lowe, dealing with the geology of the limestone sequences, is illustrative. The text is a third longer than its 1974 equivalent, the reference list is more than doubled in length, and a series of superbly drawn full-colour maps and diagrams have been added, together with numerous colour photographs. The 1974 volume provided a summary of the archaeological records of the caves; this has been greatly expanded and revised in the present volume, but, more importantly, cave palaeontology (understood here to mean vertebrate palaeontology) has been split off into a well-deserved separate chapter. Finally, completely new chapters on Quaternary environments, limestone pavements, travertines and tufas, cave chronology, speleothem records of palaeoclimates, and bats have been added.
Given the broad sweep of disciplines that are encompassed by this volume, there are inevitable variabilities in coverage. For example, chapter 11, “Speloethems and Palaeoclimates” by Atkinson and Hopley, is perhaps excessively focused on a single specimen from Lancaster Hole, which is unfortunate because a major issue in speleothem analysis is great inter-cave, and even intra-cave, variability. Chapter 15 by O'Connor and Lord on cave palaeontology devotes a surprising amount of space to the discussion of Raygill Fissure, which is of minor significance and lies outside the Yorkshire Dales—if the discussion is expanded to the greater Yorkshire region, then one must wonder at the exclusion of the famous Kirkdale Cave site. Nevertheless, the majority of the chapters provide definitive accounts of their subject matter, and many—I particularly note Webb's chapter on limestone pavements here—are a wealth of information not readily available elsewhere.
Production standards for this volume are high, so it was a surprise to note one major editorial omission. The volume mysteriously lacks a subject index (an index to localities is provided). Another peculiarity (or perhaps innovation, as time will tell) is that the forthcoming volume 2 is to be produced “primarily [as] an e-book”. It would be a shame if volume 2 were not also to appear in print form.