Global UNESCO Recognition: Geopark Shetland

by Alastair Hamilton -

Geopark Shetland is one of seven geoparks in the United Kingdom which have been given the new status of UNESCO Global Geopark.

The new category is the first new UNESCO designation of its kind to be established in over 40 years.Global Geoparks now stand alongside UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

The UK’s Geoparks stretch from the English Riviera to Geopark Shetland in the north.Two are in Wales and one straddles the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.The UK sites are part of a growing international network of Global Geoparks, all of which are areas of outstanding geological interest which use their unique geology to support community development.

Global Geoparks now stand alongside UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

According to a forthcoming study, the UK’s UNESCO Global Geoparks have already brought millions of pounds of investment to their local areas, generating an estimated £8.7 million from April 2014 to March 2015 through their involvement with the Global Geoparks Network.Geopark Shetland has levered in close on £500,000 of funding from outside Shetland, money which has been invested in interpretive and educational projects and promotional activities. A recent success was the securing of funding from the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme for a three year project, ‘Drifting Apart’, in partnership with Geoparks from Canada, Iceland, Norway and Ireland.

Geopark Shetland receives financial support from the Scottish Government and a range of educational tools and projects has been developed.These include an app for Android and iPhone, two visitor trail guides with associated on-site interpretation and geo-art, three Geowalls, two Geo-art projects, two museum exhibitions and seventeen interpretive panels dealing in whole or in part with geology.Souvenir items have also been produced and there is an endorsement scheme for providers of geological tours or services. The Geopark also leads on coordinating the annual Shetland Nature Festival in partnership with the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage.

A recent success was the securing of funding from the Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme

The UNESCO accolade is expected to enhance the work of Geopark Shetland, helping to create new international funding and partnership opportunities, attract national and international visitors, and raise awareness of the UK’s unique geological heritage.

UNESCO’s announcement has been warmly welcomed.Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs, Rory Stewart MP, called it ‘the most fantastic news’ and said that ‘the work that Geoparks do locally could inspire people for years to come’.

‘the most fantastic news’

Melanie Border, Chair of the UK Global Geoparks Forum, said:

‘The incredible recognition reflects the dedication and commitment of all of the UNESCO Global Geopark communities in the UK and around the world. It is about geology, but it's not just about the rocks, but about how we use that geology to make a difference to life locally, economically and socially’.

Locally, the news was welcomed by the Shetland Amenity Trust, which manages Geopark Shetland. General Manager, Jimmy Moncrieff, said that UNESCO recognition was ‘a wonderful achievement for Shetland, which everyone in Shetland should be proud of.’ He thanked ‘everyone who has worked so very hard to bring this to fruition’.

'...it's not just about the rocks, but about how we use that geology to make a difference to life locally, economically and socially’.

The Trust’s Chair, Brian Gregson, also congratulated all involved. He continued:

‘My hope is that this new designation will release adequate and secure core funding for Geopark Shetland to enable us to continue properly to represent Shetland’s amazing geological heritage on the global stage and to develop further opportunities for our communities to benefit from it.”

Geopark Shetland will be marking this important announcement with events throughout 2016 and details will be released in due course.

Posted in: Heritage