Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is exploring the tourism potential associated with securing UNESCO Global Geopark status as it progresses plans to establish a UNESCO Global Geopark taking in the scenic beauty of Strangford Lough and Lecale, Ring of Gullion and the Mourne Mountains.
At present there are 140 UNESCO Global Geoparks in 38 countries around the world, all of which have been developed using a bottom-up approach involving local communities.
UNESCO Global Geoparks are single, unified geographical areas where sites and landscapes of international geological significance are managed with a holistic concept of sustainable development, education and protection.
The proposed UNESCO Global Geopark has the potential to make a significant difference to people living in the district of Mourne, Ring of Gullion and Strangford & Lecale and has been welcomed by Stephen Meldrum, General Manager, Slieve Donard Resort & Spa in Newcastle:
“Many geoparks work in partnership with local hotels to provide interpretative centres, dedicated concierges and even tour guides. This initiative has the potential to significantly boost visitor numbers to the area. UNESCO Global Geopark status would differentiate the region and give it a much stronger and cohesive market identity.”
The UNESCO Global Geopark brand does not impose any restrictions on farming practices, planning or development. If successful, the UNESCO Global Geopark brand will use the geological heritage of the three areas to develop sustainable tourism that generates economic benefits, while providing recreational opportunities and increased awareness of the area’s natural assets. It will involve people in their landscape and work with local landowners, businesses and communities. Typical activities in a UNESCO Global Geopark include walking and cycling trails, the training of local people to act as guides, provision of information signage and the development of visitor centres.
There is a programme of work involved in securing UNESCO Global Geopark status and activity has started to allow an application to be submitted to UNESCO for consideration by November 2019.
Dr Kirstin Lemon from the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) explains that the area under consideration has many unique qualities which make it an ideal candidate for UNESCO Global Geopark status:
“There are currently three UNESCO Global Geoparks on the island of Ireland; Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark in Co. Clare, Copper Coast UNESCO Global Geopark in Co. Waterford and Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark in Co. Fermanagh and Co. Cavan. The Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark contributes £15.2M to the local economy annually.
“There are many examples from around the world of where UNESCO Global Geoparks have worked in partnership with local hotels such as the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark that has two dedicated ‘Geopark Hotels’. Each of these have committed to training staff members, delivering specific Geopark tour packages, providing Geopark information points and have even developed a ‘geo-licious’ menu, inspired by the local geological heritage!”
“This application will ensure that there is an ongoing emphasis on developing geotourism, while the underlying ethos of UNESCO Global Geoparks will support the direction of the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Tourism Strategy 2017-2021, which explores, develops and identifies links between the natural heritage (particularly the geological heritage) and all other aspects of the area’s abundant heritage assets.”
Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Roisin Mulgrew said:
“The proposed UNESCO Global Geopark will bring significant economic benefits and will also have an important role to play in empowering local communities, giving them the opportunities to develop cohesive partnerships with the common goal of promoting the area’s significant geological and other heritage.”
Further information on the process is available by logging on to www.unesco.org.