News

Mournes and Gullion aiming for Geopark status

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

OVER the next 18 months Newry, Mourne and Down District Council will be exploring the tourism potential associated with securing UNESCO Global Geopark status.

The council is progressing plans to establish a UNESCO Global Geopark in three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) within the district - Mourne, Ring of Gullion and Strangford and Lecale.

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.

There are currently 127 UNESCO Global Geoparks found in 35 countries around the world, three of which are on the island of Ireland, and all have been developed working with local communities.

Dr Kirstin Lemon from the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI) explained that the area currently under consideration has many unique qualities which make it an ideal candidate for UNESCO Global Geopark status.

"There are currently three UNESCO designated Geoparks in 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," said Dr Lemon.

"The underlying ethos of UNESCO Global Geoparks supports the direction of the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Tourism Strategy 2017-2021, one that explores, develops and identifies the links between the natural heritage [particularly the geological heritage] and all other aspects of the area's abundant heritage assets.

"Our natural environment and heritage is something that is unique and something we should be marketing.

"Gaining UNESCO Global Geopark status, embracing the importance and natural beauty of the landscapes of Strangford Lough and Lecale, the Mournes and the Ring of Gullion, would help put the area on the map from a tourism perspective."

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 global geopark include the development of walking and cycling trails, the training of local people to act as guides, provision of information signage and the development of visitor centres.

The ultimate aim of a UNESCO Global Geopark is to enhance the economy and develop employment opportunities for the people who live there.

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."

There is a programme of work involved in securing UNESCO Global Geopark status and activity has been initiated to allow a plan to be submitted to UNESCO for consideration by November 2019.

A number of information events have been organised to allow local residents to find out more about the application: Thursday, April 12, 10am to 2pm, Warrenpoint Town Hall, and from 4pm to 8pm, Kilmorey Arms, Kilkeel; Tuesday, April 17, 10am to 2pm, Bessbrook Community Centre, and from 4pm to 8pm, Crossmaglen Community Centre; and on Monday April 23, 4pm to 8pm, Downshire Arms, Hilltown.

There will also be a series of other engagement events throughout the year to ensure people fully understand the benefits of an association with the UNESCO brand.

For further information on the process visit www.unesco.org

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