Mourne’s Sinn Féin Councillor Willie Clarke has welcomed the information session that was presented to Councillors in regards plans to establish a UNESCO Global Geopark in the three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the district; Mourne, Ring of Gullion and Strangford & Lecale.
The presentation by Geological Survey NI on the proposed Geopark, clarified how other Geoparks operated in other areas, including the Marble Arch caves in Fermanagh.
Cllr Clarke said: “The presentation outlined that the UNESCO Global Geopark brand is not a statutory designation and therefore does not impose any restrictions on planning or development. Instead, it works in tandem with local landowners, businesses and communities to use the natural heritage as a tool for sustainable tourism.
“Only those sites with public access or with specific access arrangements will be actively promoted as part of the UNESCO Global Geopark to ensure that the area is sensitively managed with the interests of the local communities and landowners at its very core.”
UNESCO Global Geopark status is awarded to areas with internationally important geological heritage of which there is no shortage in the district’s three AONBs. From the dramatic volcanic landscapes of the Ring of Gullion, to the high granite peaks of the Mournes and the rolling drumlins of Strangford Lough, the region has long been prized for its landscape all of which has been formed and shaped by various earth processes over millions of years.
Cllr Clarke added: “The 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.
“If successful, the UNESCO Global Geopark brand will use the shared geological heritage of the three areas as a mechanism for sustainable tourism; generating economic benefits, providing recreational opportunities and increasing awareness of the natural capital of the entire area.
“In addition to natural heritage, UNESCO Global Geoparks include areas with cultural heritage such as historical and archaeological sites, and also intangible heritage such as literature and art, all of which have been influenced by the geological heritage. All of these sites add to the overall attraction of the region ensuring that all visitors can enjoy a fully immersive tourism experience.”
Newry Mourne and Down Council are to undertake an extensive consultation exercise with stakeholders and the wider community. Cllr Clarke added: “This is an important part of the development process, along with gathering information about the landscape, and its natural and built history, biodiversity and culture.
“From this information and discussions with the community, a series of workshops and meetings with stakeholders across the entire proposed Geopark area will be rolled out.”