Geopark plans delayed

Geopark plans delayed

14 October 2020

PLANS to secure prestigious UNESCO geopark status for an area taking in the Mournes, Ring of Gullion and the Strangford and Lecale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty has been delayed.

It has been confirmed this week that a planned UNESCO site assessment — which is understood to be a critical part of the designation — has been postponed.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council, which is spearheading plans for the designation, is waiting to be informed of the date for a rearranged visit, with suggestions that it may not take place until January or February next year.

The local authority has also confirmed that an agreed action plan for progressing the geopark proposal is almost complete and will be finalised shortly.

Politicians were provided with a progress report on the proposed geopark designation at Monday’s meeting of the local authority’s Enterprise, Regeneration and Tourism Committee.

It was hoped that the formal application to secure geopark status would be submitted next month, but it is expected to be delayed.

In July, council officials met virtually with representatives from the Ulster Farmers’ Union and local farming community to discuss the geopark application.

Those behind the ambitious plan insist that securing the prestigious status is primarily about environmental sustainability and, at the same time, trying to increase economic revenue in a part of the world already revered for its stunning beauty. 

The emphasis moving forward is on partnership and engaging with local communities, with the steering group keen to talk to as many people as possible. 

Council officials have already attended an international conference on UNESCO global geoparks in Italy when details of the proposed geopark were outlined to delegates from across the globe.

In addition, local authority officials have held a series of workshops to outline details of what has been branded the Two Oceans Geopark proposal.

They say securing geopark status was identified as a catalyst project to support tourism growth in the council’s tourism strategy and would be granted in recognition of the internationally significant geology of the region.

Council officials have insisted that geopark status does not impose any restrictions on planning, development or farming practices and that they are continuing to work alongside the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland on the proposed designation.

Geoparks are based around significant areas of geology and are set up to support sustainable economic development of an area, primarily through geological and eco-tourism. 

But they are not just about geology and include sites that are of interest for their history, archaeology, biodiversity, folklore, cultural and local heritage.

Newry, Mourne and Down Council officials believe geoparks have a significant role to play in empowering local communities and giving them the opportunities to develop cohesive partnerships with the common goal of promoting the area’s significant geological and other heritage.

There are currently 127 geoparks found in 35 countries across the world, all of which have been developed using a bottom-up approach with local communities playing a significant role in this process.

Further information on the geopark proposal is available via Facebook on Geotourism in Mourne, Gullion and Strangford or at