Celebrations as Mourne Gullion Strangford is Awarded Full UNESCO Global Geopark Status

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Mourne Gullion Strangford has been awarded internationally coveted UNESCO Geopark status. 

The UNESCO Executive Board met in Paris on Wednesday 24 May and announced that Mourne Gullion Strangford had been welcomed into its network of global Geoparks, making it one of only 18 outstanding landscapes worldwide to be awarded full accreditation this year.

The landscape encompasses Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: Mourne, Ring of Gullion and Strangford Lough and Lecale.  Mourne Gullion Strangford’s varied and beautiful landscape has been shaped over aeons by the collision of continents, the appearance and disappearance of oceans, through tumultuous volcanic events, and the rough treatment of ice ages. It has shaped a rich biodiversity and a vibrant cultural life, which the new Geopark will celebrate.

It is unique amongst UNESCO Global Geoparks as it tells ‘A Tale of Two Oceans’ across 400 million years of geological history. The geology of the area charts the closure of the ancient Iapetus Ocean, which brought together the island of Ireland’s two parts. It follows the island drifting with the continents through tropical latitudes and then welcomes the birth of the modern North Atlantic Ocean. Finally, the last glaciation carved this ancient landscape into the fantastic place we see today. No other UNESCO Global Geoparks has such a range of geological characteristics or can tell this story.

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council Chairperson, Councillor Michael Savage said he was delighted that Geopark status was confirmed. “The status of the Geopark is hard won; since 2012 the Council’s Geopark project, in partnership with the Geological Survey Northern Ireland, has worked on an intense engagement programme with residents and stakeholders,” he said. “As a result, everyone involved is delighted that Mourne Gullion Strangford has been awarded the UNESCO Global Geopark (UGG) status in recognition of this work and the extraordinary landscape it praises. It puts us on the world stage and firmly on people’s bucket lists of places they must see.”

A Geopark is a single unified geographical area, in this case, stretching from the waters of Strangford across the Mourne Mountains to the Ring of Gullion and beyond. A Geopark is a landscape that is managed holistically for the protection of its geology, the education of its people and visitors, and the sustainable development of its businesses. The Mourne Gullion Strangford UNESCO Global Geopark is about working together to make the most of our beautiful landscape through sustainable tourism, biodiversity improvements, geological education and sustainably managed outdoor recreation.

Talking about what makes Mourne Gullion Strangford unique, Chairperson Cllr Savage said, “The status of UNESCO Global Geopark demonstrates that our landscape is of global significance and is sustainably managed. 

“All the global geoparks have internationally important geology. But the community-led partnerships promoting an appreciation of natural and cultural heritage make our Geopark stand out. 

“One of the fundamental Geopark principles is geological risk mitigation. One distinctive Mourne Gullion Strangford Geopark project is the fantastic dune restoration project at Tyrella Beach near Downpatrick. This tourist hotspot was at serious risk of erosion due to the loss of its dunes until local volunteers and Geopark staff got together with homegrown charity, ‘True Harvest Seeds’, to gather, grow and plant native dune grasses to capture the blowing sand. Within just a month of starting this project, there is already visible dune regrowth, protecting not only the lovely smooth tourist beach of Tyrella itself but the low-lying land behind it too.”

Councillor Michael Savage continued, “Geoparks are, above all else, about local people; without their passion and enthusiasm, they cannot thrive or flourish. Much work is needed to ensure this award delivers what we need: a sustainable community and a local economy boosted through conservation, education, interpretation and sustainable and regenerative tourism. I have great confidence that the people and businesses of this district will work together to make the most of their beautiful landscape.” 

Speaking after the award was announced, Laura Davies, Ambassador to UNESCO, added, “UNESCO Global Geoparks rightly enjoy strong international recognition.  Years of hard work, often behind the scenes, is recognised through impeccable independent accreditation.

“The new Mourne Gullion Geopark celebrates the story of our past, written into the land through geological processes; and focuses on the future of that landscape as it will be written by its people.

“The best UNESCO designations bring communities, sustainable development and conservation together in real, grass-roots partnerships. From small, local projects celebrating local geo-food, such as planting a community orchard in Newcastle, to major landscape-scale tasks like managing erosion on the peaks of the Mournes and the slopes of Slieve Gullion, the UK’s newest Geopark does this in spades.

“My warmest congratulations to all those involved in making it a reality!”

Marie Cowan, Director of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, commented,

“The tale of two oceans is clearly told in the unique geology of Mourne Gullion Strangford Geopark. The variety of landscapes included in the Geopark designates the area as a global attraction for geological and landscape-based tourism and education. To be able to see landscapes formed over 400 million years within such a compact area is exceptional, and the variety and sheer beauty of this Geopark make it one of a kind.”  

A special day of celebration took place on the 25th May on the shores of Carlingford Lough at Cranfield and a packed programme of events and activities will take place throughout the year across the Geopark.

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