Lochaber hopes to secure new global geopark status
LOCHABER Geopark has ‘great potential’ to become a UNESCO site of worldwide importance in geology, but it still needs core funding from the Scottish Government.
A geopark, as defined by Scottish Natural Heritage, is ‘an area of outstanding interest for its rocks and land forms, and where greater appreciation and understanding of that geological heritage can benefit local people and businesses through tourism and education initiatives’.
In 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) created a new status of UNESCO Global Geopark to give geoparks the same level of recognition as World Heritage Sites.
So far the staus has been granted to two in Scotland – North West Highlands Geopark and Geopark Shetland – while a third, Lochaber Geopark, also applied for UNESCO status.
Lochaber, according to the geopark’s website, boasts some of the best geology in the world, ‘ with the UK’s highest mountains, deepest lochs and stunning natural scenery’.
‘In the east,’ it explains, ‘magmas formed by melting beneath the Caledonian range during the process of subduction, giv- ing rise to the famous caldera volcanoes of Glen Coe and Ben Nevis.
‘In the west, rifting apart of plates, triggered by the uprise of a hot “plume” from Earth’s mantle, producing the internationally famous volcanic centres of Rum and Ardnamurchan and the lavas of Eigg and Morvern.
‘The rocks of Lochaber give us a fascinating insight into the past climates that Scotland has experienced on its long journey from the southern hemisphere to its current location.’
Last June, two UNESCO evaluators from China and Crete arrived to assess the Lochaber Geopark Association’s application, and recently announced the area has an ‘exceptional geological heritage’ as well as a ‘massive value for the history of the development of the Earth sciences’. They concluded that Lochaber has ‘ great potential’ to be ‘ a very good UNESCO Global Geopark’.
However, the Lochaber Geopark explained, the Global Geoparks Committee ‘have, however, deferred award of UNESCO status until we have addressed a number of recommendations, the most important of which is to secure long-term core financial assistance from the Scottish Government.
‘It was decided to defer our application for two years as it was felt we needed to secure a higher budget to support all future geopark activities. Naturally, this deferment was rather disappointing, but we intend to soldier on as best we can.’
In the meantime, Lochaber Geopark is involved in a major three-year project with a number of other geoparks. The project is called Drifting Apart, and is designed to support the development of new and aspiring Global Geoparks across the northern periphery and Arctic programme area.
The project partners include geoparks in Canada, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Ireland – as well as the two other Scottish geoparks in Shetland and the North West Highlands. The project involves the use of new virtual reality technology and filming, which took place in Lochaber at two different sites in May.
As well as Darwin’s Rest – a coffee shop in Roybridge where you can learn about the famous Parallel Roads in nearby Glen Roy – the geopark now has a visitor centre on Fort William High Street.
Later this year it intends to produce a further information booklet on Glen Roy and the Parallel Roads. The geopark has also recently produced a geological map and excursion guide to Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis.
Lochaber has outstanding geology, such as this folded moine at Am Muidhe near Glenfinnan, also showing a rock pavement formed by glacial movement.