Councillors show support to North West Highlands Geopark
The importance placed by the Council of the North West Highlands Geopark, both in terms of protecting the unique geography and heritage, as well as promoting the area as a top geo-tourism destination, was apparent last week when it was the first item on the agenda for the Caithness and Sutherland Area Committee.
The North West Highlands Geopark covers 2000 square kilometres of North West Sutherland and Coigach where about 2000 people live. Having recently been voted the UK’s favourite landscape in a public poll organised by the Geological Society and featuring some of the oldest rocks in Europe, its natural beauty is well known amongst geologists and academia and visitors to the area.
There are 58 Geoparks in the European Geoparks Network, with the North West Highlands the first in Scotland. It was awarded UNESCO Geopark status in 2004 and historically it received funding and support for various activities from the British Geological Survey, The Highland Council and Scottish Natural Heritage. The Geopark is now operated as a community company limited by guarantee and is currently seeking charitable status.
With support from the Council the company prepared a business plan in conjunction with Geopark Shetland, which has led the Scottish Government to award £186k on the basis of the three year plan. This funding will be used to move forward a number of priorities which include seeking additional match funding and to ensure it retains its UNESCO accreditation and recognition as well as the ambition to build a Geo Centre of Excellence for Earth Sciences around Scourie which would house the important Shelley Collection which is currently on display at Orcadian Stone in Golspie. Other priorities include fully developing geotourism and working with partners to promote economic growth in the area.
In March 2013 The Highland Council signed up to the Scottish Geodiversity Charter and in doing so gave the commitment to maintain and enhance local geodiversity, recognising its contribution to Scotland’s natural heritage, habitats and species as well as historical and cultural development and public health, quality of life and well-being.
Leader of the Area Committee, Councillor Deirdre Mackay said: “The challenge for the Geopark is to broaden the appeal of its spectacular landscape of the North West Highlands and use this to help bring jobs and the growth of local economies to this sparsely populated area. It was good during our meeting to get an update on what the proposed priorities are and I am especially pleased to see there are plans underway to mark next year’s 10th anniversary of Geopark status. The Geopark on the West complements the Flow Country we have on the East Coast, two extremely important assets of international significance, which need protection and promotion so I’m pleased the members of our committee showed their continued support to the excellent work been done. The new community company taking things forward is very active and committed and I wish them every success.”
Councillor George Farlow is a member of the new community led company tasked with broadening the appeal of the landscape and helping to bring prosperity to the North West. He said: “The new Geopark team has developed a social enterprise model to secure financial security for the future, building income from advertising and sponsorship to compliment grant funding from more traditional resources. An exciting new Geocentre exhibition in Unapool will open early in 2015 to compliment a range of Geo-routes, Geotours and Geo-adventures aimed at engaging all ages, all-abilities and a wide range of interests in the science, nature and history of this fascinating landscape. Having the support of the Council is invaluable and we look forward to working with them, and other partners towards achieving our vision.”