In Europe’s most remote and sparsely populated area there is a community organisation at risk. This quiet corner of the continent plays host to truly world class scenery, sites of significant scientific importance and 3,000 million years of heritage.
From the 3 billion year old Lewisian Gneiss through the collision of ancient continents to the ice ages that sculpted the island mountains.
From the Victorian Geologist’s scientific discoveries to the educational and conservational work of the North West Highlands Geopark.
The ethos of the Geopark chimes with my own values:
It exists to:
- Explore Deep Time
- Evoke a sense of place and
- Encourage Stewardship
The North West Highlands of Scotland exhibit a rare and remarkable relationship between its geology and its landscape.
The North West Highlands of Scotland exhibit a rare and remarkable relationship between its geology and its landscape. The work of the Geopark helped highlight this to me during my research trips. Fascination lead to education, which in turn lead to creation of art, and has given me a unique connection to this special place. This is a connection I treasure. I feel a sense of belonging and of responsibility to conserve and enhance the geological heritage for others to experience.
To allow the North West Highlands Geopark to continue the valuable work they do for the area they are trying to raise the funding which will help them run the programme for the future.
The Geopark has provided me with immeasurable value. As such, I hope I can in some way contribute to the Geopark’s sustainability by donating 50% of the sale price of my North West Highlands, geologically inspired artwork to the organisation.
When I sat down to write this article, I wondered how I could possibly put into words the importance of this Geopark to the landscape, scientific research, conservation, education, to the people who live there and to me. I then watched a video made by Dr Laura Hamlet, Geopark Officer and realised that she has in fact said everything I wanted to.
What is a Geopark?
"Set up by communities for communities in areas that enjoy outstanding geological heritage."
"It’s widely accepted now that the living world and the physical world are inseparable, existing as a complex ecosystem that drives the success or failure of human endeavour.
Now more than ever it’s increasingly recognised that human activities are having a greater and greater influence on these systems."
The Geological Time we live in.
"In August 2016 at the 35th International Geological Congress in Cape Town, a working group of scientists unanimously recognised a new epoch in our planet’s history - The Anthropocene - the age of humans. This new era is characterised by a change in the trajectory for the earth system for which we are all part, one in which humanity has become so prevalent and powerful that we are now globally effecting the geological record. With this new age comes great responsibility and the recognition that our actions now effect the success or failure of the very ecosystems that have supported us. The success or failure of the fishing, the tourist season, the crofter… is now in our hands."
"It is in communities such as ours, on the periphery of large population centres, economically sensitive and in touch with our environment, that become the barometers of such actions and are therefore best placed to inform and educate, permeating the message of stewardship through the minds and hearts of everyone that visits us. This was recognised in the 1990’s by a group of geologists who coined the phrase ‘Geopark’, they saw that through the empowerment of communities like ours we could become a force for change, optimism and hope. But what is empowerment? It is a recognition of people and land, telling stories about how the landscape formed and how it supports life and new cultural traditions. It’s a celebration of stories and traditions and through these the willingness to share with visitors, to share the message - We care. This is important to us. This effects our livelihoods, culture, our sense of place, home."
Patrick McKeever, Chief of Section for Earth Sciences and Geo-Hazards Risk Reduction, said in 2010 “We have to rebuild the bridge between our knowledge of the Earth, it’s history and it’s landscape and the total dependance of modern society upon Earth’s natural resources”.
Geoparks are the people building those bridges.
Establishing a GeoPark
"The North West Highland Geopark boundary contains seven community councils who all contribute a representative to the Geopark board of directors. We enter the Global Geoparks Network in 2005, the 23rd in the world and the 1st in Scotland. The area covers 2000km square with 2000 adults on the electoral roll. Research in 2014 asked what the people here think the Geopark should be doing. Answer: Be a tourism provider. Give visitors something to do and some thing for us to get involved with. Everything from adventure activities to heritage events, but also educational programmes for people of all ages. Tourism interpretation and signage were considered essential and driving, cycling and walking routes were also considered important, along with the establishment of a visitor centre. Perceived factors effecting growth of tourism were broadly grouped into four topics, with lack of facilities; attractions, accommodation, public transport and places to eat and drink were considered critical along with cost of fuel and lack of promotion."
The role of the GeoPark
"In 2012, 2013 & 2014 the Geopark area received more than 170,000 visitors per year, with the establishment of the North Coast 500 driving route this is likely to be increased by at least 10%. But what we want is for these visitors to be able to stay longer, have more things to do, to learn more about the place that they’re in and so to encourage them to really care about our area. So we created a visitor centre, cafe, shop and earth science exhibition, started to install ‘Geopods’ and ‘Pebble Routes’ to tell people about the landscape but also about the people that live here. What we do and how we make a living, showing people that we care for our region and have roots here. The ‘Pebble Routes’ and the ‘Geopods’ work in tandem, taking people of the main routes down into the smaller villages and encourage them to spend more time there. Provide geotours, annual climbing festivals and guided mountain walks.
In 2016 we attended a joint event at Holyrood with the Shetland Geopark and the Portuguese National Commission. We linked countries and demonstrated how Portuguese Geoparks contribute up to €50 million to their economy every year."
The Geopark is the community.