Shetland’s bid to become part of the Unesco Global Geopark network is well under way, and as part of the selection process two European assessors visited at the weekend to determine whether the isles have what it takes to gain the coveted status.
Dr Marie-Luise Frey and Dr Babbis Fassoulas arrived on Thursday and met with local communities and visited areas of geological interest before attending a civic reception on Saturday evening at the Museum and Archives.
Speaking at the reception were local councillors Rick Nickerson, Bill Manson and Jonathan Wills, who in their short speeches summed up the importance of geology to Shetland in a wide range of areas, including heritage and culture, education and economics and tourism.
Mr Nickerson said that the importance of geology to Shetland’s people throughout the ages could not be underestimated, influencing things from bird species through to place names. The possibility to become part of the Geopark network would be, he said, “the last piece in a fantastic story”.
Dr Wills pointed out the importance of Shetland’s environment to tourism, emphasising that around three quarters of visitors to Shetland come to the isles for the environment.
He gave praise to the work of Rubina Barton in getting Shetland’s Geopark bid to this point and said he was “very much looking forward to hearing the verdict”.
There are currently 58 Geoparks, in 18 member states. As part of Shetland’s bid to become a part of this network of geological heritage spots, the Shetland Amenity Trust and Geopark Shetland Working Group have developed projects to protect and promote Shetland’s heritage and culture.
Some of these include self guided trail leaflets, the installation of 52 interactive panels at specific geological sites of interest around Shetland, installation of “geo-art” and the restoration of the Hagdale Horse Mill, which is the last surviving mill of its kind in the UK.
Dr Fassoulas was very positive in his response to Shetland’s bid. He said: “I would say Shetland is an exceptional place and very impressive.
“This is my first trip here and it is something special. The islands have great potential, not only from the geology but the people involved are very enthusiastic about the Geopark.”
The results of the assessors’ findings on Shetland’s requirements are to be presented to a committee, which will then make the decision on whether the isles are to be included. This will be announced in September.