Shetland’s stunning geology, which dates back almost three billion years in places, has earned the isles European Geopark status, it was declared on Tuesday.
It means Shetland is now one of 35 territories in 13 European countries whose remarkable rocks are recognised as being internationally important, worth preserving and a must-see.
The announcement follows a visit in May by two assessors, Dr Marie Luise-Fey and Dr Babbis Fassoulas, who toured the isles and were shown promotional work, including geological exhibits, trails, interpretive panels, workshops, talks and lectures, developed by Shetland Amenity Trust and other organisations.
Amenity trust general manager Jimmy Moncrieff was at the European Geoparks Network (EGN) conference at the Naturtejo Geopark in Portugal where he learned the news.
“We are absolutely delighted to receive this recognition for Shetland. Gaining Geopark status will not only raise the profile of our incredible geology on an international level but also create many new opportunities for the isles,” he said.
|Shetland’s geology is replete with fascinating facts. Most folk know that Ronas Hill was once a volcano, but did you know that the isles have the greatest range of rock types per landmass in Europe? Or that some of the oldest rocks on the planet can be found at North Roe. And that Eshaness was the best section through a volcano in Britain?
These rocks tell the tale of how the world itself formed and changed, with oceans opening and closing, mountains forming and eroding, tropical seas, volcanoes, deserts, ice ages and ancient rivers.
Among the initiatives led by the amenity trust are self-guide trail leaflets and the installation of 52 panels at specific sites of geological interest.
The aims of the Shetland Geopark are to:
• Conserve Shetland’s rich geological heritage and demonstrate its clear links with natural and cultural heritage.
• Raise awareness and understanding of Shetland’s geological heritage.
• Enhance the image of Shetland and promote sustainable development linked to geological heritage and geo-tourism.
Robina Barton, the amenity trust’s geology project officer, said: “Geology was one of the few aspects of our natural heritage which had not been highlighted and we sought to rectify this with our projects.
“Through interpreting our incredible geology, and using this as an economic driver for the isles, we are carrying out the work required for European Geopark status, which is a fantastic bonus.”
Shetland’s bid to become a Geopark was led by the amenity trust with advice from the Geopark Shetland Working Group (GSWG), which included representatives from the SIC, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), VisitShetland, Shetland Tourism Association and the Association of Shetland Community Councils among others.
A Geopark is described as being an area of outstanding geological heritage which is used to provide “sustainable economic benefits” to the area. Globally, there are 59 Geoparks in 18 different countries. The EGN was endorsed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), which operates the Global Geoparks Network (GGN) in 2001.