Blog & News

North West Highlands UNESCO Global Geopark

Wed 27 September 2017

Category: Community, Education, Outreach

North West Highlands UNESCO Global Geopark

By Andy Los, PESGB Education and Training Director

Earlier this Summer I made a visit to NW Highlands Geopark and met up with Mike Goodwin, a voluntary director, at the Rock Stop at Unapool, close to Kylesku. The PESGB has in the past provided financial support to the Geopark.

The Geopark is one of UNESCO’s global Geoparks that are the geological equivalent of World Heritage sites. It covers a huge wilderness area all the way from Achiltibuie, just north of Ullapool, to the very NW tip of Scotland at Cape Wrath. The eastern boundary is effectively the geologically famous Moine thrust.

Many of us will have visited the area on school or university field trips. Due to the barren nature of the landscape, all major rock types are well-exposed making it a superb teaching environment (assuming it is not raining and there are no midges!) Often considered the birthplace of geology, it is where legendary Scottish geologists like Hutton, Murchison and Lyell developed their theories and principles that are still with us today.

The magnificent geology in the Geopark includes the Lewisian basement. At c. 3 billion years old it represents the oldest rocks in Britain. Outcrops here have been used as analogues for fracture patterns in the basement play at Hurricane’s recent Lancaster discovery and also BP’s Clair Field. The dramatic landscape almost shouts the geology at you with markedly different shaped mountains caused by the underlying geology e.g. Torridonian Sandstone at Stac Pollaidh and Suilven compared with the Basal Quartzite peaks of Foinaven and Arkle and the coarse-grained igneous massif at Ben Loyal. You can even stand on the top of a mountain and do your field mapping based on drainage patterns with the impermeable Lewisians basement creating thousands of tiny streams and small lakes or lochans compared with the Durness Limestone where there is no surface water.

The Geopark continues to stimulate and educate and is still revealing hidden geological and geophysical secrets like the recent discovery of 1.2 billion year old massive meteor strike. The crater is centred beneath Lairg and is largely buried beneath the Moine thrust but it is a fascinating detective story with fragments of evidence present in the NW Highlands.  Its discovery was reported last year both by the BBC and also in Channel 4’s Walking Through Time programme.

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-37360696

The social enterprise and charity that manage the Geopark were set up by the seven community councils within its boundaries. Unlike similar organisations in England and Wales, it receives no core funding from central government or regional authorities. It has been successful however in securing funds through crowdfunding, EU grants and grants from organisations like the PESGB. It is working hard to secure a long-term future from government and corporate sponsorship. If you can help in any way Mike Goodwin (mike@nwhgeopark.com) would be delighted to hear from you. The Geopark truly believes in public engagement which is also one of the PESGB’s key objectives. Regular events are held at the Rock Stop and the Geopark is working collaboratively with schools and universities.

The PESGB is very happy to be associated with and support the Geopark. If you are ever in the area they would be delighted to see you at the Rock Stop which also does very good coffee and cakes. It is also a good starting point for one of their 6, excellent, geologically-themed, pebble routes.

We are currently looking at the possibility of running a field trip to the Geopark in 2018 as part of our GeoLiteracy programme so keep a look out for announcements.

 

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