Mourne Gullion Strangford, encompassing Newry, Mourne, and Down District Council’s remarkable landscapes, has been granted the prestigious UNESCO Geopark status. The recognition places it among the 18 exceptional global Geoparks awarded full accreditation this year.
This distinguished status highlights the diverse and captivating landscape shaped by geological events spanning millions of years, from continental collisions to volcanic activities and glacial transformations. The region’s rich biodiversity and vibrant cultural heritage are set to be celebrated through the newly established Geopark.
Chairperson Councillor Michael Savage expressed delight at the confirmation of Geopark status. He acknowledged the hard work of the Council’s Geopark project and its partnership with the Geological Survey Northern Ireland, emphasizing the global significance of Mourne Gullion Strangford. “The status of the Geopark is hard won; since 2012 the Council’s Geopark project, in partnership with the Geological Survey Northern Ireland, has worked on an intense engagement programme with residents and stakeholders,” he said.
He also acknowledged the boost this recognition will bring to the district’s tourism and reputation, stating “It puts us on the world stage and firmly on people’s bucket lists of places they must see.”
Mourne Gullion Strangford stands apart as a UNESCO Global Geopark due to its unique geological history spanning 400 million years. It tells the captivating story of the closure of the ancient Iapetus Ocean, the island of Ireland’s union, and the birth of the modern North Atlantic Ocean. No other Geopark possesses such a diverse range of geological characteristics and narratives.
Geoparks are holistically managed areas that prioritize the protection of geology, education, and sustainable development. The Mourne Gullion Strangford UNESCO Global Geopark aims to maximize the region’s natural beauty through sustainable tourism, biodiversity conservation, geological education, and outdoor recreation.
Chairperson Cllr Savage emphasized the significance of community-led partnerships, particularly in appreciating the natural and cultural heritage. He cited the Tyrella Beach dune restoration project as an example of successful collaboration between local volunteers, Geopark staff, and the “True Harvest Seeds” charity, showcasing the region’s commitment to geological risk mitigation and environmental conservation.
The establishment of a Geopark revolves around the engagement and enthusiasm of local residents, who play a pivotal role in its success. Councillor Michael Savage expressed confidence in the district’s ability to leverage the award for the betterment of the community, emphasizing the need for sustainable development, education, interpretation, and regenerative tourism.
Laura Davies, Ambassador to UNESCO, lauded the international recognition bestowed upon UNESCO Global Geoparks and acknowledged the dedication and hard work invested in achieving impeccable independent accreditation. She praised Mourne Gullion Geopark’s focus on preserving the past while looking towards a future shaped by its inhabitants.
“The new Mourne Gullion Geopark celebrates the story of our past, written into the land through geological processes; and focuses on the future of that landscape as it will be written by its people.”Laura Davies, Ambassador to UNESCO
Marie Cowan, Director of the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, highlighted the geology of Mourne Gullion Strangford as a testament to the tale of two oceans: “The variety of landscapes included in the Geopark designates the area as a global attraction for geological and landscape-based tourism and education. To be able to see landscapes formed over 400 million years within such a compact area is exceptional, and the variety and sheer beauty of this Geopark make it one of a kind.”
To commemorate this significant achievement, a special celebration took place on May 25 at Cranfield on the shores of Carlingford Lough, and a series of events and activities are planned throughout the year across the Geopark.
The award of UNESCO Global Geopark status reaffirms Mourne Gullion Strangford’s position as a world-class destination, drawing visitors and showcasing the captivating narrative etched into its extraordinary geological formations.