The questions below were asked to the Geopark Geologist by school children from the Cloonliffen National School, beside Ballinrobe Co. Mayo in February 2020.
How many acres/hectares of rocks are there in the Geopark project?
The current project covers an area over 1500 km2 which corresponds to about 150,000 ha or about 370,000 acres.
What animals are in the Geopark? Will the Geopark project help endangered animals? Are sprays used in the Geopark that would endanger animals? Will you erect bat boxes in the Geopark?
There are a wide range of animals in the geopark. The most common are the domesticated sheep and cattle but there are also many wild animals living here. You can find many small mammals (like badgers, pine martens, squirrels, etc…) and birds in hedgerows and woodlands in particular. Some are protected like the Horseshoe bat and a large number of gulls and terns that nest in islands of the lakes. The rivers and lakes are also home to many species of fishes (trout, salmon, pike) as well as otters.
The geopark does not specifically aim to protect endangered animals as the designation does not bring any new regulations to the region. However, the management of the geopark would quite happily support and promote any actions by groups like schools and associations that plan actions, policies and infrastructure that would help the local biodiversity; like erecting bat boxes or limiting the use of sprays that are harmful to pollinators. All these actions would have to be designed and implemented in agreement with the local community.
When do you think it will be a confirmed Geopark?
We plan on submitting the application to UNESCO by the end of 2021. The assessment process, which includes a visit of international assessors, then takes about 18 months and so we are currently expecting to become a UNESCO Global Geopark in the second half of 2023.
How many Geoparks are there in Ireland and in Europe?
How will our Geopark be different to other Geoparks?
Our Geopark has the great advantage of having two contrasting landscapes of the uplands of Joyce Country and the lowlands of the Western Lakes. This contrast corresponds to a rich geodiversity or a wide range of rock types (like limestone, sandstone, basalt, quartzite, marble and conglomerate) that tell a very long geological history of over 700 million years. We have Ireland’s only Fjord and the outcrops of the world famous Connemara Marble in our territory, as well as the one of the fastest flowing spring in the world at Cong and one of the very few Marl lakes still in existence at Lough Carra.
Again, because of this contrast, our geopark offers a range of environmental habitats for many species of plants and animals and for different agricultural practices and outdoor activities offerings.
Finally, our geopark is the only one situated in a Gaeltacht area which is a great opportunity to support the language and use it in our education offerings.
What is the oldest feature in the Geopark?
The oldest rocks in the geopark formed about 700 million years ago as sediments of various sizes (sand, gravel, mud) accumulated in shallow to coastal waters when an ancient Ocean opened up. These deposits became sedimentary rocks that were then subjected to massive heat and pressure and metamorphosed or transformed into other rocks like Quartzite, Schist and Marble. We can now see these rocks in the mountains of Connemara from Inishbofin to Mount Gable and including the 12 Bens and the Maumturks.
Why do you think this area should qualify as a Geopark?
Our region is unique in its range of geological and landscape features as well as rock types. Additionally, most of these are easily visible and recognizable in the landscape from the roads or in easily and publicly accessible areas, like Coillte owned forests or lakeshores. This makes our region a perfect place to learn about Geology and Geography.
And on top of it all, the diversity in the landscape and the rich historical and current culture of the area make it a perfect place to visit and spend a bit of time.
What would happen if you owned land there?
Nothing unless the owner would want something to happen. A geopark does not add any new rules or regulations to those already in place at national or local level. The creation of a geopark is just a way to label an area for its geology, landscape, environment, food products, crafts and culture. People live, farm, work, go to school, create new companies and build houses and infrastructures in a geopark.
But someone owning land in the geopark could decide to seize the opportunity to develop some activities for tourist or school groups or to use the brand of the geopark to help sell its products.
Can a Geopark no longer be a Geopark?
Yes. Following a successful application, an aspiring Geopark becomes a UNESCO Global Geopark (UGG). After 4 years, every UGG has to be revalidated and goes through a similar process as during the initial application. This ensures that there is an international standard of quality for geoparks and that a geopark is a living and evolving project throughout its existence.
In your opinion, what would the most visited part of the Geopark be, at the end of this year?
This is a hard question for a geologist for such a rich area. My personal view would be that the most visited area would be the same as the ones that are already visited today like Cong and Leenane where the geopark would add a lot of information to the visitors about the wider geological context. But other areas would also benefit from the geopark project’s work such as the area of Finny where we can find pillow lavas deposit that are both quite rare and very easy to see there.
Does it cost money to go into the Geopark? Can you just walk in?
The Geopark as a whole is not a park, it is just a region that has a special name, like Connemara or Clew Bay. People live and work there, there are towns and public roads in it and so it doesn’t cost any money to go into it.
However, that doesn’t mean you can just walk in into somebody’s land. As in any other region of Ireland, people’s private property is fully respected and visitors can only walk the land after getting prior approval from the landowner.