Positive news on progress towards UNESCO Global Geopark status
Joyce Country and Western Lakes Geopark (JCWL) has received feedback from UNESCO evaluators’ following their in-depth tour of the region this summer to assess its readiness to achieve UNESCO Global Geopark status. The evaluation mission report was discussed at the UNESCO Global Geoparks Council meeting in Morocco in September, with three possible outcomes: rejection; deferral; or acceptance as a UNESCO Global Geopark. JCWL Geopark received a deferral, which is quite common with new applicants. This brings the Geopark one step closer and lays out a clear pathway for gaining UNESCO status. Following deferral, the Geopark must follow up on a range of recommendations and report back to UNESCO next year with an update. The assessors do not need to visit again.
Gaining UNESCO Global Geopark approval will energise the Geopark’s 20 communities in north County Galway and south west County Mayo. It will provide more opportunities for sustainable growth of local enterprise and jobs and help the communities to thrive. There is no UNESCO designation in Connacht yet, nor is there any Geopark in Ireland that includes a Gaeltacht region. By autumn 2024 this could be the first.
The application to UNESCO was submitted in November 2022. The assessment process began in spring 2023. A desktop review concluded the JCWL area has the most complex geology in Ireland. Its international significance includes geological links with Scotland, Norway and the east coast of North America.
During July, a UNESCO evaluation team conducted an assessment in the area. Besides reviewing the geological heritage, the French and Spanish evaluators also observed: a rich local cultural heritage; strong opportunities for development of sustainable tourism and employment, along with broad-based education and learning; a solid governance and management structure, with a professional multi-disciplinary staff; and a strong grass-roots connection with the Geopark communities and local business.
The main things to strengthen over the next six months are in the areas of visibility including signage and on partner digital platforms across the region; strengthen learning for all through a stakeholder-led education programme; secure long term funding and reinforce the strong role of women in the geopark. The feedback also recommends further development of networks of communities, business, education, and increased links with the Global Geoparks Network (now around 200 world-wide).
With the support of all partners and stakeholders, the Geopark is confident it can report back by summer 2023 on how the main recommendations are addressed, thereby achieving UNESCO Global Geopark status.