A UNESCO Geopark is an area of unique geological significance of international value. Here you can meet, touch and experience the millions of years of “Earth’s Memory”.
They are also places with an exceptional natural heritage. Sometimes complex ecosystems, an extensive biodiversity and fascinating landscapes are present in the geoparks which serve as a meeting point between natural features and the heritage of mankind.
Ancient traditions which result from the landscapes are under threat today. Their conservation and protection is one important mission of the geoparks.
Every four years, the status of all geoparks is evaluated. One pivotal part of the assessment is the participation of the local population in the geopark project to ensure a sustainable economic development.
UNESCO’s (United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation) work with geoparks began in 2001, and the list of geoparks worldwide has grown substantially ever since, to currently 169 in 44 countries.
The North Clare area of the Burren including the world-famous Cliffs of Moher became a geopark in 2011.
The Burren is a landscape which was formed 340 million year ago under a shallow tropical sea near the equator. Today, when walking across the limestone pavements, you are actually standing on an ancient seabed consisting of fossils.
The limestone landscape of the Burren is often described as “lunar” but a closer look reveals that it is teeming with plant life. Mediterranean orchids grow next to arctic mountain aven and alpine gentians.
The area also features a high concentration of holy wells and archaeological sites like cahers and wedge tombs, the most famous of which is Poulnabrone. Extensive cave systems attract speleologists from all over the world to explore some of the longest caves in Ireland.
The very unique farming methods practiced in the Burren is a deciding factor for the granting of the Geopark status. Every autumn, the cattle move to higher ground to avoid flooded summer pastures which is the opposite of the vertical transhumance which has been practiced in the Alps and other mountainous regions.
The geological uniqueness of the karst region helps this practice. The limestone hills of the Burren work like a gigantic heat pad releasing warmth throughout the colder months which helps the grass stay green and even grow.
Being a food producer in the Burren gives us the opportunity to offer GEOfood in the shape of oysters from another GEOfood producer in Newquay, Flaggy Shore Oysters. We smoke the oysters in situ seasonally in very small batches. Oysters have been the staple food for at least 4,000 years along the Clare coast, recent excavations of shell middens have revealed.
GEOfood is food produced in the area of a Geopark, benefitting from the characteristics of the geology. Flaggy Shore Oysters are sourced in the small bays off the northern Burren coast where the sea and the limestone land are intimately linked. Most of the rainwater flows underground into the sea transporting nutrients and the carbonate from the limestone that nourish the oysters.
Just like the Geopark itself, our organisation (Burren Ecotourism Network) would not be here were it not for what came before us. We are very proud of the UNESCO Global Geopark designation. This is not easily achieved and therefore it’s highly valued. The award also honours the successes in creating partnerships between local interests and national agencies in making the tourism and conservation a passionate common interest. The planning and hard work of so many people through the years – and the subsequent winning of the designation – is a shared success. It simply wouldn’t have been possible without an enormous and committed local, county and state collaboration. Our Geopark champions are many and varied.
The Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark’s ultimate aim is to spearhead sustainable tourism that develops and promotes the area as a truly special encounter-rich destination, strengthens the local economy and improves the visitor experience. To achieve this goals, we have developed a Code of Practice in Sustainable Tourism to work on the following areas:
Fostering collaboration between all stakeholders to collectively develop and promote the Geopark as a sustainable tourism destination.
Participating in conserving our natural and cultural heritage in accordance with the European Geopark’s Network Charter and Leave No Trace principles.
Ensuring high standards of communication and understanding of the unique character of our place and our stories, emphasising the particular attributes and strengths of the Geopark.
Building capacity in the destination management and stewardship, focusing on enhancing the quality and standards of visitor experience and tourism and services.
Optimising tourism’s potential as both an economic and social development tool which benefits hosts as well as a visitors.
Creating strong economic benefits through the product development, marketing and promotions, cost and energy savings, local sourcing and the creation of employment.