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HoC Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee - Rural Tourism in England

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee have launched an inquiry into Rural Tourism in England. Details of the inquiry can be found on the committee website. The submission produced by the Geological Society can be found below:

Submitted 6 September 2016

1. The Geological Society (GSL) is the UK’s learned and professional body for geoscience, with about 12,000 Fellows (members) worldwide. The Fellowship encompasses those working in industry, academia, regulatory agencies and government with a broad range of perspectives on policy-relevant science, and the Society is a leading communicator of this science to government bodies, those in education, and other non-technical audiences.

2. We take this opportunity to raise the importance of geoheritage and natural landscapes in attracting visitors to England and the rest of the UK. The geology of the UK is notable for its diversity and features rocks that span most of geological time, underpinning a spectacular variety of landscapes. Geotourism is growing in England and the UK due to government-administered protection programmes for geological sites, local programmes to protect and promote geoheritage as well as efforts to improve visitor access. Sites may be protected for a number of reasons; they may exhibit rare, significant or well-preserved geology or it may be because they are areas of outstanding natural beauty.

3. The Geological Society, through its geoconservation committee, aims to conserve the diverse geology and rich geological heritage of the UK. Enhanced tourism and visitor access is an important part of this aim. To support this we have run a number of initiatives to raise awareness of the UK’s outstanding geoheritage. In 2014, we ran a project to identify and celebrate ‘100 Great Geosites’ ( in the UK and Ireland, with an emphasis on sites that are visitor-friendly and educational. This included a companion mobile app to locate and learn about nearby geological sites from anywhere in the UK and Ireland. Earlier this year, to raise awareness of the value of local and regional geology, we published a Statement on the Value of Museums and Collections ( which includes information on the importance of local collections and their regional nature for education, tourism and public engagement and understanding.

Marketing and Access

4. The most prominent example of established geotourism is the network of UNESCO Global Geoparks. This is an international initiative to highlight and protect landscapes of international geological significance with the aim of combining conservation with sustainable development while involving local communities. There are 7 UNESCO Global Geoparks in the UK, two of which are in England: the North Pennines AONB UNESCO Global Geopark and the English Riviera UNESCO Global Geopark in Devon. An application to establish a Black Country Geopark is currently in progress. In addition to the geoparks there is a variety of other protected or designated areas that include conservation of geoheritage combined with educational and tourism initiatives. These include the UK’s National Nature Reserves, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites (RIGS) and geological and natural history museums, as well as very high-profile sites such as the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. These sites form part of the myriad attractions that bring visitors to rural England. However, more could be made of the geoheritage and landscapes of the UK as tourist attractions. Consistently effective protection programmes and marketing would give the landscapes and geological heritage of England a more prominent place in the suite of natural attractions that draw visitors, both from the UK and abroad, to the rural areas of England.

Local Environment and Character

5. There are a number of examples of geotourism sites carrying out local engagement activities to promote local engagement in geoheritage but also to balance the needs of visitors’ experiences with the need to preserve the environment and character of local communities. At the North Pennines AONB, recent activities include the successful delivery of the Sustainable Development Fund which was given to 16 local initiatives ranging from educational programs to summer bus service. They also secured Heritage Lottery funding for the Allen Valleys Landscape Partnership scheme which is enabling innovative work on community-led interpretation of the local landscape, history and culture to be carried out. The scheme will also conserve and restore natural and built heritage with the aim of making the most of this local heritage for the local community and visitor economy. In Ireland, the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark set up a farmers’ cooperative, teaching local farmers about the geology of their land and encouraging them to lead guided tours. This scheme has been very successful and has encouraged many locals to diversify into geotourism tourism. Such initiatives could be emulated in England.

Planning and Regulation

6. An important part of encouraging visitors, supporting locals and conserving the environment is the process of designating and protecting geological sites led by the statutory bodies (Natural England, in the case of England). Local sites across the UK are protected by a variable set of notifications and protection orders and the progress towards having more consistent and effective networks of designated sites is very patchy across the country. There are widely different strategies for designation and promoting sites. Some areas have hundreds of sites that are designated, monitored and celebrated by active geoconservation groups; in other places recognition/awareness of local sites is non-existent. But all areas have a common need for recognition, protection and sharing of local geodiversity sites. There is still a significant backlog of nominated Geological Conservation Review (GCR) sites awaiting designation as SSSIs by Natural England (and its equivalents in the other nations of the UK). The very small number of people working on geoconservation in these bodies are very hard pressed, and the scant resources available for designation and protection of SSSIs have all but disappeared as a result of wider cuts to public expenditure. GCR site designation is an essential requirement for the sustainable management of the environment. It creates protected spaces to be used by people for leisure, education and training at all levels, particularly in the Earth sciences, as well as providing a basis for generating economic value and for future conservation of scientifically important sites. A joined up and effective approach to designating and protecting geological sites is an essential component of protecting and exhibiting rural landscapes for visitors and locals alike. We would be pleased to discuss this underappreciated problem further.