England’s Black Country region has joined the ranks of Lesbos in Greece, with its prehistoric petrified forest, and Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater, teeming with rare wildlife, as a Unesco Global Geopark.
The UN agency selected the unsung area of the Midlands for its role in the industrial revolution and geological heritage.
Sites that clinched the status after a 10-year effort include Dudley and Wolverhampton museums, Wren’s Nest nature reserve, the Red House Glass Cone, an 18th-century glassmaking kiln, and Walsall Arboretum.
Global geoparks must have internationally important geology, cultural heritage and local bodies committed to conserving, managing and promoting them. As of the last count in April 2019, there were 147 global geoparks within 41 member states.
The UK already has seven, mostly in the mountainous regions of Wales, Scotland and Northern England. The English Riviera, or Torbay, is another. The Black Country, between Birmingham and Stoke, with about 1m population, is the most densely populated.
Its role in the 18th and 19th-century industrial revolution, has been key. It gave the region its name as smoke poured from steelworks, glass factories and heavy engineering plants and the green hills were covered by housing. But a 428m-year-old landscape and efforts to preserve it were also important.
David Drewry, a Cambridge fellow and non-executive director at the UK National Commission for Unesco, said: “They have dug into their ancient past to build a vibrant future. The Black Country geopark takes us in a time machine far back, millions of years, into the ancient climates of western Europe revealing a land of shifting environments from tropical shallow seas, to cool swampy lowlands and much later frigid Arctic tracts where mammoths roamed.”
Local politicians hope for a tourism boom and extra funding for visitor attractions.
Stephen Craddock, a councillor and portfolio holder for health and wellbeing on Walsall Council, said: “At such a difficult time for all of us, it’s great to be able to share some good news. We’re rightly proud of the fantastic green spaces and rich heritage across the borough of Walsall and being just the third Unesco geopark to be declared in England is really special.”
Patrick Harley, leader of Dudley Council, said: “We hope this new Unesco badge will encourage visitors from all over Great Britain and from around the world and bring in new funding to help us to further develop the geopark.”
The councils, together with Wolverhampton and Sandwell, submitted a bid in 2016. Other geoparks include Lanzarote, with its volcanic beaches, and the High Atlas mountains in Morocco.