Caves Make It a First for Britain; Marble Arch Caves and Cuilagh Mountains Gain Geopark Status News

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Byline: ANNE PALMER

FERMANAGH'S major tourist attractions, the Marble Arch Caves and Cuilcagh Mountain Park, have been granted prestigious joint European Geopark status.

It's a first for the UK, and only 12 Geoparks with international recognition currently exist in Europe, emphasising the enormity of this major achievement.

The caves, developed by Fermanagh District Council 16 years ago, have to date attracted 852,000 visitors from all over the world.

Waterford's Copper Coast has also been granted Geopark status.

Richard Watson, countryside management officer at the Marble Arch Caves, explained that the Geoparks initiative was designed to supplement UNESCO World Heritage sites and recognises European sites that are of importance for their geology, landscape, scientific quality, rarity, educational interest and commitment to sustainable development.

"Following the first European conference in Spain in November 2000, Fermanagh District Council prepared a joint application dossier for Marble Arch Caves and the Cuilcagh Mountain Park, both of which have been developed with the assistance of European Commission funding,'' he said.

"The distinctive sandstone summit ridge of Cuilcagh Mountain dominates the Fermanagh countryside. Cuilcagh Mountain is rich in globally and nationally rare habitats. The middle slopes are known as Marlbank and display one of the best examples of active blanket bog in Europe, as well as Northern Ireland's finest upland limestone landscape,'' added Mr Watson. …