Many people are aware of the need for the protection and conservation of the natural world. Climatic change, pollution, disappearing rain forest, forest fires and the extinction of species have increased our perception of the need to protect our natural environment.
Rocks, minerals, fossils, soils and landforms are an integral part of our nature. The distribution of habitats, plants and animals depends not only upon climate but also upon the geology and landscape. Geology and landscape have profoundly influenced society, civilization, and the cultural diversity of our planet.
Until recently, no international recognition of Earth heritage sites of national or regional importance, and no international convention on Earth heritage existed.
There are many sites in Europe which are of international importance because of their exceptional nature. Such sites are rare and irreplaceable part of the Earth heritage.
Natural rock outcrops and landforms, and artificial exposures of rock created in the course of mining, quarrying and engineering works, are crucial to understanding of Earth’s heritage. Future research which may help to resolve current problems, is possible only if geosites are available for future study. Understanding hoe Earth processes have operated in the past (soil formation and erosion, desertification, earthquakes, evolution and extinction of plants and animals) contributes to understanding the problems of the present. Earth heritage sites are essential for training and education, for practical demonstration of the principles of geology and illustrate the processes of landscape evolution. Geological and geomorphological features contribute to the aesthetic and ecological quality of landscape as part of the European cultural heritage. Geology trails, interpretation panels, visitor centres, thematic museums, show caves and mines open to the public enhance and deepen our appreciation on Earth’s heritage, attracting thousands of visitors each year.
The initiative of UNESCO to support Geoparks responds to the strong need expressed by numerous countries for an international framework to enhance the value of the Earth’s heritage, its landscapes and geological formations which are key witnesses to the history of life.
The protection and sustainable development of Earth heritage and geodiversity through Geopark initiatives contributes to the objectives of Agenda 21, the Agenda of Science for Environment and Development into the twenty-first century adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED, Rio de Janeiro, 1992) and reconfirmed by the World Summit on Sustainable Development 2002 inJohannesburg. Geology, geomorphology and landscape have profoundly influenced society, civilization, and the cultural diversity of our planet. The Geoparks initiative adds a new dimension to the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage by highlighting the potential for interaction between socio-economic and cultural development and conservation of the natural environment.
The European Geoparks Network was created with the support of the E.U. and in cooperation with UNESCO in 2000, aiming to bring sustainable regional development to the geopark by using that region’s geological heritage, primarily through the development of geotourism. It is our aspiration that geotourism on a European-scale can be developed in this way.
The Global Geoparks Network established in 2004 operates in close synergy with UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) World Network of Biosphere Reserves, national and international undertakings and non-governmental organizations active in geological heritage conservation. For national Geoparks inEurope, UNESCO has established a privileged partnership with the European Geoparks Network (EGN) and recommends the creation of similar regional networks worldwide.
European countries are currently dealing with landscape issues as evidenced by the adoption of the European Convention on Landscape by the Council of Europe in 2000 inFlorence. In this context, geomorphology is to be considered one of the main components of landscape changes.
Recently, the European Union adopted a Manifesto on Earth Heritage and Geodiversitythat is supported among others by the European Geoparks Network – EGN, the International Association of Geomorphology – IAG, the International Union of Geological Sciences – IUGS and the International Geographical Union – IGU and other international bodys.