Introduction

Established in 2000, the European Geoparks Network (EGN) aims to protect geodiversity, to promote geological heritage to the general public as well as to support sustainable economic development of geopark territories primarily through the development of geological tourism. The network has drawn together territories from acrossEurope that share these aims and which are now working together in an active and dynamic way to achieve them.

Originally consisting of four territories, the network has, as of April 2010, been expanded to include 59 territories across 21 European countries.

The network operates primarily by continuous electronic communication, frequent coordination meetings, annual conferences and the establishment of common projects through which territories can exchange ideas, experience and best practice thereby supporting each other to fulfil our common goals.

Although geology is always the main area of promotion in geoparks, network members adopt a holistic approach to the promotion of our natural and cultural heritage. Furthermore all members consider full local community involvement as essential to our success.

There is a variety of activities that can be considered typical of a geopark. Most are either geotourism– or educational-based, including schools programmes, guided walks and museum exhibitions. Geological heritage protection and promotional activities are also essential activities of a geopark. Socio-economic activities in geoparks are important for sustainable regional development. Geoparks adopt a holistic approach to their heritage and promote all aspects of their regions natural and cultural heritage.

The network is funded by its members and through collective bids for European Union funding for common projects.

The structure of the network is relatively simple and comprises an Advisory Committee (12 members including representatives of UNESCO, IUGS and IUCN) and a Coordination Committee (comprising of two representatives from each member). Decisions concerning the network are only made by the Coordination Committee. As part of the Co-ordination Committee there is an elected EGN Co-ordinator and Vice Co-ordinator to represent the whole network. They co-ordinate contacts with other international bodies (E.U, UNESCO, IUGS, IUCN, Council of Europe etc.) and prepare the agenda of the meetings in partnership with the meeting host.

In 2001 the European Geoparks Network signed a formal agreement with the Division of Earth Sciences UNESCO whereby UNESCO gave the network its endorsement. A further agreement was signed with UNESCO in 2004 whereby the EGN was given responsibility for regulating membership of the UNESCO Global Network of Geoparks in Europe.

Membership of the EGN is for a period of three years after which membership is reviewed and assessed. The first revalidation procedure occurred during 2004 and since then is one of the main internal procedures of the network which helps to keep all Geopark operation, infrastructure and services at a high quality level.

Although just crossing its second decade, the European Geoparks Network has made great advances in achieving its aims and is attracting increasing attention from communities across Europe as well as the wider geological community.