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Let's Rock On To Bigger And Better Things This Summer

31st March 2008

Photograph of Let's Rock On To Bigger And Better Things This Summer

By Ian Mitchell of SNH

British summertime officially started last weekend and now is the time when we traditionally think about getting out there and seeing what this great area of ours has to offer.

So why not take advantage of the wealth of fascinating geological features we have in the north of Scotland - with key sites Knockan Crag National Nature Reserve (NNR) near Elphin and the vast North West Highlands Geopark well worth a visit.

Last summer at SNH's Knockan Crag NNR we employed a part time visitor guide to
explain the importance of this internationally celebrated geological site.

The post was co-funded by HIE Caithness and Sutherland and we were lucky be able to take on Scourie-based geologist, Donald Fisher. The service proved popular with local people and visitors and it is hoped to repeat it this summer.

It was interesting to see last week evidence of the biggest meteorite ever to hit the British Isles was found by scientists from the University of Oxford and the University of Aberdeen. It is thought that a large meteorite hit the northwest of Scotland around 1.2 billion years ago.

Scientists had believed that many of the unusual rock formations in the Ullapool area were volcanically formed, but a report in the journal "Geology" explains there may be evidence buried in rock layers pointing to some of these formations as being material thrown out over an area of around 50 kilometres across. The crater of this meteorite is believed to lie under the Minch, close to Ullapool.

This fascinating trip back through time is just one element of the geological interest in this part of the world. We are fortunate to have the North West Highlands Geopark, Scotland's first Geopark which won the UNESCO and European Geopark accolade in 2004.

The Geopark covers an area of the north west from Durness to Achiltibuie and aims to encourage sustainable rural development by raising awareness of the north west's outstanding geology and supporting economic and social development, especially linked to tourism.

And it also supports environmental educational initiatives and research activities relating to the geological, natural and cultural heritage of the area.

Some of you may well have attended the successful European Geoparks Conference
held in Ullapool last September. At the opening event, Scottish Natural Heritage chairman Andrew Thin confirmed the importance of Geoparks for communities and the economy of the north west.

More than 150 international delegates converged on Ullapool and then travelled around looking at the links between geology, culture and land use. There were representatives from 31 Geoparks across Europe and the rest of the world.

The furthest-travelled was John Collyer from the Warrnambool Aboriginal Cooperative, who gave a spectacular presentation about cultural landscapes in Australia. Fortunately there were no further meteor strikes on Ullapool while they were there!

Seventy five per cent of the Scottish adult population made at least one visit to the outdoors for leisure and recreation purposes in 2005 and these visits were estimated to be worth 4.8 billion to the Scottish economy. Wildlife tourism has grown in importance and a major visitor survey in 2001 demonstrated that 70% of visitors list wildlife and landscape as key parts of their Scottish holiday.

If you are looking for places to visits check out SNH leaflets 'Where to See Wildlife and Landscapes in Caithness and Sutherland' and 'North West Seaboard/Cladach An Iar Thuath', which are available from SNH offices in Golspie and Ullapool and Local Tourist Information Centres.

The leaflets are also available on our North Highland web pages

Finally, and still sticking to our geological theme, watch out for details of an open day SNH is planning at Achanarras in Caithness this summer to launch our new visitor facilities here. Achanarras Quarry is an internationally known site for fossil fish finds and SNH is currently investing in a range of improvements to make visits more interesting and enjoyable.

Knockan Crag
North West Highlands Geopark
Achannaras Quarry

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