It was proclaimed by UNESCO at the 41st General Conference in 2021 and is a worldwide celebration to promote the many aspects of how geodiversity is important to society.
Geodiversity is the variety of rocks, minerals, sediments, processes, landforms, fossils and soils found in a particular area. It therefore describes the non-living parts of the natural world, so can be described as ‘biodiversity’s silent partner’.
Northern Ireland, for its size, is one of the most geodiverse areas of the planet, with a record that contains almost all time periods in geological history. The geodiversity of Northern Ireland has played an important role in understanding the history of the Earth and the processes that formed it. This is our geoheritage and it is the foundation of our natural heritage, providing the basis for habitats and soils throughout the country and offers a glimpse into the world as it was in the past, and clues to how it may look in the future.
Protecting geoheritage is referred to as geoconservation. As with important habitats and species, without conservation and management we may lose our important geoheritage. For many geoconservation sites it is not possible to restore them if they are damaged or destroyed – they will be gone forever.
Conserving sites and features means they will remain available for future generations to enjoy, study or support society in other ways. Sustainable resources such as groundwater, and sustainable technologies such as rechargeable car batteries, rely on an understanding of geology to source materials and responsibly use these natural resources. Our geodiversity can therefore make a valuable contribution to the transition to a low carbon economy by having sites available for research and training.
Our most important and best geological features are protected within Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI). Currently there are 394 ASSIs, 148 of which are in whole or in part of geoconservation importance. Some of them form all or large parts of our most recognisable and popular tourist attractions, for example Carrickarade (an ancient volcano), the Marble Arch Caves in the UNESCO Global Geopark Cuilcagh Lakelands (limestone landscapes), the Mourne Mountains (granites that formed from magma deep in the Earth’s crust) and of course the Giant’s Causeway UNESCO World Heritage Site (basalt formed from lava erupted on the Earth’s surface).
So, geodiversity is a key part of nature, touches many aspects of our lives and tells us the fascinating story of planet Earth – all things worth celebrating!
Some facts & figures about Northern Ireland’s Geodiversity
- First ASSI with geological features was declared in 1987 (Garry Bog), and the latest one with geological features was in 2016 (Belshaw’s Quarry).
- 47 ASSIs have both geological and biological conservation interest features.
- Smallest geo ASSI is only 0.05ha (Ballagh), with the largest with geo features being 7507.5ha (Eastern Mournes).
- Fair Head and Murlough Bay is our most geodiverse ASSI (five geoconservation interest features).
- Co. Antrim has the most geological ASSIs (43), followed by Co. Down and Co. Fermanagh (26 each), Co. Tyrone (23), Co. Londonderry (19) and Co. Armagh (11).
If you want to find out more information about Geodiversity, Geoheritage or Geoconservation there are lots of additional resources out there. The Earth Science Conservation Review website (ESCR) is what underpins selection of ASSI geo features and sites. There is also Northern Ireland's Geodiversity Charter, which was funded by NIEA and the Geodiversity Day website are useful resources where you can find out what’s happening.
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