Northern Ireland

Marble Arch Caves given Unesco global geopark designation

The Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh
Image caption The underground Marble Arch Caves include rivers, waterfalls, winding passages and high chambers

An area of spectacular landscape that includes the Marble Arch Caves in County Fermanagh has been recognised by Unesco, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The Marble Arch Caves Unesco global geopark is the second site in Northern Ireland to be designated by the body.

The first was the Giant's Causeway world heritage site in County Antrim.

The new branding is expected to increase tourism to the area that straddles the Irish border.

It covers parts of County Fermanagh on the northern side of the border and County Cavan in the Republic of Ireland.

Historic

A geopark is a region of outstanding geology that supports sustainable tourism to benefit local communities and the regional economy.

The Marble Arch Caves global geopark was established in 2001.

It is home to a variety of natural landscapes and historic sites, including prehistoric tombs, Iron Age forts, early Christian monasteries and plantation castles.

Image copyright Martina Gardiner
Image caption The Giant's Causeway was the first site in Northern Ireland to be recognised by Unesco

Richard Watson, the manager of the Marble Arch Caves Unesco global geopark said it is a significant announcement that would help to make the area a "must see" destination for visitors.

"It puts global geoparks like ourselves on a similar international standing as places like the Taj Mahal or the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, or even the Grand Canyon."

Iconic

He said that while the status does not offer any extra statutory protection, it does place some responsibility on governments to help to promote their geoparks and to help the management agencies that look after them to develop them.

Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell said the designation would "act as a catalyst" for for increasing tourism revenue.

"Here in Northern Ireland we are fortunate to have some of the most diverse rocks and landscapes on earth," he said.

"It is these foundations that have given rise to our most iconic tourist attractions."

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