Business delegation from Finland visits the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark
A business delegation from the Saimaa district of southern Finland visited the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark on Thursday 1st October 2015 on a fact-finding mission.
The group of 13 people included leading politicians, senior local government officers, business development experts and tourism managers. They are part of a high-powered team who are planning to establish a new geopark in their region of Finland and wanted to explore some of the key attractions in the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and to see how the Geopark is being developed. The group had also visited the Burren and Cliffs of Moher Global Geopark in County Clare the previous day.
Global Geoparks are regions of the World that have geology and other natural features of international importance. Global Geoparks are endorsed by UNESCO – the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation – and must comply with strict qualifying criteria based on the quality of their landscapes, must have effective management structures and must make a significant contribution to their regional economy through sustainable tourism.
There are over 100 Global Geoparks around the World in countries such as Germany, France, Norway, Italy, Spain, Austria, Canada, Brazil, China, Japan and Korea. The Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark is widely recognised as a particularly effective geopark and has played host to visits from aspiring geoparks from a number of countries. In 2001, it became the first Global Geopark to be recognised in the United Kingdom and, in 2008, it was the first cross-border geopark anywhere in the World to cross when the geopark was expanded from County Fermanagh into County Cavan.
The Saimaa region of Finland lies in the South Karelia Region of south-east Finland on the border with Russia. At 4,400 square kilometres in area, Lake Saimaa is the largest of the many lakes in Finland and is the 4th largest fresh-water lake in the World. The area is a popular holiday destination for Finnish people for summer water sports as well as cross-country skiing in the winter.
The development strategy for the proposed Saimaa Global Geopark will focus on providing the necessary tourism infrastructure, investment, nature protection areas and management structure to qualify as a Global Geopark and to bring foreign tourists to the area.
Typically it takes several years for a region to put in places all the various measures needed to become a Global Geopark. Even if their applications are successful all Global Geoparks then have to carry out a continuous and complex programme of sustainable development and successful delivery of tourism services to retain their Global Geopark status. Some geoparks have not been able to keep up the necessary level of investment and management commitment needed or have failed to maximise the economic potential of their geopark. Consequently, some have had their Global Geopark status withdrawn with severe negative impacts on their local economy.
Commenting on the visit, Thomas O’Reilly, the Chairman of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council said “The fact that the people from Finland specifically chose to visit the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark is a great compliment to Fermanagh and Cavan. It reflects the hard work and long term commitment of our Geopark staff and the good cooperation Fermanagh and Omagh District Council enjoys with Cavan County Council. This visit shows that people in other countries place great value on establishing a Global Geopark in their region and confirms my view that we must continue to look after and develop our own Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark.”
During their visit the Finnish delegation went on a guided tour of Marble Arch Caves, were taken on a jeep safari on Cuilcagh Mountain and marvelled at the prehistoric monuments in the Cavan Burren Park. They also had a lengthy working discussion with Richard Watson the Geopark Manager and his colleagues when they gained a good understanding of the wide range of issues that are involved in the successful operation of a Global Geopark.
Before leaving, Minna Kahtava-Martinnen who coordinated the visit from Finland said “The local government authorities, tourism organisations and business communities in our region of Finland are very aware that Global Geopark status will bring many benefits to our region. If we are able to establish a Global Geopark it will give a major economic boost to our region by bringing in large numbers of tourists, which will support local businesses and create new jobs. We have learned a great deal from our visit to the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and we are all glad that we came to the right place to see all that we have to do.”