How has the North West Highlands Geopark helped develop the Assynt region?

The North West Highlands Geopark  (http://www.northwest-highlands-geopark.org.uk/index.html) was established in 2004. Geoparks were first established in 1998 as a UNESCO initiative to protect and celebrate areas of international geological significance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Network_of_Geoparks). This designation encourages tourists to visit the area and provides a new revenue stream for local people. New facilities include the visitor centre at Knockan Crag: http://www.knockan-crag.co.uk/about.asp

This remote area of Scotland contains geological structures and rocks of international importance (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_West_Highlands_Geopark), indeed the geologists who originally mapped the area and understood its significance – Ben Peach & John Horne) have a memorial to them in Inchnadamph (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Horne_Monument,_Inchnadmaph.JPG). There are also important fossil remains in a bone cave: http://www.snh.org.uk/pdfs/publications/nnr/large_print/Inchnadamph.pdf.

You can find out more about the importance of the rocks found in the area here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_West_Highlands_Geopark

The area is relatively poor and inaccessible, with many young people moving away to seek economic opportunities elsewhere. The Highland Council are responsible for the development of the area: http://www.highland.gov.uk/

Crofting, a sort of extensive farming has long been practised in the Highlands of Scotland, but can be a very harsh way of life: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crofting, Scottish Crofting Federation: http://www.crofting.org/Crofters, Commission: http://www.crofterscommission.org.uk/

Fundamentally, there is a strong link between the physical geography of the area and human behaviour there. The rock types and climate combine to provide conditions which are hilly and mostly moorland and grass, with trees mostly restricted to more sheltered areas, such as river valleys.

This vegetation means that relatively extensive agriculture has been dominant, along with coast-based fishing and, more recently fish farming. The inability for the land to support large numbers of people, combined with distance from other large centres of population and historical factors, such as the Highland Clearances and the potato famine, have caused the area to become relatively depopulated compared to the past. This can become a negative feedback, which causes young people to move away to seek economic opportunity elsewhere.

Schemes which provide economic opportunity are therefore very important. The NW Highlands Geopark provides a boost for tourism to the area, thereby boosting the local economy, as well as affording a level of protection to the unique landscape.

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