Coming together for Drifting Apart: sharing the geological heritage of the North Kirstin Lemon

Partners and sub-partners at Glen Roy in Lochaber Aspiring
UNESCO Global Geopark during the 4th Project Meeting.
As geologists, we get many opportunities to be involved in projects that often involve working with a number of partners from across the world. As part of an EU-funded project, I attended the 4th project meeting of 'Drifting Apart' in Fort William in Scotland as one of several sub-partners that are involved in this fascinating area of geological heritage.

Led by the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust, the project, funded through the European Regional Development Fund’s Northern Periphery and Artic Programme is running from 2015 to 2018 with the ultimate aim of promoting innovative products and services for social and economic prosperity, and hopes to build a strong network of geoheritage destinations.  A total of seven partners (and numerous sub-partners) from across the periphery of the North Atlantic region are involved and hope to unearth and strengthen the understanding of our interconnected geological heritage in an EU-funded project appropriately named ‘Drifting Apart’.

The project includes partners and sub-partners from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, as well as from Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Russia, and Canada and includes a mix of UNESCO Global Geoparks and Aspiring UNESCO Global Geoparks at different stages of development. Through the project, it is intended to help strengthen the links between these areas through cooperation and virtually reconstruct the shared geological heritage that these areas enjoy. 

Due to our high level of experience in ‘popular’ geological interpretation and in developing geological-based tourism products, the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland is working together with the Causeway Coast and Glens Heritage Trust and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council (Marble Arch Caves UNESCO Global Geopark) to develop key elements of the project. To date these have included compiling the Drifting Apart storyline, helping to develop educational resources and deliver training for tourism and community groups all of which will help the project to achieve its main aims and objectives.  There are a number of key areas that the project will focus on:

1. Drifting Apart storyline and learning opportunities
Visiting one of many interpretative sites in Kenozero National Park, Russia
during the 3rd Project Meeting.
By highlighting the geological ‘story’ of the entire project area it will increase the awareness and understanding of not only each regions unique geological heritage, but also help to explain how these areas were once physically connected. Despite the geographical differences that exist, this will explain the dynamic nature of our planet and allow for a greater appreciation of the project areas shared geological story. The storyline will be used to develop a transnational geoheritage trail, including interpretation in all of the partner areas linked in to the Drifting Apart story. 

2. Virtual learning
Whilst the aim of the project is to encourage visitors to each of the partner area, in reality this will only be possible by a limited number of people. To address this, a virtual learning element has been included within the project so that the geological heritage of the entire area can be shared and enjoyed from anywhere in the world.

3. Geopark model and knowledge transfer
The partners included are made up UNESCO Global Geoparks of varying levels of experience as well as Aspiring UNESCO Global Geoparks at different stages in geopark development. Through the project, each partner will be able to learn and share experiences and develop potential models for future geopark growth. 

Partners and sub-partners in Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark, Iceland
 during the 2nd Project Meeting.
4. Geo-tourism and geo-education 
All UNESCO Global Geoparks work on a ‘bottom-up’ approach so one of the most important aspects of the project will be to increase the awareness and understanding of both the individual partner areas in addition to their place in the entire Drifting Apart story. This will be done through the development of common education products with specific local elements as well as similar training for communities and tourism providers. 

The next project meeting will be held in Stonehammer UNESCO Global Geopark, Canada in May.

For more information on the project and to keep up to date with the most recent developments then see or @DriftingApartEU