Am Bratach No. 312
October 2017

Officer bearers quit North West Geopark

Trouble continues to dog the administration of the North West Highlands Geopark, which has been left without a chairman, vice-chairman or secretary, following a series of resignations.

Former chairman George Farlow, who resigned in mid-September, said that his decision was due to “huge differences of opinion in the way the geopark was going to be run”. “Fundamentally”, he added, “the setup of the board is not fit for purpose. It works quite well when there’s money, but when there’s no money, there’s greater competition for the remaining funds.”

In April this year, following a decision by the Scottish government to cease core funding, the geopark was forced to appeal for finance via a crowd-funding campaign, which reached the desired target of £30,000 by June 5. A press statement issued by the geopark said that the money would allow the Rock Stop exhibition, café and gift shop at Unapool to open three days a week and would guarantee current project commitments.

Two days after the crowdfunding campaign closed, a business development officer post was advertised by the geopark. The advertisement carried the logos of Scottish Natural Heritage, LEADER+ (a Highlands and Islands Enterprise funding stream) and Scottish and Southern Energy. The post was to last for eighteen months.

Mr Farlow continues to believe in the importance of the UNESCO Geopark designation and its benefits, although he admits that people living in the area may not always recognise its intentions. The qualifying basis is geology of international importance, but the main purpose of a geopark is to sustain the populations which live there through tourism and related income streams.

Mr Farlow says that there are two types of tourist visiting the geopark: “those who come for the day and go” and “the other group who come and stay for a few days and need entertaining”. In terms of routes, there is an element of doubling-up. Mr Farlow describes the geopark’s “rock route”, which goes from Ullapool to Loch Eriboll, as “a precursor of the North Coast 500”. Despite the geopark’s UNESCO label, the latter has a much higher profile.

According to UNESCO rules, the North West Highlands Geopark must apply for its designation to be revalidated in 2019. One of the criteria for the designation is the employment of qualified scientific staff, which costs money. The Scottish Government decision to withdraw funding earlier this year was based on the grounds that £248,000 had already been awarded to assist the park to develop a business plan. The geopark argues that its work is not in itself sustainable on a business model, and that political support is merited by the UNESCO status. “If we get the money that we need, we can be sustainable. If we don’t get the money — either through teas or coffees and other income streams, then we’re not sustainable,” says Mr Farlow. The remaining directors have two major issues to resolve: one of governance, and one of finance, which seem indubitably interlinked.

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