Congratulations to Scotland’s new UNESCO geoparks

Kayaking round Achiltibuie. Photo: North West Highlands Geopark
Kayaking round Achiltibuie. Photo: North West Highlands Geopark
Scotland’s two Geoparks, in Shetland and the North West Highlands, have been awarded the new UNESCO Global Geopark status, and Jean has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to congratulate the teams behind the success.

Representatives of UNESCO’s 195 member states created the Global Geopark designation at their General Conference, which was held in Paris between 3 November and 18 November. It is the first major new UNESCO designation to be created for over 40 years, and ranks the Shetland and North West Highland Geoparks alongside UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves.

Jean said:

“UNESCO Global Geopark designation is a well-deserved tribute both to the exceptional importance and beauty of Scotland’s geology, to the dedication of everyone who contributed to the creation and development of Shetland Geopark and North West Highlands Geopark, and to the Scottish Government’s vital support of the parks.

“The new status reflects the how important it is to understand our geological history, and how important our geology is to our future – from developing our energy economy to dealing with the consequences of climate change.

“It’s fitting that two of the very first UNESCO Global Geoparks are here in Scotland, the place where James Hutton invented the science of geology and proved that the earth is ever-changing.

“Our Geoparks honour two of the world’s most scientifically important and visually stunning landscapes, and do brilliant work developing their educational and tourist potential.

“Shetland’s complicated fault lines mean that you can see rock types otherwise found scattered across the North of Scotland, side by side. Geologically, Shetland is the Highlands in miniature and a visit to the Geopark is a whirlwind tour of billions of years of Scotland’s history.

“The North West Highlands are home to the oldest rocks in Britain. At 3 Billion years old, some are well over half the age of the planet. The Moine Thrust that runs right through the North West Highlands Geopark was instrumental in proving that the continents are moving – a debate that wasn’t settled until the 1960s.

“I’m so happy for the teams that have worked so hard to bring these ancient stories to life, and I’m sure their new global status will help them delight and inform many, many more visitors from across Scotland and around the world.”

Jean’s Scottish Parliament motion reads:

Motion S4M-14907: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 19/11/2015

Scotland’s UNESCO Global Geoparks

That the Parliament congratulates Shetland Geopark and North West Highlands Geopark on becoming UNESCO Global Geoparks; understands that Global Geopark status is the first new UNESCO designation of its kind to be created in over 40 years; considers that this status now ranks the Shetland and North West Highland parks alongside UNESCO World Heritage Sites in importance and esteem; recognises with gratitude the work of everyone who contributed to Scotland’s two Geoparks receiving and retaining the European Geopark Network green card status, which allowed them to become two of the inaugural 118 Global Geoparks worldwide; welcomes the support of the Scottish Government, which it believes has been crucial to the development of both Geoparks, and looks forward to the Geoparks’ continued success in bringing what it considers the fascinating story of Scotland’s geological history to visitors from across Scotland and around the world through the Global Network of Geoparks.

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Jean’s call to save geology in schools

A geology student uses a compass-clinometer on a geology field trip.
A geology student uses a compass-clinometer on a geology field trip.
Photo: www.flickr.com/photos/benbowenphotos.

Calling Scotland “the birthplace of geology” and praising the work of Scotland’s two UNESCO Geoparks in Shetland and the Northwest Highlands, Jean has joined calls to save the Higher qualification in geology, due to be axed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority in 2015.

Jean added her signature to a letter by Willie Rennie MSP to Education Secretary Michael Russell, urging him to delay the scrapping of Higher Geology.

Although an ‘Earth Science’ Higher is planned to eventually replace it, jean raised concerns of a gap in tuition of the subject if Geology is axed now.

Jean said:

“Scotland is the home of geology, the place where James Hutton invented the science and proved the earth is ever-changing. Geology is vital to our future too, from developing our energy economy to dealing with the consequences of climate change.

“In Scotland perhaps more than anywhere, geology is a vital part of so many careers in so many industries. But as the next generation grows up in an age of environmental challenges, they also need to be informed citizens, who understand how our planet functions and are able to take the big decisions to secure our future.

“We should be encouraging many more pupils to choose geology, not taking it out of schools altogether while the new qualification is developed. Axing Higher Geology now is premature at best.”

Jean highlighted Government support for the Geoparks as examples of success in developing the educational and recreational potential of our internationally important geology, saying:

“Our Geoparks honour two of the world’s most scientifically important and visually stunning landscapes, and do brilliant work developing their educational and tourist potential.

“Shetland’s complicated fault lines mean that you can see rock types otherwise found scattered across the North of Scotland, side by side. Geologically, Shetland is the Highlands in miniature and a visit to the Geopark is a whirlwind tour of billions of years of Scotland’s history.

“The North-West Highlands are home to the oldest rocks in Britain. At 3 Billion years old, some are well over half the age of the planet. The Moine Thrust that runs right through the NW Highlands Geopark was instrumental in proving that the continents are moving – a debate that wasn’t settled until the 1960s.

“The Scottish Government’s recent support of £280,000 over two years secured their status as full UNESCO Geoparks, and recognised the importance of geology to Scotland. I hope we can recognise that in our schools too.”

The full letter is below:

Dear Mr Russell

We are writing to you regarding the Scottish Qualification Authority’s (SQA) decision to remove higher geology from the qualifications that are available to Scottish school pupils. The current higher qualification in geology is due to be scrapped in 2015, leaving a huge void in the teaching of geology in Scottish secondary schools. A focus group of school teachers, academics and industry representatives (Earth Science Education Scotland), coordinated by the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (RSGS), have proposed the development of a new higher in earth science which would cover the wide range of topics that modern earth sciences currently spans, and that would typically be offered in Year 6. As outlined below, there is a demonstrated demand for earth science teaching by schools, universities and industry. We urge you to promote the development of a new earth science higher qualification, and to extend the life of higher geology until the new higher course is prepared.

We are aware that SQA and your office believe that the number of pupils studying higher geology is not large enough to support running higher geology because the numbers have declined over the years. We argue this is almost entirely due to the fact that no teachers have been trained in support of the subject since 1985, and that schools have never been encouraged to rank geology as an important subject. The Earth Science Education Scotland (ESES) focus group know of many schools where demand is high and teachers wish to offer higher geology, but the head teachers have not permitted it to run. However, ESES also knows that there is a huge demand and interest in a new earth science qualification that is on par with other science subjects and encompasses the broad range of topics that earth science now spans. A recent survey of more than 130 teachers, carried out by the University of St Andrews, found that 80% would consider offering this new qualification given the opportunity and appropriate support. According to a recent article in the TESS (April 18, 2014), SQA may have begun to recognise this, as Dr Gill Stewart, SQA Director of Qualifications Development, is currently looking to determine the demand for an earth science qualification.

Support for a new higher also comes from industry, with organisations such as Oil & Gas UK recommending the introduction of this qualification, which they believe would help to address the serious and well documented skills shortage. Investment in the UK oil and gas industry is at an all-time high, with up to 24 billion barrels of oil and gas yet to be recovered. This has the potential to provide energy security to the UK for decades to come and jobs for young people in Scotland. As such, the discipline of geology is absolutely vital in aiding the industry to unlock the potential of the resource, while also aiding industry to maintain its position as the largest industrial investor in the UK and a globally recognised centre of engineering and manufacturing excellence.

The level of interest in earth sciences is also demonstrated through the work of the Earth Science Education Unit (ESEU) and initiatives such as GeoBus, partially funded by industry, which provides support to teachers who want to cover geology content but have no resources or background to teach the subject confidently.

The level of interest and demand for more earth sciences in the curriculum can be demonstrated with over 24,000 pupils in 160 different Scottish secondary schools have been involved in earth science workshops with GeoBus since 2012 alone.

We are aware that SQA believes that geology and earth science content is being moved into other science subjects within Curriculum for Excellence. This, however, is not the case. ESES has found that geology content within the new geography curriculum is being diminished and the earth science content in the new curricula for Biology, Physics and Chemistry also shows a distinct lack of breadth and depth. A limited number of themes taught across a range of subjects will result in slight exposure to earth sciences, but the connectivity of topics across the different subject areas will be lost. Importantly, the new science curriculum will not equip students to understand the behaviour of the solid earth, natural resources and exploration, energy challenges, the hydrocarbon industry and geological climate change.

We see an earth science qualification as a unique opportunity to consolidate on the learning achieved within the pure science subjects by studying a more applied science subject that underpins the economy and tackles some of the most difficult questions of our time: present and future energy challenges, new sources of natural resources, and climate change. In this context, we want to develop informed citizens who have at least a basic understanding of how the planet functions and where resources come from. By offering higher earth science in the final year of secondary school, pupils have an opportunity to additionally develop skills training (including outdoor fieldwork), research experience, some independent learning and careers awareness prior to leaving school.

A common response of SQA is that higher geology is not required for entry to a university degree course. This is true, because there are hardly any schools offering the subject in Scotland and so this would unfairly disadvantage pupils. As stated above, getting pupils to take the subject at university isn’t the sole aim of a higher in earth science. It is worth noting, however, that in 2010, 45% of all entrants into earth science degree subjects in England and Wales held an A level or higher in geology. Clearly, offering the qualification at secondary school influences how many pupils will consider it as a degree course at university. In addition, while 33% of the pupils sitting A level geology in 2013 are female, about 50% of the student cohort in earth science courses at university are female; it is a route into science for women.

We call on you as Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to do everything in your power to delay the removal of higher geology until a new earth science qualification can be established. With the support of teachers, academic institutions and the energy industry, the demand for this new qualification cannot go unnoticed, nor should the future students of geology be held back due to short sightedness on the part of the SQA.

Motion: Lerwick’s Waterfront, One of Scotland’s Best Places

I was pleased to see Lerwick’s continued regeneration recognised in this national competition. You can vote for Lerwick waterfront- or the others on the shortlist!- at http://www.rtpi.org.uk/scotlandsbestplaces .

Motion Number: S4M-09550
Lodged By: Jean Urquhart
Date Lodged: 31/03/2014

Title: Lerwick’s Waterfront, One of Scotland’s Best Places

Motion Text:
That the Parliament welcomes the shortlisting of Lerwick’s waterfront as one of Scotland’s Best Places by the Royal Town Planning Institute; notes that the waterfront will compete against what it considers iconic vistas such as the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and Loch Lomond for the prize; understands that the shortlist of 10 places was chosen from 55 public nominations; believes that the establishment of the Mareel cinema, music and arts complex on the waterfront, which also houses the Shetland Islands Council headquarters, the Shetland Amenity Trust and the Shetland Museum and Archives, has contributed significantly to the waterfront’s vibrancy; understands that the public vote to choose the top three places is open until June and can be accessed online at rtpi.org.uk/scotlandsbestplaces , and hopes that the competition sparks interest, debate and enthusiasm about the country’s natural and built environments.

motion: Mallachy Tallack, New Writer Award Winner

Title: Mallachy Tallack, New Writer Award Winner

Motion Text:
That the Parliament congratulates Mallachy Tallack on winning a 2014 Scottish Book Trust new writer award; understands that Mallachy is one of 11 winners chosen from over 300 entries by a panel, which included Jen Hadfield, Doug Johnston, Jenni Fagan, Keith Gray and the Scots Makar, Liz Lochhead; recognises that he has put his writing skills to use as a journalist for the Shetland Times and writes music, fiction and non-fiction; notes that Mallachy’s recent project, the non-fiction book, Sixty Degrees North, focuses on communities that are 60 degrees north of the equator, such as Shetland; believes that the award, which includes mentoring from writers and industry professionals, a week-long retreat to Helensburgh and a cash sum, is invaluable to writers and will provide time, space and support to help them to develop their craft, and looks forward to continuing to read the work of Mallachy and the other winners.

Motion: The Community Energy Efficiency Programme at the Scottish Green Awards

That the Parliament congratulates Shetland Islands Council and Community Energy Scotland on being finalists at the 2013 Scottish Green Awards as a result of their joint grant scheme, the Community Energy Efficiency Programme; understands that the programme is a two-year grant aid scheme designed to help volunteer-run community facilities to become more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprint; further understands that 43 grants, worth almost £355,000, were awarded to 32 different community groups across Shetland, including public halls, youth centres, heritage centres, boating clubs and sport and leisure clubs, resulting in the upgrading of 26 facilities; believes that energy and carbon reductions could range from 12% to 48% less once all improvement works have been carried out, and considers that the Community Energy Efficiency Programme is a model example of how a joint partnership between a council and a charity can help communities to become more energy efficient and reduce their carbon footprint.

Motion: Shetland and North West Highland Geoparks Retain International Status

I was delighted to hear that both of Scotland’s Geoparks were recently revalidated by the European Geopark Network- here’s hoping that it’s the first step to wider recognition for Scotland’s unique geological heritage, and that the money granted to the Geoparks by the Scottish Government can help to secure their long-term future.

 

That the Parliament welcomes the news that both of Scotland’s current geoparks have been revalidated by the European Geopark Network (EGN); understands that membership of the network, which is part of a global network supported by UNESCO, illustrates the outstanding geological heritage of a territory and is subject to revalidation every four years; considers membership of the EGN to be vital to the sustainability and success of both the Shetland and North West Highland geoparks; further considers that the Scottish Government’s welcome announcement of a £280,000 investment in both geoparks demonstrates the importance of geotourism in Scotland, and looks forward to both geoparks developing as educational centres and increasing grassroots community involvement.

PRESS RELEASE: GEOPARK CASH BOOST WELCOMED

Jean Urquhart, the Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has welcomed First Minister Alex Samond’s announcement of £280,000 in new funding for Scotland’s two UNESCO Geoparks in Shetland and the North-West Highlands. The First Minster announced the cash yesterday afternoon during the Cabinet’s visit to Shetland.

Jean met with representatives of the two Geoparks yesterday in Shetland to celebrate the news and discuss plans for the future.

Jean said:

“I’m delighted by this announcement, and I know the hardworking, passionate teams of the two Geoparks are too. This funding means that their international status is secure, and they can build on their fantastic record of developing the educational and tourist potential of our magnificent geology.

“Scotland is the home of modern geology, and our Geoparks recognise two of the world’s most scientifically important and visually stunning landscapes.

“The many faults running through Shetland’s rock mean that you can see geology from all over the North of Scotland side by side. Geologically, Shetland is the Highlands in miniature.

“The North-West Highlands are home to the oldest rocks in Britain. At 3 Billion years old, some are well over half the age of the planet. The Moine Thrust that runs right through the NW Highlands Geopark was instrumental in proving that the continents are moving – a debate that wasn’t settled until the 1960s.

“We Scots are rightly proud of our landscape. We want to experience it, to learn about it, and to show it off to our friends from around the world. That’s what our Geoparks are all about, and it’s great to know that they will go from strength to strength.”

The funding, of £140,000 per year for 2013/14 and 2014/15, is the first the Geoparks have received from the Scottish Government. Without it the international status of the two parks could have been at risk, as UNESCO requires that Geoparks be financially secure in order to remain a member of the European Geoparks Network and Global Geoparks Network.

Shetland Times Article: Supporting the “Drop the Debt” Campaign

The Shetland Times’ “Drop the Debt” campaign is a worthy and welcome reminder of the need for governments to be held accountable for their promises and their actions. The historic housing debt that burdens not only Shetland Islands Council but other councils across Scotland is a drain on local government resources at a time when every penny by necessity must be a prisoner.

Much of the historic background of the housing debt has been covered in great detail by other contributors, but the political context of the debt must also be analysed if the campaign is to be met with success. This is the Liberal Democrats’ first taste of power at Westminster for a century, and 3 years into a Coalition Government no action has been taken on housing debt. Despite holding the balance of power after the 2010 election, no promises were extracted on housing debt; instead, a referendum on the voting system was agreed at a cost of £75 million. Although I support a fairer, more proportional electoral system, I find it extraordinary that the political capital held by the Liberal Democrats was squandered so fruitlessly.

The Shetland Islands’ own MP, Alistair Carmichael, is Lib Dem Chief Whip and a major player in the Coalition Government in Westminster. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury and member of the infamous “Coalition Quad”, Danny Alexander MP, is a Highlands MP who promised at the last election to wipe out Highland Council’s historic housing debt. Both are decent, honourable men who strive to do the best for their constituents, but neither has yet taken visible action to make the case within the halls of Westminster for dropping the debt.

The consequences of such a staggering debt hang around Shetland’s neck like an albatross. We are all aware of the continual cloth-cutting Shetland Islands Council are forced to make to education, transport and other services, just as we are aware of the extra costs being shouldered by council house tenants.

As Councillor Alastair Cooper has previously argued, had Shetland Islands Council not built the houses it had in the 1970s, oil and gas revenues that have sustained successive UK Governments would never have flowed into the Treasury. Given that Shetland contributed £82 million more to the UK state than it received back in 2011, the situation becomes even more farcical. It is nothing short of a scandal that the billions of pounds of taxes that flow from the North Sea have never found their way to cancelling the debt incurred by Shetland to facilitate the industry in the first place.

Westminster’s cuts to Scotland’s budget (8% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2014-15) make it very difficult for the Scottish Government to mitigate the tremendously difficult situation Shetland and other local authorities find themselves in. However, the £40 million that would be required to wipe out the debt is a drop in the Westminster ocean. For example, the sum of money lost annually through tax avoidance is estimated at £25 billion, roughly the same as the entire Scottish Government’s budget, demonstrating that good governance could deliver more revenue to support stretched local authorities.

While I believe that Westminster must take action on this, I am cognisant of Malcolm Bell’s call for Shetland Islands Council, the Scottish Government and Westminster to all play their part in righting this historic wrong. Let’s recognise Shetland’s financial contribution and Drop the Debt.

Jean signing the "Drop the Debt" petition in Parliament.
Jean signing the “Drop the Debt” petition in Parliament.

Events: Climate Challenge Fund Information Events in Lerwick and Kirkwall

Next week, the Climate Challenge Fund team will visit both Lerwick and Kirkwall to discuss how CCF grants can help fund community projects looking to reduce their carbon footprint. So far, the CCF has helped to fund projects that provide energy efficiency advice, the promotion of reducing, reusing and recycling and lower carbon transport, with £44.7 million awarded to 399 different community groups.

The Kirkwall event will take place at the St Magnus Centre on February 7th between 11am-3pm and 6pm-8pm, and the Lerwick event will be held at the Museum and Archives Centre on February 5th from 11am-3pm and 6pm-8pm. The event is free, and any group or individual can drop in. For more information, please visit the CCF events page:

http://ccf.keepscotlandbeautiful.org/events.aspx

Motion:Shetland Islands Council’s Community Engagement

Motion S4M-05487: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 28/01/2013

Shetland Islands Council’s Community Engagement
That the Parliament notes Shetland Islands Council’s invitation to members of the public to address it on relevant issues; understands that, in relation to education provision across Shetland, three parent council chairs from a deputation have presented a document detailing an alternative plan for education provision to the council’s Blueprint for Education; further understands that this document, produced by the parent councils, provides financial details for each of the alternatives; welcomes the active engagement of community groups in lobbying councils on decisions that affect their communities; considers this approach to be a laudable example of how communities can work together with local authorities to determine the best method of service delivery, and encourages local authorities, such as Shetland Islands Council, that it considers are attempting to drastically reduce spending, to consider similar methods of engagement with local communities.