‘Sites for Sustainable Development’ – local and innovative solutions to global challenges

October 27, 2022 Published by Alex McCoskrie

This new report from the UK and Canadian Commissions for UNESCO shows that Biosphere Reserves, Global Geoparks and World Heritage Sites (WHS), are uniquely placed to address Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. These UNESCO Designations bring people, communities, businesses, and organisations together to generate and share innovative approaches to global challenges.

The study shows that UNESCO sites in the UK and Canada face significant threats ranging from over-tourism, flooding, storms, and invasive species to pressures from housing and commercial development. Despite this, the report shows the sites are uniquely placed to address them by bringing multiple stakeholders together to mobilise solutions locally, regionally, and internationally.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal WHS is one such UNESCO site, working with communities and partners along the 12-mile River Skell to help make the area sustainable for those who live, work and visit this extraordinary place. The WHS welcomes ~600,000 visitors every year and is one of the most visited places owned by the National Trust.

Like so many places, Fountains is facing sustainable development challenges, including the relentless impact of climate change, biodiversity loss and decline in nature, barriers to people accessing nature, and the neglect and loss of heritage.

Many of the challenges faced stem from the River Skell which runs through the site. It has been vastly modified, first by the monks of the Abbey and then later in the 18th century to create the water garden. The river feeds the formal ponds, canals and cascades that form its central features. Following long periods of heavy rainfall, the WHS is prone to flooding, causing extensive damage to the built and natural heritage; damage to the foundations of the Abbey and the hidden archaeology of the WHS, as well as flooding downstream for communities and businesses in the City of Ripon.

In 2015, the review of the WHS Management Plan brought together partners and communities, to talk about these major threats and how they could work together to address them. Together they agreed on a Management Plan objective; to work upstream of the WHS to reduce run-off in the upper catchment through land management; this was the start of the Skell Project.

Over five years the WHS Coordinator, Sarah France and her team worked with partners, farmers, landowners and communities living, working and visiting the Skell Valley to develop and shape the project. In partnership with farmers and the landowners upstream, natural flood management measures were put in place. Simultaneously, the team realised they could address many other sustainable development challenges and have a lasting positive impact on the communities that live, work and enjoy the area. The Skell Project now delivers across a number of themes; 1) Landscape is Resilient, 2) Nature Thrives, 3) People are Empowered, and 4) Heritage is Celebrated.

The project has now extended to Rwenzori Mountains WHS in Uganda as part of the Melting Snow and Rivers in Flood project funded by the UK’s Cultural Protection Fund and DCMS, the International National Trusts Organisation, and the Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda.

Find the report here https://unesco.org.uk/local-and-innovative-solutions-to-global-challenges-new-report-shows-unesco-designated-sites-are-at-the-forefront-of-sustainable-development/

Learn more about the Skell Project at https://express.adobe.com/page/3H8n9qZmcFD9L/