30 years of UNESCO in Northern Ireland

Coastline at Giant's Causeway

In 2016 the Giant’s Causeway celebrates 30 years of its United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site status – a title that brings with it global recognition and importance. The Giant's Causeway was the first World Heritage Site in Northern Ireland and the designation was announced the same year that the UK joined the UNESCO scheme.

Only countries that have signed the World Heritage Convention, an agreement to protect heritage sites, can be including on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. But in order to be listed the site must meet at least one of the organisation’s strict criteria. The Giant’s Causeway meets two.

Beautiful and important

The Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast is not only beautiful, (and therefore of huge aesthetic importance) but also important as the 40,000 interlocking basalt columns are also testament to a major stage in the earth’s development. The geological activity of the Tertiary era is clearly illustrated by the succession of the lava flows which erupted from fissures in the earth’s crust, settling to form what we now call the Causeway Coast.

When the UK government joined the UNESCO scheme in 1986, they pledged to protect the natural and cultural heritage of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The Giant’s Causeway was the only natural phenomenon granted World Heritage status in the UK that year (although the tiny Scottish archipelago of St Kilda was deemed to have mixed - both natural and cultural - importance.) Other World Heritage Sites on the island of Ireland include Brú na Bóinne inscribed in 1993 and Skellig Michael inscribed in 1996.

Managing a World Heritage Site

Subsequently, a World Heritage Site management plan was put together by local authorities and charities, addressing the conservation requirements of the site and visitors’ needs in terms of access and information.

Since 2005 the UK’s largest conservation charity, the National Trust, has been the sole guardian of sections of the Causeway Coast World Heritage Site, including its crown jewel, the Giant’s Causeway.

Valuable to all 

The charity works to protect, manage, and ensure the integrity of this phenomenal natural landscape in line with UNESCO’s requirements, safeguarding its status and future.

‘It is a privilege to assist in managing such an important landmark,’ said Eleanor Killough, Learning and Visitor Experience manager at the Giant’s Causeway National Trust. ‘Those of us who work here know how much the causeway is valued both by international visitors and the local community. My team is passionate about this special place and the stories to be told. We pride ourselves on delivering excellent visitor experiences and are confident we do the Giant's Causeway justice.’