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Seven Sites Win UK Backing to Get UNESCO World Heritage Status

Seven sites in the UK, and its overseas territories, have received government backing to win UNESCO World Heritage status.

York city centre, Birkenhead Park and an iron age settlement in Shetland could be in the running to join the prestigious list, The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced.

Should the seven sites be approved, they will join the 33 existing World Heritage Sites already based in the UK including Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall.

UNESCO World Heritage site system

UNESCO’s World Heritage site system, dubbed one of the most important global conservation instruments, was created in 1972 as a means to identify and protect the world’s natural and cultural heritage considered to be of Outstanding Universal Value.

Today, DCMS revealed the seven sites to be placed on its ‘Tentative List’, published around every decade, which sets out the locations it is felt to have the best chance of succeeding in being included.

Five new sites added

Five new locations from across the UK and overseas territories have been put forward, meaning they are now part of a seven-site ‘Tentative List’.

DCMS confirmed the new sites are:

  • York, a city in northern England, boasts a captivating heritage shaped by the Anglo-Saxon, Viking, and Norman communities that once inhabited it. Its architectural landscape comprises an array of civic and religious buildings, including the impressive York Minster.
  • Birkenhead Park, located in Merseyside, England, was established in 1847 and is widely regarded as a ground-breaking initiative that brought greenery to urban environments. Its innovative design and success inspired the creation of numerous parks around the globe, including the iconic Central Park in New York City.
  • The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland, a collection of three prehistoric settlements dating back several thousands of years.
  • The East Atlantic Flyway, a migratory bird pathway that traverses the western regions of Europe including Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Kent. Its inclusion on the list stems from its crucial significance to bird populations and wildlife as it serves as a major passage for numerous transient bird species that pass through each year.
  • The Little Cayman Marine Parks and Protected Areas, situated in the UK overseas territory of the Cayman Islands, have also been nominated for their outstanding significance to marine biodiversity and incredible natural beauty.

DCMS said it will work with local authorities and devolved administrations to develop their proposals.

HM Ambassador to UNESCO, Laura Davies said: “It is great that the UK is contributing to making World Heritage more representative.

“These five sites brilliantly reflect the diversity and beauty of the UK and its Overseas Territories’ natural and cultural heritage, and I look forward to working with them towards World Heritage listing.”

Leader of City of York Council, Keith Aspden said: “We are thrilled with this acknowledgement of York’s world-class heritage and its universal historic and archaeological importance. The various communities in York have worked hard together to achieve this place on the new UK Tentative List of World Heritage Sites and they deserve the recognition this status brings.

“York is an outstanding example of continuous urban development over 2,000 years since its foundation as a Roman legionary fortress with evidence of every succeeding period on its urban development. The collection of medieval stained glass in York Minster and the historic parish churches in the city centre is unrivalled. York embraces and values this heritage and will manage it sensitively so that the city continues as a vibrant, innovative, living city.”

Birkenhead Park received government backing to win UNESCO World Heritage status.
Birkenhead Park is among the seven sites to have received government backing to win UNESCO World Heritage status

Assistant Chief Executive of Birkenhead Park, David Armstrong said:

“Already Wirral residents hugely value Birkenhead Park and this is shown by the fact that it is visited by nearly two million people every year.

“For several years, it has been an ambition of Wirral Council and partners – including the Friends of Birkenhead Park – to seek UNESCO’s recognition of the Park and its immediate surroundings as a World Heritage Site. To be included on the UK Tentative List for potential nomination to UNESCO for World Heritage Status is fantastic news and shows we are one step closer to achieving that ambition.

“A successful application for world heritage status would also bolster the wider regeneration of Birkenhead and if ultimately accepted as a World Heritage Site this flagship Park would  have its place in history cemented even further, as well adding further to its international recognition.”

The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland, Shetland Regional Archaeologist, Dr Val Turner said:

“We are thrilled and excited to remain on the new Tentative List and hope to progress to nomination within the next ten years. We have already experienced the benefits of being on the previous Tentative List, which has attracted first-class research to Shetland. We are currently working to conserve Old Scatness – a key milestone along the road.”

Co-founder and board member of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute and Secretary of the Little Cayman District of the National Trust, Peter Hillenbrand said:

“I am over the moon with excitement that Little Cayman’s Marine Protected Areas are officially on the UK’s Tentative List.  This will undoubtedly lead to even greater awareness and protection for this amazing little island.

“Little Cayman, Cayman Islands, is a unique geological and ecological phenomenon already recognised as a Mission Blue Hope spot, and this new acceptance will help bolster the legendary status of our marine environment.

“Our little island has been recognized locally with a National Conservation Law that protects 74.9% of our shoreline, out to 45.5m (150’) deep.  Our sensitive wetlands, lagoons, mangrove forests and reefs are a source of pride and inspiration for all our island community, and our feelings and actions are largely dedicated to its preservation.

“The Cayman Islands Government and our island citizens are proud and protective of this uncommon environment, and making this next step to having it recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site is absolutely thrilling for all parties involved.”

Two other sites submitted earlier this year

These five sites join two more that submitted their full nominations to UNESCO earlier this year and remain on the Government’s Tentative List. They include the Flow Country, an extensive area of peatland covering the northern Scottish regions of Caithness and Sutherland, which plays a crucial role in preserving biodiversity. Additionally, the Gracehill Moravian Church Settlement in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, has also been nominated for its cultural and historical significance.

“We will give them our full backing.”

Lord Parkinson, Heritage Minister

Heritage Minister, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said: “Today we are confirming our support for some of the most enchanting heritage sites and breath-taking landscapes in the UK and its overseas territories as they bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

“All the locations being put forward would be worthy recipients of this accolade – and we will give them our full backing so they can benefit from the international recognition it can bring.”

Sites should be “protected for future generations”

UNESCO World Heritage status is for places that are of “outstanding universal value to humanity” and should be “protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy”.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention provides professional training and assistance, as well as encourages local communities to engage in preservation.

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