World Heritage Day (The Importance of Our Outdoor Geological Heritage)

For world heritage day (18th April 2012) UCL Bartlett’s Centre for Sustainable Heritage created a blog with what a number of MSc Sustainable Heritage and MRes Heritage Science students felt ‘sustainable heritage’ meant to them:

I was also asked to write a piece for this blog (, so I tackled my view of sustainable heritage, with a twist:

When someone says ‘heritage’ what does it mean to you?

I would be willing to guarantee that the above image is not what first springs to mind, but for me it is. This is a picture of columnar basalts from the Isle of Mull in Scotland, a photo I took on one of my field trips while studying geology as an undergraduate. The concept of heritage may at first seem far flung from this image of cooled molten lava but I would like to demonstrate the ties between these disciplines and why we need to ensure that this, too, is part of our sustainable heritage.

As a geology student, you are primarily taught about the scientific importance of these sites for education, however equally crucial are the links to the people, places and accomplishments associated with these sites. Many of these have been vital to the evolution of science and without them we would not have been able to make many of the technological and scientific advancements we have today.

Take Siccar Point in Berwickshire, Scotland as an example. This location was of seminal importance and built the foundation for evolutionary and geological science as we know today. It was here where James Hutton (often referred to as ‘the father of modern geology’) discovered ‘deep time’. At this site in 1788 Hutton noticed an odd sequence of rocks that proved the need for unfathomable amounts of time and forces to erode the layers and rotate them by 90° from their original position.

Our understanding of the several thousand million year history of the Earth in contrast to the religious standards of the time revolutionised our view of the world and the sciences.

It is my opinion that this site is an intrinsic part of our national, and global heritage. There are lots of areas similar to this across the world, many of which are in the UK with a significant set of the geological periods named after British ‘type’ localities.

Sustainable heritage should not only encompass the physical preservation of an object or historically important locality, but the preservation of the knowledge that it has entreated us with. In the case of Hutton’s Unconformity, along with many other natural landscapes, access to and preservation of the site is difficult. What we can do however is to ensure that we sustain the knowledge associated with that locality through a range of media, to make it permanently available for future generations to be continually inspired and educated.