A free Autumn festival will kick off an ambitious bid to gain UNESCO status for the world’s only chalk-based Global Geopark, which stretches from Kent, across the Channel and into France.
The white cliffs of Dover are already world-famous but, hidden under the Channel is a chalk ridge that still connects England with France. This chalk ridge is all that’s left after a catastrophic flood hundreds of thousands of years ago swept away the chalk ridge connecting Dover and Calais, carving out the famous white cliffs of Dover and starting Britain’s history as an island.
Led by the Kent Downs Area of Natural Beauty and Parc Naturel Régional des Caps et Marais d’Opale in France, the bid is to recognise the world’s only chalk geopark to attract not only a global audience to this unique geological phenomenon, but also closer to home too, with local residents and businesses encouraged to celebrate, understand and connect with it too.
A UNIQUE LANDSCAPECalled the Cross-Channel Geopark, it would be the first of its kind to be awarded UNESCO status, and the only Geopark to be shared by two countries that don’t share a land border. If successful, the Cross Channel Geopark would join 33 other UK UNESCO sites, five of which are in the South East including nearby Canterbury Cathedral.
Covering the entire Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (which covers about a quarter of the county of Kent) and stretching from Sevenoaks in Kent, right through the Kent Downs and across the Dover Strait to France, into Saint-Omer, 40km (25 miles) inland – a total distance as the crow flies, of around 177km (110 miles).
The festival, focused around the Autumn Equinox (September 23-25), will give people the chance to find out how they can engage with nature and the landscape in ways they might not have done before.
GET BEHIND THE BIDKent AONB is collaborating with Folkestone Fringe and Creative Folkestone to put on the arts-led festival which expands on the established SALT festival. It will offer some really creative ways for people to get out into their landscape, learn about it, connect with it, and understand it. The festival will celebrate all things ‘geo’ with guided walks, community meals, foraging, performance, sculpture, gardening, swimming, photography, film, poetry, and more.
It’s hoped that people will invite their friends and family to the area for the event, but also at other times of the year too, once they know what’s on their doorstep for them to enjoy together.
There will also be a programme of schools and community events – Kent’s children and their families will have the chance to learn about the geology beneath their feet, get their hands dirty with soil sampling and geological explorations, and learn how the famous chalk of the Kent Downs was formed millions of years ago.
Kent Downs AONB wants Kentish people, businesses, charities and public bodies to get involved with the quest to gain this prestigious international status and can help in a number of ways, including filling in a survey outlining their special links to the area – favourite places to visit, views they love, nature they have seen and memories they have of the landscape.
Making the landscape accessible and appealing to people who haven’t previously enjoyed it, is a priority for the application too.
TOURISMA major part of the bid is tourism – in particular, sustainable tourism experiences that will attract visitors to the region throughout the year for walking, hiking and trips to see the area’s wildlife and biodiversity throughout the seasons. Some of which is only seen in this part of Britain including rare moths, orchids and wildflowers as well as the internationally important geology of course! (See editor’s notes for more details).
With this in mind, experiences promoted to both locals and visitors, will be nature-based tourism and of benefit to local communities and economies including nature hikes, geocaching, artistic festivals, exhibitions, farm stays – all linking to the unique chalk of the area.
Between now and when the application to UNESCO is submitted in November 2024, events and activities will be put on to trial what could be offered once the bid is secured. Local people will be asked to take part to give feedback.
There is also a focus on helping people to celebrate, enjoy and understand the value of the landscape and how it influences what the county offers in terms of the landscape, wildlife and what grows.
Much of how people live in the area is a direct result of the chalk that makes up the geology of the land; the water we drink, the wildlife that lives there, the birds that migrate from across the world, plus the wildflowers too. Kent has terroir that no other vineyard in the world can enjoy and some species of wildlife, flowers and fauna are only found in Kent because of the unique chalk landscape.
Kent Downs AONB Director Nick Johannsen FLI, said:
“We are delighted to be working with our French colleagues to secure theCross Channel Global Geopark and we are excited by the cross-border collaboration that underpins this initiative as well as all the fantastic support from all of our Kent and wider UK partners.
“A UNESCO Global Geopark draws from the internationally important geology of our landscapes to support the sustainable management of whole of the landscape particularly though sustainable tourism.
“This is an ambitious proposal; one that we really want local people to get involved with. It is the communities, landowners and land managers, businesses public bodies and local charities who know their areas best, and we are asking them to tell us what they love about their places, to share with others and with UNESCO. This will be an essential element of securing UNESCO status and making the Geopark a success.
“Here at the Kent Downs AONB, we have been working for many years in partnership to conserve and enhance the Downs. We know this is a truly unique and wonderful landscape securing the Kent Downs as part of a larger Global Geopark is a step up and an even greater opportunity for the landscape to be recognised and celebrated and to support a sustainable visitor economy.
“We really want to help people discover or re-discover the landscape, to love it, feel proud of it and ultimately help us to protect it too. If you care about something, you champion it and that’s what we’d like to encourage people to do.”
Visit Kent’s CEO Deirdre Wells OBE, said:
“Kent’s iconic White Cliffs and stunning coastline are recognised the world over. Securing UNESCO Geopark status for this unique part of Kent’s landscape will be critical not only to attracting international visitors but supporting a real pride in place for our local communities.
“Kent has some ambitious plans to become a leading sustainable destination. We want to encourage visitors from near and far to enjoy the breadth of all that Kent has to offer – from its beautiful countryside to its world-class heritage and locally sourced produce – but to do so in a way which protects our landscape, nurtures our environment and offers engaging experiences which will keep people coming back again and again.”
Diane Dever, Director of Folkestone Fringe, said:
“What a total honour and privilege to be working on this Autumn festival. Using art to help people connect with nature is a brilliant way to help people discover stories about what is right under their feet will be amazing. We have so many creative ideas for people to enjoy and can’t wait to see people at our events.”
Alastair Upton, Chief Executive, Creative Folkestone, said:
“SALT festival is all about connections. Connecting people to each other and the natural world around them. This has never been more urgent and relevant than now. This year we are incredibly proud to once again be working with our friends Folkestone Fringe, and now Kent AONB, to connect with more people than ever before across a wider area, across borders and beyond.”
Timetable for UNESCO Global Geopark Status
The work starts now; we already have a fantastic level of support, today we are seeking much more engagement and involvement from communities, landowners and land managers, businesses public bodies and local charities, the more support we get, the more likely we secure UNESCO status. Our application will be submitted in November 2024 and the decision announced in Spring 2026.
The survey can be filled in here:https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdI819Wl-MpXaZx_X0eapaeYVBaV2F-Zqz8FOt7-mfywka0YA/viewform