THE North West Highlands Geopark (NWHG) has launched an “urgent” crowdfunding bid in order to avert a financial crisis which could lead to it losing its UNESCO status.
The community company which runs the park, said it has only enough funds to pay the wages of its three core staff, until May.
It is now aiming to raise £70,000 to meet employment costs for a year.
Without staff to push through planned projects, it is unlikely the park would pass its next Unesco assessment which is due in 2019.
A statement on the crowdfunding “Love the Geopark” page, said: “We just can’t function without our staff.”
Scotland’s first geopark, NWHG covers 2000km stretching from Durness to Ullapool. The area encompasses mountains, coastal landscapes and rock formations which are among the oldest in Britain.
NWHG won Unesco recognition in 20014
The purpose of a geopark is to conserve and enhance the local geological heritage and also provide learning opportunities.
NWHG has its headquarters at the Rock Stop, in the old Unapool School, near the Kylesku Bridge. The Rock Stop houses a cafe, shop, exhibition and information centre.
NWHG has been the recipient of Scottish Government funding but on the basis it would become “sustainable and financially viable”. The last award was made in 2015.
However, park managers have said it is not possible to be financially self sustaining in such a remote and sparsely populated area.
A statement on NWHG’s website, announcing the crowdfunding venture, said: “Staff are paid through a mix of donations and product sales and due to circumstances beyond our control, we’re really struggling this year.
“We have funding in place to carry out a number of exciting projects between now and 2020 but need a bit of an extra leg-up to keep our staff going for the next 12 months.”
More information is contained on a statement on the group’s crowdfunding page.
It states: “Without the staff to do the work, we won’t be able to continue with our projects which means we can’t upgrade the exhibition, make our guidebook, run our guided walks
“This will in turn jeopardise our UNESCO status as we will be assessed in 2019 and if we haven’t helped to develop tourism, education and conservation in our geopark we won’t be fulfilling the function of a UNESCO global geopark.
“Unlike world heritage sites, geoparks can lose their status if they aren’t playing a useful role. We just can’t function without our core staff.”
NWHG’s future plans include upgrading its visitor centre with virtual reality exhibits, weekly guided walks, a geo heritage festival in October as well as a climbing festival and events during Earth Science Week.
Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MSP Gail Ross is pledging her full support to the geopark.
She lodged a motion with the Scottish Parliament last Wednesday urging it to recognise the work of the park.
She said: ““The work done by the North West Highlands Geopark in promoting the unique geology in the area, not only for local communities but also to visitors, is fantastic. However, it cannot continue to provide the services it does, without the money required to staff the park. Time is now running out for the future of the park.
“The geopark’s drive is not only to promote the area in terms of its geology but also encourages all visitors to be good stewards of our natural and cultural resources and strengthens the links that this remote area has with the rest of the world.
“The bottom line is that time is now critical for the geopark, funding must be found, and fast, to ensure that the staff, who live and are bringing up their families in the park, can be retained.
“I’m very concerned that there is the possibility that they could lose their Unesco global geopark status due to lack of funding and I would encourage everyone to give what they can to the crowdfunder campaign.”
n To donate, visit: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/love-the-geopark