Oi!, Discovery Earth, No!

I’m sorry, but in my humble opinion Discovery Earth has got it sadly wrong. They recently published their ten most spectacular places on Earth. OK, so anyone publishing their top ten of anything is heading for a fall (and I’m about to do it myself, so who am I to talk?) but I have to say one of their choices does puzzle me. Here is their top ten …

  • The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
  • Wadi Al-Hitan (Valley of the Whales), Egypt
  • Lake Baikal, Siberia
  • Komodo National Park, Indonesia
  • Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
  • Ilulissat Icefjord, Denmark
  • Wulingyuan, China
  • Surtsey, Iceland
  • Central Amazon, Brazil
  • Great Barrier Reef, Australia

UNESCO World Heritage Sites all. My problem is with the first one, The Giant’s Causeway. OK, having now alienated all my Northern Irish readers let me try to explain. Geologically significant, yes; superb place to visit, undoubtedly; but one of the top ten most spectacular places on Earth? Do me a favour, it’s a pile of basalt. In fact, two of the three Discovery Earth truly geological sites are heaps of basalt (Surtsey being the other).

If you are going to make heaps of basalt the most spectacular places on Earth, what about Devil’s Tower, Wyoming*, or even Jökulsárgljúfur National Park in Iceland (which also includes Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall). Both have far more spectacular columnar jointing. (* OK, this one is phonolite, but you get my drift).

Hawaii is a world heritage site, surely that is more spectacular than the Giant’s Causeway?

iceland011Columnar Jointing, Jökulsárgljúfur National Park.

Their problem comes, I feel, from limiting themselves to UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I suspect that in a wish to be ‘geographically correct’ to their viewers they felt obliged to include a site in the UK.

The trouble is that the UK only has two natural sites, The Giant’s Causeway in Antrim and the Jurassic Coast in southern England. Whilst both of them are extremely pleasant to visit in their own right, neither of them are what I would call really spectacular. Two other natural sites come under the UK but one is Henderson Island in the south Pacific and the other is the Gough and Inaccessible Islands in the South Atlantic so they don’t really count. The vast majority are cultural sites. Compare this to the US, where 60% of their heritage sites are natural rather than cultural (admittedly with less of a cultural heritage than the UK).

The UK does have some truly spectacular (and culturally important) geological sites. It’s just that they haven’t been designated World Heritage Sites. Perhaps the campaign should start here to get them recognised.

In a future post, I’ll try and come up with 10 UK geological sites that are more ‘spectacular’ than the Giant’s Causeway. If anyone has any candidates please leave your suggestions in the comments.

9 Replies to “Oi!, Discovery Earth, No!”

  1. Siccar Point isn’t a World Heritage Site? If I were to go to only one geological site in the UK… well, I would probably go to the Moine Thrust first, just cause I like those kinds of rocks, but after that I would go to Siccar Point.

  2. Keep an eye on the Accretionary Wedge for February! I am going to be asking a very similar kind of question, and would like all the responses I can get. I posted the “100 things geologists should see”, but thought there were a lot of significant places missing from the list (especially outside the USA). Good post!

  3. Pffft. Colonials. 😉

    But as an aside, the Causeway *is* one of britain’s best geological sights. For the reason that we don’t have many – and when we do, they tend to be tourist attractions. :/

  4. Kim: I’m going with the Moine Thrust in my top ten too. Siccar Point isn’t a World Heritage Site and should be.

    It may be a European thing. Looking down the list there are very few natural sites listed. France doesn’t have any on the mainland (Monte Perdu is classed as mixed), Germany has just one, Italy one, and Spain has just one mainland natural site as well.

    Contrast this with say Australia where 15 of the 17 sites are natural or mixed. Mind you, this probably says more about the Aussies lack of culture than anything else!

  5. Just so you know, the Discovery Earth slideshow was not some sort of decision by anyone about the 10 most spectacular places. It was about 10 OF the most spectacular places — out of hundreds on the UNESCO list. That’s an important distinction. You misunderstood the slideshow’s intent.

Comments are closed.