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Torbay's prehistoric origins recognised by UNESCO
By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

Walls Hill
Walls Hill in Torquay - part of the geopark

Torbay's geological heritage received international recognition in 2007, with the granting of geopark status.

The status was given because Torbay has a range of protected sites in three periods of geological importance dating back 410 million years.

Evidence of the different eras can be found all along the Torbay coastline, and in the caves at Kents Cavern in Torquay.

Torbay's park has been named the English Riviera Geopark.

Central to receiving the status was Torbay's ability to show how these areas are put to good community and educational use. A sustainable development plan was also needed, to show how the natural heritage was being used to help regeneration.

Kents Cavern
The globally important caves at Kents Cavern

Torbay is one of only six places in the UK and 53 worldwide to receive the status, which is granted to areas with 'geological heritage of international significance'. Torbay is the only urban area in the world to have the status.

The designation is awarded by UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations.

One of the key players in the bid was Dominic Acland, director of the Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust.

He explained: "The judges came and were impressed - they liked what they saw.

"Torbay has three geologically important eras. The Devonian era was 410-350 million years ago. It was named after Devon because of the Victorian geologists who used evidence of limestone exposures in Torbay to understand that period of time.

"Beautiful examples of limestone were laid down when Torbay was south of the Equator. They are in the coral beds, and along the coast at Berry Head, Hope's Nose, and Walls Hill.

Hope's Nose
Hope's Nose in Torquay - part of the Devonian era

"The Permian era of 280 million years ago was when Torbay moved to just north of the Equator. It was in the middle of a desert and had flash flood plains - you can see this in many of the cliffs in Torbay.

"And we have evidence of the Quaternary era, from one-and-a-half million years ago to the present day.

"There were big sea level changes and the development of a cave system in the limestones which became inhabited - like at Kents Cavern."

He added: "We've got the international geological recognition at last that Torbay's coastline rightly deserves.

"And it's great for people in Torbay, to say: hey, this is a truly exceptional place to be."

Professor Malcolm Hart of Plymouth University's Earth Science Department played a key role in the inspection.

He said: "Torbay's geological heritage is outstanding, and provides one of the best teaching areas for students in the whole of the South West.

Berry Head
Berry Head in Brixham

"The geopark will mean more people understand how the world around them came to be, and deepen their appreciation of the natural world."

Nick Powe, managing director of Kents Cavern, also helped with the bid.

The prehistoric caves in Torquay house bone artefacts believed to date back to Neanderthal man.

Mr Powe said: "Under the global geopark umbrella, we can really optimise on this success and promote many more of Torbay's assets including links to the work of Charles Darwin, Agatha Christie and Isambard Kingdom Brunel - plus our fabulous wildlife, marine biology, sea grasses, dolphins, archaeological and geological heritage."

The designation doesn't bring any direct funding, but it's hoped it will attract more visitors, particularly from overseas.

Aviva Pearson, director of tourism at the Torbay Development Agency said: "We are already putting together new guides and packages and looking into ways of exploiting these roads into attracting new markets."

* BBC Devon did a 'Walk Through Time' along Torquay's so-called Coral Coast, and it was used in the application. The walk took in the cliffs from the Devonian era, and the caves at Kents Cavern.

Find out more about Walk Through Time using the Torquay Coral Coast link on this page.

Digging deeper into Kents Cavern
14 Sep 09 |  History
A-Z of Devon history
08 Oct 09 |  History
In pictures: Photos of Torquay
11 Feb 10 |  People & Places



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