Wales' slate landscape awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status

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The slate landscape of north-west Wales has officially been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the World Heritage Committee has confirmed.

Its new status puts it in the same category as the Great Wall of China, India's Taj Mahal and America's Grand Canyon as a place of "outstanding universal value".

Wales now has four designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. The others are the Castles and Town Walls of Edward I at Caernarfon, Conwy, Beaumaris and Harlech in north-west Wales; Blaenavon Industrial Landscape in south-east Wales and Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal in north-east Wales.

Commenting on the successful bid, First Minister Mark Drakeford said the "worldwide recognition" would go some way to helping preserve the area and its legacy.

"Today’s announcement recognises the significant contribution this part of North Wales has made to the cultural and industrial heritage not only of Wales, but of the wider world," he said.

"Welsh slate can be found all over the world. 

"The quarrying and mining of slate has left a unique legacy in Gwynedd, which the communities are rightly proud of.

"This worldwide recognition today by UNESCO, will help preserve that legacy and history in those communities for generations to come and help them with future regeneration. 

"I'd like to thank and congratulate everyone who has worked so hard on this bid – it's been a real team effort and today’s announcement is a credit to all those involved."

Wales' slate mining landscape joins world-renowned areas such as the Great Wall of China Credit: PA Images

UK Government Heritage Minister Caroline Dinenage said: "UNESCO World Heritage Status is a huge achievement and testament to the importance this region played in the industrial revolution and Wales’ slate mining heritage.

"I welcome the prospect of increased investment, jobs and a better understanding of this stunning part of the UK."

David Anderson, director general at the Amgueddfa Cymru/National Museum Wales said the designation would allow Wales' diverse heritage to be shared on a worldwide stage.

"Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales is very proud to have been a key partner in this bid and is delighted at the successful designation of the slate landscape of northwest Wales as a World Heritage site," he said.

"Its success will ensure that the impact of the culture and industrial heritage of the area – including the story of the slate industry which we tell at the National Slate Museum in Llanberis - is recognised throughout the world.

"We have a rich and diverse heritage in Wales and this is a great opportunity to celebrate and showcase our cultural heritage on an international stage and will help preserve the legacy and history in communities for generations to come.

"Congratulations to all those who have worked so hard on this bid – today's announcement is a credit to all those involved."

Slate has been quarried in north Wales for over 1,800 years Credit: PA Images

The UK Government officially nominated the area to join UNESCO's prestigious list in January 2020, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson describing it as "an area of remarkable uniqueness and breathtaking beauty".

The slate-mining landscape, which runs through Gwynedd, played a huge role during the Industrial Revolution as demand for slate soared.

A form of rock, slate has been quarried in north Wales for over 1,800 years and was used to build parts of the Roman fort in Segontium in Caernarfon and Edward I’s castle in Conwy.

The area became a world leader in the production and exportation of slate, employing thousands of people.

Wales' slate industry also had a huge impact on global architecture, with slate used on a number of buildings, terraces and palaces across the globe; including Westminster Hall, the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, Australia, and Copenhagen City Hall in Denmark.

The area's designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site will likely boost its profile - both domestically and internationally - and could lead to an increase in tourism.

Many view an increase in tourists visiting the area as a positive thing, although concerns have previously been expressed over higher levels of activity in Llanberis.

Sian Gwenllian, MS for the Arfon constituency, has previously spoken about local residents' worries over a substantial increase in the number of people in the area.

  • How is the designation of a World Heritage Site decided?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awards World Heritage status to areas of "outstanding universal value".

There are three types of heritage site: cultural, natural and mixed.

Cultural heritage sites include hundreds of historic buildings and town areas, important archaeological sites and works of monumental sculpture or painting.

Natural heritage sites cover a broader range of criteria, including areas that host habitats for rare or endangered animals or plants.

Meanwhile mixed heritage sites are areas that contain elements of both natural and cultural importance.

The designation of World Heritage Site status is not irreversible, with UNESCO recently removing the title from Liverpool's waterfront, which had held the title since 2004.