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28/07/2021

Slate landscape in Wales awarded heritage status

Words: Laura Edgar
Dorothea Quarry Lake, in the Nantlle Valley area in North Wales / iStock-843610468

UNESCO has awarded the Slate Landscape of north west Wales World Heritage status at the 44th session of the World Heritage Committee.

It joins three other sites with this status in Wales: the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Blaenavon Industrial Landscape and the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd.

The slate landscape runs through Gwynedd. Slate has been quarried in the area for more than 1,800 years and was used to build parts of the Roman fort in Segontium in Caernarfon and Edward I’s castle in Conwy. During the industrial revolution, demand for slate increased as cities across the world expanded, with slate from Gwynedd's mines used to roof workers' homes, public buildings, places of worship and factories.

By the 1890s the Welsh slate industry employed approximately 17,000 workers and produced almost 500,000 tonnes of slate a year, which equated to around a third of all roofing slate used in the world in the late 19th century. Welsh slate has been used on many buildings, terraces and palaces, including Westminster Hall in London’s Houses of Parliament, the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, Australia and Copenhagen City Hall in Denmark.

The bid for UNESCO World Heritage Status was led by Gwynedd Council. The inscription is the culmination of more than 15 years of work by partners, including Cadw, to record, safeguard and recognise the legacy of the slate landscape.

Lord Dafydd Wigley, chair of the Wales Slate Partnership Steering Group, said: “After chairing the Wales Slate Partnership Steering Group for over five years, I am thrilled by this decision by the World Heritage Committee and welcome our inscription on behalf of all our partners, landowners, communities and businesses.

“Partners have worked tirelessly over more than a decade to reach this important milestone, and we will now need to strengthen our cooperation to ensure that we deliver for the people, communities and businesses of the slate areas. This inscription is a celebration of Gwynedd roofing the world, our unique language, culture and communities and how we exported people, technology and slate to the four corners of the world."

Dyfrig Siencyn, leader of Gwynedd Council, added: “Not only is the influence of the quarrying industry visible, but its heritage is still heard strongly in the language, traditions and rich histories of these areas.

“Our aim is to celebrate this heritage and landscape and recognise their historic and industrial importance to humankind – in order to create opportunities for the future.”

The World Heritage Committee has added a number of other sites to UNESCO's World Heritage List, including India, Dholavira: A Harappan City; Japan, Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan; and Romania, Roșia Montană Mining Landscape.

Last week, delegates at a UNESCO meeting in China stripped Liverpool of its World Heritage status. The move follows a UNESCO recommendation in June that Liverpool should be removed from the World Heritage List, citing the £5 billion Liverpool Waters project and the approval of plans for Everton Football Club’s stadium at Bramley Moore Dock as “serious deterioration and irreversible loss of attributes”.

Image credit | iStock

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