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A Christmas message from Graham Worton - the President of the Black Country Society

Graham is Keeper of Geology and the Black Country UNESCO Global Geopark coordinator at Dudley Museum & Art Gallery. He writes below of all that he has been involved in over 2023'.

Looking back on 2023 and forward to 2024


Well, that year really seemed to race through didn’t it?...and what a year its been. Here are a few of my personal memories and highlights of another amazing year in the museum and Geopark…..


International reputation, Quality Assurance and going forward on the international stage…..


One of the new experiences this year for us was hosting the Black Country UNESCO Global Geopark’s first ever revalidation mission. Every 4 years there is a formal visit by UNESCO evaluators to ensure that the Geopark is functioning as it should be and where they off to share experience and advise on how we can grow and mature as a geopark.  I’m very happy to say that we were successfully re-validated and got our ‘green card’ and some very useful advice from our international colleagues.


This evaluation mission visit was amazing. A really engaging collaborative event between all the partners, many teams and individuals and legions of our wonderful volunteers from the local community. It was both a demanding inquisition in part and a really joyful celebration of how wonderful the Black Country and its people are.


I’d therefore particularly like to give a special thanks and shout out to all of you that were involved in this revalidation mission. It made the visit by inspectors (Helga from a geopark in Uruguay and Gloria from a Geopark in Spain) such a lovely expression of what this exceptional landscape and showcased its passionate communities, and presented a great array of the amazing positive things that we are doing together to make this whole region and even better place to live, work and play. 


We shared some lovely moments on many geosites and I have some very special memories from that visit that I’ll treasure.  I hope that the photos (that myself and colleagues have provided in the attached document - give a sense of the spirit of the revalidation mission the many smiling faces in so many different locations give it away I think!).


One of my favourite moments was a spontaneous narrow boat trip through the locks at Galton Valley Geosite with a family who just happened to be passing through and invited Helga and Gloria onboard. Serendipity really stepped in on that one!


The volunteers and staff at all the Geosites really shone as proud committed individuals who work so well together to make these places accessible and welcoming.....and as we know from the challenges of recent years, such work is invaluable to ensure that these places of peace, connection to our shared heritage and inspiration remain as a resource of immense value to peoples wellbeing. All those involved should feel very proud of the amazing work that you do..


Other international gatherings worth a mention


We also hosted a number of other international and national visits last year. A couple of the larger gatherings included those in September when we supported Wolverhampton University and the National Brownfield Institute with site visits to Geosites across the Black Country for a training programme for post-doctorate environmental scientists in their early professional careers. Then in October we hosted field visits to Geosites by the delegates of the international ProGEO geoconservation conference. These were both really great events and give us lots if ideas for future visits.


The beauty of our changing planet and the continued Greening of the Black Country


One of the big issues that is growing in media and political attention is the natural world and our human relationship with it. 2023 presented quite a dynamic expression of the natural world didn’t it? We’ve seen powerful storms and dramatic floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions - our geopark colleagues were caught in the earthquake in Morocco in September - (I’m hugely relieved to say that all our geopark colleagues made it home from that event and our hearts go out to the people of Morocco in light of the human suffering that resulted there).


And now Iceland is putting on its own special version of Christmas lights. All dramatic reminders of what an amazing and dynamic planet we live on and how important it is for us humans to continue to get smarter and wiser about what this planet is, and what it does. We do this through ongoing learning about its environments from local to global scales. I’m so proud that we are engaged in many projects in this area of work and play our own small part in that through the contributions of the museum and the Geopark.


An important aspect of that work is ‘Nature Recovery’ in the UK context. In recent years we were part of national flagship projects such as the Purple Horizons project and continue to develop those and contribute to national meetings and thinking in these areas, but we’re also involved in active research right now. The projects that we are doing at the moments are generating case studies that examine the interrelationships between the geology, soils, climate and how this shapes the biodiversity and importantly, the site management processes that will get the best from sites in different settings. This is exciting cutting-edge stuff, its about the importance of joined-up holistic nature conservation and human practices. It links  many disciplines together and will help us to be more effective in that ongoing process of greening the Black Country and understanding the wider world out there…


People power, trees and new horizons….


Wonderful, talented and enthusiastic people made all sorts of things happen here again this year. As ever I marvel at the way in which people faithfully turn up to face challenges day after day, even when they are not feeling strong, because of a belief in, and commitment to what they do. I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to experience such a range of work and to meet so many committed individuals in my work. It’s humbling.


I was delighted that a number of organisations engaged in heritage work were recognised formally this year. The Dudley Canal and Tunnel Trust won awards for their work and individuals were also recognised for their contributions and Mike, Lynn and Bob of the Friends of Rowley Hills received awards for their extensive voluntary work that they do on the Rowley Hills Geosite. Very well done to all who were recognised for what they do this year. These are richly deserved accolades. 


This year we have also worked with many new organisations and individuals across the arts and the sciences. The Hart of the Forest arts project gave fresh perceptions on trees and forests new and old in its creativity and performances, and at the close of the year we entertained the science team behind the BIFoR FACE research experiment (a long-term study attempting to assess and predict the impact of climate change on forests). The list is quite extensive and growing as the reputation of the Geopark also grows. We’ve engaged with film makers and now sit on the National Nature Reserves Steering Group, we’ve worked with UNESCO teams across the UK and experts in audience development, new technologies and fund raising through the Local to Global project and carried out projects with many community groups and friends groups. It has been a joy to learn from so many people with such rich and varied experiences.


Occasionally people are presented with the opportunity of new challenges by those who recognise their worth. This year we are very sorry to report that our education lead for Dudley, Kate Figgit has decided to go back into mainstream education once again after being with us after more than 20 years of service. Those of you who know Kate will appreciate the energy and dynamism that she brings to all that she does (she is the lady with the biggest smile on the first of the attached pictures). We are delighted for her but she will be greatly missed by our team. Thank you, Katie, for all that you’ve done over those last 20 years and all of the challenges and museum and Geopark adventures that you’ve shared with myself and the team along the way.


Looking more generally ahead


Next year is already shaping up with new international projects including visits in a schools exchange with students from China, a number of international meetings that we’ll contribute to, (writing for a number of publications as well as publishing about the Black Country UNESCO Global Geopark in an international book on geohazards (our story about man-made challenges like mining induced instability and contaminated land and how we’ve changed those into nature reserves and visitor attractions in our Geosites etc). we’re also contributing to a special edition of the journal Geoconservation Research focussing on ‘Geoconservation and Museums,’) we will be continuing our Geoconservation work on a number of sites and seeing through a number of projects from this year to their conclusion as well as creating a number of new heritage trails and hosting a few events and exhibitions too……phew!. So, plenty of good stuff to start the new year off with 😊


What a year it’s been and what a year 2024 promises to be .


On behalf of the museum and the Geopark teams I wish you all a safe, peaceful and very happy Christmas and a healthy and exciting new year.

For more pictures of the events of the year, see here.

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