Three decades of geoconservation in retrospection

Díaz-Martínez, Enrique1,2,3, Brocx, Margaret3,4,5

1 Geological Survey of Spain (IGME), Madrid, Spain, 2 Geological Society of Spain (SGE), 3 European Association for the Conservation of Geological Heritage (ProGEO), 4 Murdoch University, Perth, Australia, 5 Geological Society of Australia (GSA)

During the last 30 years, geoconservation has seen an accelerated evolution and advancements, but there are also a few steps backwards. We herein provide a summary from the perspective of three points of view: Spain, The United Kingdom, and globally. Both the United Kingdom and Spain had an active geological survey by the mid-19th century and began work on geoconservation in the 1970s, but an acceleration of achievements began in the 1990s with The European Association for the Conservation of Geological Heritage (ProGEO) as a catalyser for inventories, legislation, conferences, publications, and later on (2009) a peer reviewed journal (Geoheritage). ProGEO promoted the Global Geosites Programme (GGP) with support from IUGS and UNESCO, starting a list of geological sites of international relevance.  After the establishment of World Heritage criterion viii for geological heritage (1972), the first international conference on geoheritage was held in Digne, France (with the Declaration of the Memory of the Earth in 1991), followed by the Global Geoparks Programme (2004), the definition of the scope and scale of geoheritage including indigenous heritage (2007), and the first inclusion of geoheritage within IUCN resolutions (2008, 2012 and 2016).  This was followed by the establishment of a Geoheritage Specialist Group within IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas, the inclusion for the first time of geoconservation in a World Parks Congress (2014), and of a specific chapter on geoconservation in the 2015revised edition of IUCN’s book on Protected Area Governance and Management

Currently, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Portugal are the only countries in the world having fulfilled the GGP, and after China, Spain has the second highest number of UNESCO Global Geoparks (15 in 2020). The withdrawal of official support for the GGP by IUGS and UNESCO in 2003, left the programme orphaned. In its quest for an international standard that would force the Spanish government to inventory and protect its geoheritage, the Geological Society of Spain (SGE) became a member of IUCN in 2008, and that same year managed to pass resolution WCC-2008-RES-040 obliging to include geoconservation in the IUCN agenda and for all its members. ProGEO joined IUCN in 2011 and, for the first time in the history of IUCN, the 5th WCC (2012) saw many geoconservation-related activities, including resolution WCC-2012-RES-048 recommending the use of inclusive terms to refer to nature, natural heritage and natural diversity (it’s not all biodiversity!), as well as IUCN’s support to the GGP.

This presentation will further explore nodal points in the history of geoconservation on the global platform, lessons learnt, and Spain as a case study of a country that has worked towards establishing a national inventory of sites of geoheritage significance for the purpose of geoconservation.


PhD Geology from University of Idaho (USA, 1994) and MSc Management of Protected Areas from University of Madrid (Spain, 2006). Researcher with Spanish National Research Council (1998 to 2003) and with Geological Survey of Spain (IGME) since 2004, working on geoconservation projects including inventories, legislation, management and public outreach.

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