Managing The Site
What is a World Heritage Site?
In simple terms World Heritage Sites (WHS) are the most important natural and man-made places on Earth. They are identified so that they can be better looked after for current and future generations. They are recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) through the World Heritage Convention, a global treaty agreed by 186 of the 192 countries in the United Nations.
Contrary to popular belief, World Heritage status is not just given to places by UNESCO. Governments have to submit applications to UNESCO for places to be included on the 'World Heritage List', a process that normally involves a lot of hard work and a lengthy period of talking to the public, a process that started in Dorset and East Devon in 1993. Find out more details about World Heritage.
Why is the Jurassic Coast a World Heritage Site?
The Dorset and East Devon Coast, more commonly known as the Jurassic Coast, was made a World Heritage Site in December 2001 for its geology and geomorphology – its rocks, fossils and landforms. The 95 mile stretch of cliffs is the only place in the world where you can see a continuous story of over 185 million years of the Earth's history, including the entire Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous geological periods. The story of the World Heritage Site is explained more here.
Where is the Jurassic Coast?
The World Heritage Site starts (or finishes) at Orcombe Point in East Devon and finishes (or starts) at Studland cliffs in Dorset. Between these two points, the boundaries are broadly defined as the average low tide mark to the top of the cliffs, or back of the beach where there are no cliffs. This does not include the built up sea-fronts at Exmouth, Sidmouth, Seaton, Lyme Regis, West Bay, Weymouth, Portland Port and Swanage. So, it is a set of long thin strips of undeveloped coastline, broken up by the Gateway Towns. The Term Jurassic Coast is often used to refer to the whole area between Exmouth and Studland. For more details see the map on the home page.
Who owns and looks after the World Heritage Site?
The land within the boundaries of the World Heritage Site is looked after by its many different owners. The majority of land is held by a combination of the National Trust, large private estates, the Ministry of Defence, the Crown Estate, and national and local authorities, but there are many small landowners along the way too. Over 90% of the land within the Site is protected by national and European nature conservation laws, and this is overseen primarily by Natural England and the Dorset and East Devon AONB teams.
But looking after the Site is not just about the land itself. World Heritage Status requires the managing body to look at issues such as access and enjoyment, education and information, conservation and protection, safety, and even economic development. These aspects of looking after the Site, including this website and all 'official work', is overseen by a partnership of many different organisations working together, including the landowners. More details, and an explanation about the Jurassic Coast Partnership and who 'we' are, can be found here.
How is it looked after?
Managing the Jurassic Coast is not straightforward. In addition to complex land ownership and boundary issues, the Site is a very popular destination for tourists and local residents alike, and the ten towns that provide the gateways to the Site all receive large numbers of visitors throughout the year. Moreover, management is not just about conservation or protection - the World Heritage Convention talks of making World Heritage a 'function in the life of the community', and of promoting awareness and understanding of the heritage of each Site.
The Partnership mentioned above is responsible for Site management, primarily through the preparation of a Management Plan, and the coordination of the Aims and actions set out in this Plan. The Plan is effectively the contract between the UK Government and UNESCO as to how the Site will be looked after, and sets out proposals for conservation, access, education, research and community engagement. Details of the Plan can be found here.
The Site is protected through UK planning law, and our involvement with the planning authorities is an important part of how the Site is managed. Look here for more details about how we respond to planning applications.
How do you find out more about Site Management?
There are many ways to find out more. Apart from having a look at the Management Plan or talking to us, you can have a look at a number of reports, other parts of this website, or join our growing body of Friends of the Jurassic Coast for free.
The future of the World Heritage Site is an exciting long-term commitment for the whole area, involving thousands of people helping to conserve and celebrate the coast. Our aim is to pass the Site on to future generations to experience, learn from and enjoy in the same way we are able to do today. In order to help us do this, we will continue to welcome your thoughts, comments and support, so please don't hesitate to get in touch.
"The World Heritage Site is an extremely prestigious but well earned distinction for the Jurassic Coast. It is indeed of worldwide importance and a place of great fascination to anyone interested in the history of life on this planet. Let us hope that on this, the tenth anniversary of its granting, we do our best not only to maintain but improve the ways by which we enable visitors to understand its significance"
Sir David Attenborough OM CH FRS