Writing this on the Crewkene Express on the way home from a day in London it strikes me that World Heritage is simultaneously a very local and very global issue, but that perhaps some globally significant opportunities are missed.
The meeting I was in ‘town’ for was a very rare gathering of all of the UK’s World Heritage Site Coordinators; those individuals who’s job, like mine, includes being the focal point for the UK Government, for each of the 28 sites that the UK has on the World Heritage List. If you are surprised at that number, have a look here www.unesco.org and be amazed at the diversity of our globally important heritage!
The meeting was primarily for us mortal Coordinators to learn how to complete a long-anticipated (and dreaded) online 170-question quiz about the issues facing our World Heritage Sites. This is the main part of a process called Periodic Reporting, where, every 6 years (ish) UNESCO ask all of the Sites in a region in the world to let them know whether the Sites are doing alright… or in UNESCO speak, being “transmitted to future generations in as good or better condition than at inscription”.
The form, which we were tempted to deride as bureaucracy gone mad, was in fact relatively clear and straightforward. Of course, it is way too long, and like all public sector IT systems, tended to casually log you out every 5 minutes. It is not the form that concerns me, yet, but this… deep breath… all the results of the reports, the responses to 28 x 170 questions (4,760 question responses), will together with the 170 questions from the each of the remaining 472 World Heritage Sites in Europe and North America (a further 80,240 question responses) will be distilled, next year, into a report of a size that is appropriate to be discussed for just 45 minutes, in the summer of 2014.
Some might say “so what?”, if that is long enough to consider the condition of more than half of the Earth’s World Heritage Sites, then lets not waste any more of anyone’s time. But here’s the thing…
… the mass of data for these reports will come from the detailed work done on the ground by Site managers, with partners, communities and experts, on the buildings, archaeological remains and natural environments that make up the Sites. This is done on a wholly local level, and from that local work are innumerable examples of good practice, innovative ideas, and often done at minimal cost and with the help of volunteers. OK, UNESCO, I get why you have to do the periodic reporting, but while you are doing it, why not capture that experience and those ideas and pass them around the world. I would love to know how a fossil Site is managed in Australia or Argentina, and I would like to think that other Sites might like to know about how we do things over here. It is very difficult for us as individual Sites to reach out to other countries, but global is what UNESCO do, and nobody is better placed to do it.
At the level of Dorset and East Devon, or Ironbridge Gorge, or Edinburgh, we act locally in a context of a Global designation. Perhaps we can help UNESCO to act globally, based on local input.
Sam Rose, Team leader