UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has thrown his support behind a bid for a series of slate quarries in northwest Wales to receive UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
The landscape around Gwynedd, famous for supplying slate roofing materials around the world throughout the 19th Century, has been formally submitted as a nominee after a panel of experts first mooted the idea in 2018.
To be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria.
“This distinctive corner of our country is already on the map, having sent its slate across Britain, Europe and even Australia, and a UNESCO accolade would only propel it further,” Johnson told the BBC.
If accepted, the landscape will become the UK’s 33rd UNESCO World Heritage site, and the fourth in Wales, seeing it join some of the world’s most prolific landscapes including the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China and Machu Picchu.
In the 19th century, the quarries were major providers of roofing materials and slate products throughout the world.
Slate has been renowned for its high strength-to-weight ratio since Roman times, with the fort at Segontium, Caernarfon, roofed in the metamorphic rock from 77AD, the BBC reported.
The material was exported during the Middle Ages and the industry took off at the height of the Industrial Revolution. The associated technologies of quarrying and transport infrastructure were also adopted around the world.
At its peak, the Welsh quarrying industry was extracting about 500,000 tonnes of slate per annum. Slate accounted for half of north Wales’ income and rivalled the scale of coal mining in the south
A drop in global prices eventually drove down quarrymen’s wages, leading to a series of strikes and lock-outs. Today, production is a tenth of its peak, as cheap, cement-based products have dominated the construction market.
The slate landscape will now be appraised by the International Council on Monuments and Sites over the next year before being considered for inscription at the World Heritage Committee meeting in 2021.