The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. This is embodied in an international treaty called the Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, adopted by UNESCO in 1972. The inscription of properties onto the World Heritage List is not the end, but the beginning of the global community taking responsibility for effective protection and management of these exceptional places. At its heart World Heritage is about identifying, protecting, conserving, presenting and transmitting the planet’s outstanding heritage to future generations.
Sites which are inscribed onto the World Heritage List are deemed to possess Outstanding Universal Value, defined as “… cultural and/or natural significance which is so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity”. (Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention, July 2012)
UNESCO’s World Heritage mission is to:
- encourage countries to sign the World Heritage Convention and to ensure the protection of their natural and cultural heritage;
- encourage States Parties to the Convention to nominate sites within their national territory for inclusion on the World Heritage List;
- encourage States Parties to establish management plans and set up reporting systems on the state of conservation of their World Heritage sites;
- help States Parties safeguard World Heritage properties by providing technical assistance and professional training;
- provide emergency assistance for World Heritage sites in immediate danger;
- support States Parties’ public awareness-building activities for World Heritage conservation;
- encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage;
- encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.
The World Heritage List now includes more than 1,000 properties that the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal natural and cultural heritage value.
The Blue Mountains nomination was prepared jointly by the Australian government and the State government of New South Wales following years of public concern for recognition of the area and dedication to its conservation. Many experts, stakeholder groups and local governments contributed to the project.
The World Heritage Committee was unanimous in endorsing the nomination and the Greater Blue Mountains was announced as Australia’s 14th World Heritage Area on 29 November 2000. The Greater Blue Mountains Area was recognised for its outstanding natural values including the biodiversity of its plant and animal communities, its vegetation dominated by Australia’s unique eucalypts and for the unmatched beauty of its natural landscapes.
Other Australian sites listed on the World Heritage List can be viewed here
The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area (GBMWHA)
The GBMWHA is the catchment and lungs of the Sydney basin, providing a wide range of essential ecosystem services. It is internationally recognised for its biodiversity and cultural significance and is particularly noted for its wide and balanced representation of eucalypt habitats. Eight national parks (Blue Mountains, Wollemi, Kanangra-Boyd, Nattai, Yengo, Gardens of Stone, Thirlmere Lakes and Jenolan Caves Karst Reserve) were integrated into the GBMWHA, which was added to the World Heritage List in 2000 to form the largest integrated system of protected areas in New South Wales.
Recognition by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) places the Greater Blue Mountains area amongst approximately 900 properties in the world considered to have outstanding universal value.
The GBMWHA consists of sandstone plateaux, escarpments and gorges dominated by temperate eucalypt forest. The wide range of habitats includes wet and dry sclerophyll forest, mallee heathlands, localised swamps, wetlands and grassland. The site is noted for its representation of the evolutionary adaptation and diversification of the eucalypts in post-Gondwana isolation on the Australian continent. Approximately 100 eucalypt taxa (thirteen percent of the global total) occur within the GBMWHA.
The site represents a significant amount of Australia’s biodiversity with ten percent of the vascular flora as well as significant numbers of rare or threatened species, including endemic and evolutionary relict species, such as the Wollemi pine. Covering such a large area, the GBMWHA provides outstanding opportunities for conservation
Approximately 100 species of eucalypts occur in the Greater Blue Mountains Area, from wet and dry sclerophyll, mallee heathlands, localised swamps, wetlands and grassland. Water collected in the Blue Mountains and Warragamba catchments supports nearly four million people and a complex ecosystem of plant and animal life.
The GBMWHA lies 60 km inland of Sydney, Australia’s largest city (population 4.2 million), and rises from the Cumberland Plain in the east to encompass some of the central portions of the Great Dividing Range. The area abuts urban development to the east and agri-industry to the west. The northern section of the area is geographically split from the south by a corridor of townships (population 80,000) and local government and privately owned land along the Great Western Highway. The corridor is one kilometre wide at its narrowest point, and the Local Government Area (LGA) is 1,433 square kilometers with 70% of this being part of the World Heritage Area. The GBMWHA has a complex border, in part defined by the distribution of privately owned areas of adjacent land, and is the primary catchment for Sydney’s water supply with Lake Burragorang the main holding facility. The region is also an important tourist destination for residents and visitors, supported by increasing levels of urban development and road networks.
The rare situation of urban, industrial and agricultural development, within and surrounding the World Heritage area, highlights the tension between development and conservation imperatives. Like many protected areas, the GBMWHA faces threats to its immediate and long-term integrity. These include fire, climate change, urban development, human disturbance (including tourism) and pest species (plant and animal).
The World Heritage listing of the one-million-hectare Greater Blue Mountains Area:
- grants international recognition of Australia’s eucalypt forests and other sclerophyll (hard leaved) vegetation;
- includes the largest protected, most intact, sclerophyll forest wilderness remaining within a broad range of temperate climates; and
- provides an exceptional living example of evolution of the modern Australian flora, to its present distinctive character in the classic Australian circumstances of low fertility soils, a drying climate and geographic isolation which is one of the great stories of the evolution of the earth’s plant cover.
The listed property is made up of seven outstanding National Parks: the Blue Mountains, Wollemi, Yengo, Nattai, Kanangra-Boyd, Gardens of Stone and Thirlmere Lakes as well as the Jenolan Caves Karst Conservation Reserve.
More than 400 animal species inhabit the rugged gorges and tablelands of the Greater Blue Mountains Area. These include threatened or rare species of conservation significance, such as the spotted-tailed quoll, the koala, the yellow-bellied glider and the long-nosed potoroo as well as rare reptiles including the green and golden bell frog and the Blue Mountains water skink.
The need for an organisation to focus on integrated research of the natural and cultural resources of this special area resulted in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute (BMWHI) being formed in 2004.
Further information on World Heritage:
- Blue Mountains City Council
- Dept. Environment & Water Resources
- NSW Heritage Office
- NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service
- Australian Heritage Homepage