IN 2000, four groups from France, Germany, Greece and Spain came together to form the European Geoparks Network (EGN). Their aim was to promote their geological heritage not only to their own communities but also to visitors, this was achieved through the status and accreditation of a European Geopark. A European Geopark is an area with a geological heritage of European significance that has a coherent and strong management structure and where a sustainable economic strategy is in place.
The aim of a Geopark is to use the area's geological heritage, as well as aspects of natural and cultural heritage to bring sustainable and real economic benefit to the indigenous population, usually through the development of sustainable tourism. There are currently 25 European Geoparks across Europe all linked in a strong network that facilitates cooperation and exchanges (of expertise, experience, staff etc) between its members. The EGN has the full endorsement of UNESCO and in February 2004 the members of the EGN together with 8 Geoparks in the People’s Republic of China amalgamated to form the UNESCO Network of Global Geoparks.
The Fforest Fawr Geopark became the 24th member of the European Geopark Network at the annual meeting of the EGN on the Greek Island of Lesvos in early October 2005 and was as a result of the concerted efforts of three very dedicated partners namely, the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, Cardiff University and the British Geological Survey. Representatives from each of these organisations worked tirelessly to put together the successful application and received invaluable contributions to the submission from the local communities within the Geopark area.
The name Fforest Fawr was chosen for the Geopark as it truly represented the western area of the Brecon Beacon National Park and is derived from "The Great Forest of Brecknock (Fforest Fawr)", a hunting preserve which once covered much of the designated area and was originally created by Bernard de Neufmarché - the first Norman Lord of Brecon in 1093. The name Fforest Fawr did not truly reflect the medieval landscape as it was dominated by open moorland with few trees and this remains true to the present day.
The Fforest Fawr Geopark covers an area of some 763 kms² and contains some of the most outstanding mountain scenery in southern Britain bringing together the relationship between geology, landscape, altitude, soil types and flora and contributing to a rich natural heritage acknowledged in the designation of 2 National Nature Reserves, 31 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 166 Sites of Interest for Nature Conservation.
The Fforest Fawr lies wholly within Wales and spans the transition from rural mid-Wales to the industrial valleys of South Wales. The geomorphology is varied with eight peaks within the Brecon Beacons and Fforest Fawr escarpment reaching over 2000 feet (610m) in height, including Pen-y-Fan (2906ft), Fan Fawr (2409ft), and Fan Hir (2336ft) whilst at the lowest point the altitude is 400feet above sea level. In the west if the Geopark, the Ordovician and Silurian rocks form deeply incised, wooded valleys that trend NE-SW, with streams that flow into the Twyi Valley. Eastwards, the looming mass of the Black Mountain (Y Mynydd Du) forms a ridge that divides these ancient rocks from the Devonian Old Red Sandstones which underlie much of the Geopark and form the spectacular Fforest Fawr/Brecon Beacons Escarpment.
In the southern area of the Geopark are exposed rocks of the Carboniferous age including Limestone, Millstone Grit and Coal measures. The Limestone hosts some of the largest cave systems and underground passages known in Europe. Across the area, the evidence of the last (Devensian) ice age is clearly visible, from the morainic deposits within the Usk Valley to the beautiful glacial lakes at Llyn y Fan Fach and Llyn y Fan Fawr.
The rocks and sediments of the Fforest Fawr Geopark contain a record of approximately 480 million years of earth history from the early Ordovician to the Quarternary deposits of the present day. The area has been the subject of significant research and mapping since the mid nineteenth century when Adam Sedgewick and Roderick Murchieson studied the Old Red Sandstone and underlying rocks.
As a consequence of the varied geology, the Fforest Fawr Geopark offers an opportunity to examine many important geological concepts including: