The Government has revealed the seven places it is backing to win UNESCO World Heritage Status

A view of the boathouse at Birkenhead Park from across the lake
  • York city centre, Birkenhead Park and an iron age settlement in Shetland could join prestigious list
  • The sites are added to the Government’s ‘Tentative List’ with the aim of joining global landmarks such as the Taj Mahal and the Galápagos Islands

Cultural and natural heritage sites including York’s historic city centre are a step closer to becoming UNESCO World Heritage Sites after gaining Government backing for their bids.

Five new sites from across the UK and Overseas Territories have been added to the Tentative List meaning they are now part of a seven site list to be put forward by the Government for inscription on the illustrious list.

The Tentative List is published around every ten years by the UK Government. It sets out the sites it feels have the best chance of succeeding and will now work with local authorities and devolved administrations to develop their bids.

Cultural sites on the list include York which has fantastic civic and religious buildings including its Minster as well as a rich history left behind by its Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman inhabitants.

Birkenhead Park, which opened in 1847, was a pioneering project to bring greenery to urban environments and provided a blueprint for municipal planning that has influenced town and city parks across the world, including New York’s Central Park.

UNESCO also awards World Heritage Site status to the most extraordinary natural places on the planet.

The East Atlantic Flyway, a migratory bird route over western parts of Europe including Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent, joins the UK’s list in recognition of its vital importance to bird populations and wildlife. The area sees huge transient bird populations pass through every year as the seasons change.

The Little Cayman Marine Parks and Protected Areas, situated in the UK Overseas Territory of the Cayman Islands, have been put forward for their exceptional importance to marine biodiversity and their incredible natural beauty.

Also on the list today is the Zenith of Iron Age Shetland, a collection of three ancient settlements dating back thousands of years.

Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

Today we are confirming our support for some of the most enchanting heritage sites and breathtaking landscapes in the UK and its Overseas Territories as they bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

All the locations being put forward would be worthy recipients of this accolade – and we will give them our full backing so they can benefit from the international recognition it can bring.

Laura Davies, HM Ambassador to UNESCO, said:

It is great that the UK is contributing to making World Heritage more representative.

These five sites brilliantly reflect the diversity and beauty of the UK and its Overseas Territories’ natural and cultural heritage, and I look forward to working with them towards World Heritage listing.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Site system offers a fantastic opportunity for cultural and natural heritage sites to gain international recognition and promote themselves on a global stage.

If successful, the seven sites would join the 33 other World Heritage Sites already based in the UK including Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall.

Two sites which submitted their full nominations to UNESCO earlier this year also remain on the Government’s Tentative List. One is The Flow Country, a large area of peatland across Caithness and Sutherland in the north of Scotland which plays a crucial role in supporting biodiversity.

The Gracehill Moravian Church Settlement in Northern Ireland is part of a joint bid alongside other Moravian religious sites in Denmark, the United States and Germany. The bid aims to recognise the church’s work in setting up an international religious community.

Notes to editors

David Armstrong, Assistant Chief Executive of Birkenhead Park, said:

Already Wirral residents hugely value Birkenhead Park and this is shown by the fact that it is visited by nearly two million people every year.

For several years, it has been an ambition of Wirral Council and partners – including the Friends of Birkenhead Park – to seek UNESCO’s recognition of the Park and its immediate surroundings as a World Heritage Site. To be included on the UK Tentative List for potential nomination to UNESCO for World Heritage Status is fantastic news and shows we are one step closer to achieving that ambition.

A successful application for WHS status would also bolster the wider regeneration of Birkenhead and if ultimately accepted as a World Heritage Site this flagship Park would  have its place in history cemented even further, as well adding further to its international recognition.

Dr Val Turner, The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland, Shetland Regional Archaeologist, said:

We are thrilled and excited to remain on the new Tentative List and hope to progress to nomination within the next ten years. We have already experienced the benefits of being on the previous Tentative List, which has attracted first-class research to Shetland. We are currently working to conserve Old Scatness – a key milestone along the road.

Keith Aspden, Leader of City of York Council, said:

We are thrilled with this acknowledgement of York’s world-class heritage and its universal historic and archaeological importance. The various communities in York have worked hard together to achieve this place on the new UK Tentative List of World Heritage Sites and they deserve the recognition this status brings.

York is an outstanding example of continuous urban development over 2,000 years since its foundation as a Roman legionary fortress with evidence of every succeeding period on its urban development. The collection of medieval stained glass in York Minster and the historic parish churches in the city centre is unrivalled. York embraces and values this heritage and will manage it sensitively so that the city continues as a vibrant, innovative, living city.

Peter Hillenbrand, co-founder and board member of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, Secretary of the Little Cayman District of the National Trust, said:

I am over the moon with excitement that Little Cayman’s Marine Protected Areas are officially on the UK’s Tentative List.  This will undoubtedly lead to even greater awareness and protection for this amazing little island.

Little Cayman, Cayman Islands, is a unique geological and ecological phenomenon already recognised as a Mission Blue Hope spot, and this new acceptance will help bolster the legendary status of our marine environment.

Our little island has been recognized locally with a National Conservation Law that protects 74.9% of our shoreline, out to 45.5m (150’) deep.  Our sensitive wetlands, lagoons, mangrove forests and reefs are a source of pride and inspiration for all our island community, and our feelings and actions are largely dedicated to its preservation.

The Cayman Islands Government and our island citizens are proud and protective of this uncommon environment, and making this next step to having it recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site is absolutely thrilling for all parties involved.

UK Tentative List:

  • Birkenhead the People’s Park [Cultural]
  • East Atlantic Flyway – England East Coast Wetlands [Natural]
  • The Flow Country [Natural]
  • Gracehill Moravian Church Settlements [Cultural, Transnational]
  • Little Cayman Marine Parks and Protected Areas [Natural]
  • York [Cultural]
  • The Zenith of Iron Age Shetland [Cultural]

Full list of current UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the UK (year of listing in brackets):

Cultural Sites

  • Blaenavon Industrial Landscape (2000)
  • Blenheim Palace (1987)
  • Canterbury Cathedral, St Augustine’s Abbey, and St Martin’s Church (1988)
  • Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd (1986)
  • City of Bath (1987)
  • Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape (2006)
  • Derwent Valley Mills (2001)
  • Durham Castle and Cathedral (1986)
  • Frontiers of the Roman Empire (1987, 2005, 2008)
  • Gorham’s Cave Complex (2016)
  • Heart of Neolithic Orkney (1999)
  • Historic Town of St George and Related Fortifications, Bermuda (2000)
  • Ironbridge Gorge (1986)
  • Jodrell Bank Observatory (2019)
  • Maritime Greenwich (1997)
  • New Lanark (2001)
  • Old and New Towns of Edinburgh (1995)
  • Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey (1987)
  • Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal (2009)
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (2003)
  • Saltaire (2001)
  • Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated Sites (1986)
  • Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey (1986)
  • The English Lake District (2017)
  • The Forth Bridge (2015)
  • The Great Spa Towns of Europe (2021)
  • The Slate Landscape of Northwest Wales (2021)
  • Tower of London (1988)

Natural Sites

  • Dorset and East Devon Coast (2001)
  • Giant’s Causeway and Causeway Coast (1986)
  • Gough and Inaccessible Islands (1995, 2004)
  • Henderson Island (1988)

Mixed Cultural / Natural

  • St Kilda (1986, 2004, 2005)
Published 10 April 2023