7. The Cotswold Hills Geopark
The beauty of the Cotswolds is more than just skin deep. It’s the geology beneath the rolling hills and pretty villages that makes this much-loved corner of England the unique place it is today.
And put quite simply in the words of Mark Campbell, chairman of the Gloucestershire Geology Trust: "The reason we have the Cotswolds Hills is 100% down to the geology."
In fact, the geology of the Cotswolds is so special that a swathe of land 60 miles long has been designated as the 'Cotswold Hills Geopark'.
A geopark is an area of diverse and significant geology which contains accessible sites and actively promotes them to the community and to tourists.
The Cotswold Hills Geopark, which was launched around 2004, brings new impetus to a cause that is supported by local authorities, voluntary organisations and industries ranging from tourism to quarrying.
A spokesperson for the Gloucestershire Geology Trust, said: "There are few places in the UK where geology plays such a significant role in the character of the built environment.
The geology of the Cotswolds is some of the most diverse in Britain and tells a fascinating story of the changing landscape of Gloucestershire over 200 million years. Its influence can be seen in the biodiversity, agriculture and even the beers of the Cotswolds, which are brewed with local water.
Formed during the Jurassic period some 170 million years ago, the distinctive honey-coloured limestone is the trademark of the Cotswolds.
The boundaries of the Cotswold Hills Geopark stretch between Stroud in the south, and up towards Cirencester, Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Campden.
They were selected by the Geopark Partnership as representing the best of the geology of the area, and being an area of managable proportions.
The most important aim for the Cotswold Hills Geopark is to win recognition for the area as one of outstanding geodiversity which has strongly influenced the history and heritage of the area.
This can be seen in the rolling hills perfect for rearing the famous 'Cotswold Lion' sheep, which led to prosperity for the local wool towns in the Middle Ages. It is also evident in the typical honey-coloured buildings and dry-stone walls of the Cotswolds, built using local stone.
The area is also important to science and Jurassic stratigraphy. British weather today is generally moderate, but the layers of rocks that lie beneath the Cotswold Hills Geopark tell of a dramatically changing climate.
Some 170 million years ago, huge reptiles and shellfish thrived in a warm, shallow sea that covered the land. It is from the shellfish remains that the limestone that we now think of as typical of the Cotswolds was created.
When the seas receded and land emerged, dinosaurs roamed the earth. The abundance of fossils found across the geopark include footprints and vertebrae belonging to Megalosaurus – a meat-eating dinosaur up to three metres tall and weighing one tonne.
When the seasonal snow caps of the last Ice Age melted 12,000 years ago, they cut the valleys we see today.
Clues to our heritage can be found across the geopark – in the wildlife, the landscape features and the exposed rock outcrops. The Gloucestershire Geology Trust aims to ensure that these geological sites are properly preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The Geopark also provides an opportunity to become involved in wider initiatives that will attract more tourists to the Cotswolds.
Many schools in Gloucestershire are now recognising the huge educational resource that is on their doorstep. Children are enthused by hands-on learning about geology, while teachers can deliver elements of the curriculum for science, geography, citizenship and education for sustainable development.
The Gloucestershire Geology Trust runs a programme of Rock and Fossil Roadshows, either for the general public or at local schools. The activities, such as making a fossil cast and identifying rocks in our everyday lives, are practical and educational.
Teachers also have access to the Trust's new educational pack, with lessons on geological time and dinosaurs, focusing on the many footprints that have been found within the geopark.
The Trust also runs field trips to show pupils geology in-situ and how the rocks and minerals have influenced industrial activities and, in turn, shaped the landscape.
But it's not just children who can learn more about Gloucestershire geology. The Trust also runs conservation days for adults where volunteers can help to preserve our geological heritage and make the sites more easily accessible. Lectures and workshops are also arranged periodically.
Members of the Gloucestershire Geology Trust receive a twice-yearly magazine and invitations to events and field trips. New 'Gloucestershire Uncovered' trail guides are also available in the Cotswold Hills Geopark.