Jodrell Bank selected as next UK nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site status

Jodrell Bank Observatory, home to the iconic Lovell Telescope, has been selected as the next UK candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The observatory has made the top of the short-list, otherwise known as the tentative list, for its transformative role in the field of Astrophysics. UNESCO received the formal submission papers in January 2018.

The Jodrell Bank Observatory is the earliest radio astronomy observatory in the world that is still in existence. It is now the one remaining site, worldwide, that includes evidence of every stage of the post-1945 emergence of radio astronomy. Its importance in this field was recognised by the Government’s statutory advisor on the historic environment, Historic England, which listed six structures at the site in August 2017.

Professor Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, where the Jodrell Bank Centre is based, said:

“The University is very proud that our Jodrell Bank Observatory is going forward to UNESCO for inscription as a World Heritage Site. As an institution that is known for its internationally leading research, it is very fitting that our rich heritage in science has received such acclaim.'”

Michael Ellis, Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism, said:

“Jodrell Bank played a central role in transforming our understanding of the Universe and is, therefore, a site of global importance. The nomination process for UNESCO is rightly thorough, but I believe Jodrell Bank deserves to be recognised. The diverse heritage of the UK is world renowned and the observatory would be a worthy addition to our list of World Heritage Sites.”

UKNC Culture Director Helen Maclagan, who chaired the DCMS Expert Panel which evaluated the proposed nomination, said:

‘”Jodrell Bank is a fascinating site which would make a worthy addition to the World Heritage List, demonstrating a different aspect of the UK’s contribution to World Heritage.”

The process to become a World Heritage Site began in 2010 when Jodrell Bank Observatory’s proposal first went in for consideration for the UK shortlist. The process has since uncovered layers of history in the various roles that Jodrell Bank has played, predominantly in the emergence and continued development of the field of radio astronomy.

Photographs by Howard Barlow ©

Before the observatory was built, astronomy was exclusively conducted through the use of optical telescopes. It was not until the Jodrell Bank Observatory was built in the in the 1950s and 60s that the Astrophysical world took its next big leap, and was introduced to Radio Astronomy.

Through Radio Astronomy, Astrophysicists were no longer limited to observing objects that were only traceable through the naked eye. They could now also study celestial objects at radio frequencies. This drastically expanded the scope and range of objects that Astrophysicists could observe, and in the process significantly expanded our knowledge of the known universe.

Jodrell Bank Observatory is perhaps most famous in the UK, and in the North of England in particular, for its Lovell Telescope. According to Historic England, both the Lovell Telescope and its accompanied Mark II Telescope have already gained Grade I listing due to the role that they have played in the emergence of radio astronomy. The Lovell Telescope was the world’s first steerable large telescope (in 2017 still only surpassed by two others).

For more information, see the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre website.