UK supports the development of quality control processes to sharpen the focus of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves

Dyfi Biosphere

This summer, the 27th Session of the International Coordinating Council (ICC) of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme met at UNESCO’s Paris Headquarters to agree a more coherent vision and mission for the MAB Programme and develop a new Strategy for 2015-2025.

Professor Martin Price, Chair of the UK MAB Committee and UNESCO Chair in Sustainable Mountain Development at the University of the Highlands and Islands, played a key role in the development of the strategy, acting as Rapporteur of the ICC Session and participating in an ad hoc working group comprised of representatives from 20 countries.

Professor Price stressed the importance of conducting the Strategy review process in an open, inclusive and participatory manner to ensure widespread ownership of the new Strategy. The 2015-2025 Strategy has been developed over the course of a year, with the input of many different national committees, experts and representatives from the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR). The new strategy builds on the Seville Strategy that was finalised at the 3rd International Congress on Biosphere Reserves in 1995. This Strategy recognised the evolution of Biosphere Reserves from sites focussing on nature conservation and research, to sites of excellence for sustainable development. However, although the General Conference adopted this document and a Statutory Framework for the WNBR 20 years ago, many Biosphere Reserves have not yet made the transition from conservation sites to sites for sustainable development.

In response to this, the ICC decided in 2013 that an ‘Exit Strategy’ was required to ensure that all members of the WNBR conform to the criteria in its Statutory Framework. Although the original deadline for the Exit Strategy was 2016 it has been extended until 2017, which will provide more time for the authorities responsible for some Biosphere Reserves to decide their next steps.

Talking about the Exit Strategy, Professor Price explained that:

“More countries need to take the hard decision on whether to withdraw sites.  The problem is that if we are promoting Biosphere Reserves as models of sustainable development, yet there are still hundreds which are conservation sites rather than models of sustainable development, then we are not doing what it says on the tin”.

The UK previously had 13 sites registered as Biosphere Reserves, but withdrew seven because they did not meet the criteria of the Statutory Framework.

The UK currently has five Biosphere Reserves. North Devon’s Biosphere Reserve in England, Biosffer Dyfi Biosphere in Wales, and Galloway and Southern Ayrshire in Scotland have been extended to meet the 1995 criteria.  A proposal to expand the small Beinn Eighe Biosphere Reserve to a much larger part of northwest Scotland will be submitted this year. Brighton and the Lewes Downs became a Biosphere Reserve in the UK in 2014. In addition, a proposal for the entire Isle of Man to become a Biosphere Reserve will be submitted this year and other proposals are at various stages of preparation.