What are UNESCO Biospheres?

Biospheres are places with world-class environments that are designated by the United Nations to promote and demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature. They are places which value and promote conservation and sustainable development on a regional scale. Biospheres  are created to protect the biological and cultural diversity of a region while promoting sustainable economic development. They are places of cooperation, education and research where local communities, environmental groups, and economic interests can work collaboratively on conservation and development issues.

Biosphere reserves are established through the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB). In order to be designated a biosphere, a candidate reserve must be nominated by a national government and approved by the MAB programme. There are national Biosphere committees, including one in the UK called UK-MAB. It is responsible for the overview of Biospheres in the UK and reports progress to Euro- MAB and the MAB secretariat in Paris. Proposals for Biosphere status in Scotland are made to UNESCO through UK-MAB.


Galloway and Southern Ayrshire

Galloway and South Ayrshire is now being proposed as a new style UNESCO Biosphere because of its unique combination of special landscapes and wildlife areas, rich cultural heritage and communities that care about their environment and culture and want to develop it sustainably. Biosphere designation will help understand, define, sustain and enhance those special qualities. As an internationally recognised marketing brand for superb natural environments Biosphere designation will offer new opportunities for individuals, businesses and communities to demonstrate how to live, work and play in a world class environment.

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire could be the first ‘new style’ Biosphere in Scotland and would be only the third in the UK. Biospheres have three main functions -conservation, learning /research, and sustainable development. Biospheres are managed by a framework which divides the area into three complementary management zones – Core Area, Buffer Zone and Transition Area. The Transition Area is a more flexible area in which sustainable economic and community development would be actively promoted. Biosphere designation would bring no new regulation of activities within the area.


Why is a Biosphere being proposed for Galloway and Southern Ayrshire?

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire is a special place to live, work and to visit – special for its people, its culture and its outstanding environment. It hosts some of the finest examples of special landscapes and wildlife areas in Europe and in addition has a community that cares about, and for, this special place.

Cairnsmore, Silver Flowe and Merriick Kells were first designated as Biospheres in 1976. UNESCO rule changes in the 1990s meant that the Biosphere concept has been broadened to become one aimed at sustainable regional development. Existing Biospheres have to either re-apply under the new criteria or withdraw. Following extensive local consultation which is now ongoing, it is proposed that a Biosphere partnership in Galloway and Southern Ayrshire submit a formal application to UNESCO to re-register a much larger area.

Biosphere designation provides Galloway and Southern Ayrshire with a unique opportunity to take a lead in developing more sustainable ways of living that will benefit the environment, economy and community of the area and ultimately act as an example of best practice within UNESCO’s worldwide network of Biospheres. If this exciting vision is to be achieved then everyone will need to play their part, whether as communities, organisations, businesses or individuals.


Where are the boundaries?

The area which makes up the proposed Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is not based on some abstract concept or administrative boundaries but reflects the physical characteristics of the natural environment. Biospheres are living (working) ecosystems and this is reflected in the proposed boundary. The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire biosphere is based on the  upland area centred on the Merrick which acts as a water catchment for a large part of south west Scotland and which feeds water flowing from its source via the rivers  to the coast and out to sea.

Rain which falls on the hills, moorlands, forests, farmland, roads and other built structures eventually finds its way into streams, rivers and lochs. The area of land that catches the rainfall which feeds a river is known as the catchment. In the case of the proposed biosphere you are likely to be part of the proposed Galloway and Southern Ayrshire biosphere if you live in the areas drained by the river catchments of the Cree, Fleet, Ken-Dee, Nith, Doon, Water of Girvan and Stinchar.

The area’s many small towns:  Castle Douglas; Gatehouse of Fleet; Newton Stewart; Wigtown; Girvan; Maybole; Dalmellington; New Cumnock; Cumnock; Sanquhar; Thornhill and their surrounding villages are in the biosphere and just as important to its existence and well-being as the National Nature Reserves of Cairnsmore and Silver Flowe  and the Merrick Kells SSSI which are its Core Areas.

The biosphere proposal will feature the strong cultural and local identity of Galloway and Southern Ayrshire and the common thread of water connecting the natural environment, landscape and everyone living and working in the area and on which they all depend. It is through water that everyone living and working in the biosphere is connected with everyone else.


What is Galloway and Southern Ayrshire’s Biosphere trying to achieve?

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire’s  Biosphere  has the 3 fundamental, complementary functions required of a UNESCO Biosphere  (Conservation, Learning and Research and Sustainable Development) that support the core purpose of ‘testing and demonstrating sustainable development on a regional scale’. A Biosphere vision and strategic aims will be developed in consultation with the Biosphere stakeholders and Champions as part of the process of preparing the UNESCO application for re-designation.  An Action Plan will also be developed setting out a portfolio of actions identified by the Biosphere Partnership to address those aims.


Did you know?

  • The  Galloway and Southern Ayrshire  Biosphere  covers an area of 3000 square kilometres and includes some 45,000 dwellings and 95,000 people.
  • There are 14 Special Areas of Conservation and 4 Special Protection Areas.
  • There are X Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Y Special Protection Areas (SPAs)
  • The Core Areas comprise the Cairnsmore of Fleet National Nature Reserve (NNR), the Silver Flowe NNR and the core of the Merrick Kells Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
  • There are X Local Nature Reserves in the Biosphere.


What type of initiatives/projects might take place?

Supporting wood fuel supply chains and service networks.

Skills for micro renewable s installation.

Supporting sustainable design within housing development schemes.

Educational partnerships with local schools and colleges, development of curriculum resources and environmental vocational training.

A  Visitor Investment Scheme.

Sustainable Tourism Initiatives.

Business Brand Accreditation Scheme for local businesses.

Support for a Local Food Produce and Service Network.

Promotion of rural skills for Biodiversity Management.

Linking Sustainable Transport Schemes to walking, cycling and outdoor access.

Enhancing urban biodiversity – gardening projects.

Celebration and interpretation of local heritage and culture.

Volunteer conservation projects and Local Nature Reserves.

Natural Resource mapping.

Climate change research.

Carbon Reduction and Sequestration Research.

Projects to bring the well-being benefits of access to the environment more equitably to communities in Galloway and Southern Ayrshire .


How many Biospheres  are there and where are they?

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire is proposed as one of a network of Biospheres throughout the world. The global network provides unique opportunities for exchanges of experience and collaborative research. Currently there are 531 Biospheres world-wide, spread across 105 countries and all chosen to be representative of their region and  to be sites in which to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development. Biospheres are often twinned.

  • Africa: 69 Biospheres in 30 Countries – e.g. Mount Kenya.
  • Arab States: 24 Biospheres in 11 Countries – e.g. Dana
  • Asia: 95 Biospheres in 27 Countries – e.g. Uluru (Ayers Rock-Mount Olga) and the Great Gobi
  • Europe and North America: 255 Biospheres in 33 Countries- e.g. Niagara Escarpment, the Danube Delta, Yellowstone and the Hawaiian Islands.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean: 102 Biospheres in 19 Countries – e.g. Central Amazon


What are the designation criteria?

UNESCO launched the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme in 1970 and the Biosphere Reserve concept began in 1974. The original criteria for a Biosphere Reserve were primarily about scientific conservation and research and sites were chosen to represent the main ecosystems of the planet. Most UK Biosphere Reserves were designated in 1976 under these criteria.

The designation criteria changed to include the human dimension along with the natural environment  after a review in 1995 (resulting in the Seville treaty). Since then, these ‘new style’ Reserves must have three complementary functions:

  • Conservation – to preserve genetic resources, species, ecosystems and landscapes;
  • Learning and Research – to support research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.
  • Sustainable Development – to foster sustainable economic and human development;

and have three different management zones:

  • Core
  • Buffer Zone
  • Transition Zone

In March 2008, DEFRA published a report of research into “The potential for Biosphere Reserves to achieve UK social, economic and environmental goals“. It quotes the 2008 Madrid Action Plan, defining Biosphere ‘Reserves’ as “sites of excellence to foster harmonious integration of people and nature for sustainable development through participation, knowledge, well-being, cultural values and society’s ability to cope with change, thus contributing to the [Millennium Development Goals] The Madrid Action Plan specifically identifies a role for Biospheres in addressing three emerging challenges: climate change; provision of ecosystem services and urbanization as a principal driver for ecosystem-wide pressures.


How many Biosphere Reserves are there in the UK currently?

There are two “new style” Biospheres in the UK:

  • North Devon Biosphere Reserve.
  • Dyfi Biosphere

One Biosphere is actively being proposed in Scotland based on:

  • Cairnsmore of Fleet, Merrick Kells and Silver Flowe National Nature Reserves

Other areas in the UK which have existing old style Biosphere designations are:

Moor House – Upper Teesdale Biosphere Reserve

North Norfolk Coast Biosphere Reserve

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve

Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve

Taynish   (withdrawn as a Biosphere 2010)