Our Biosphere Region of the Brighton & Lewes Downs has been a proud member – #ProudToShare – of UNESCO’s global family of Biosphere Reserves for over two years now, since the summer of 2014.
We are a small but dynamic piece of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, that now number 669 sites spread across 120 countries around the globe, connecting communities who are pioneering a positive future for people and nature – today. We share this common purpose with our sister sites, along with the three aims to:
- conserve our natural environment
- develop ourselves sustainably
- engender environmental knowledge, learning, awareness and engagement
The global network now has a new strategy and action plan for the next ten years, agreed in Lima Peru in March 2016, and the UK has been an influential player in this process. We have four shared objectives to:
- Conserve biodiversity, restore and enhance ecosystem services, and foster the sustainable use of natural resources
- Contribute to building sustainable, healthy and equitable societies, economies and thriving human settlements in harmony with the biosphere
- Facilitate biodiversity and sustainability science, education for sustainable development (ESD) and capacity building
- Support mitigation and adaptation to climate change and other aspects of global environmental change
The World Network includes some exotic places far distant from our own local nature, including such icons ranging from Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in the Australian outback to the Central Amazon rainforest and great Pantanal wetland in Brazil. But our Biosphere has claims to fame too, from our internationally rare chalk grassland on the Downs to our National Elm Collection in Brighton & Hove and our renowned culture. Having a well-known city at the heart of our Biosphere also helps to make us stand out, a situation shared with a handful of other places only – such as the green belt of Sao Paolo in Brazil, the city of Agadir in Morocco, and Dublin Bay.
Back home, there are five other UK Biosphere Regions, all found on the western side of Britain:
Biosffer Dyfi: the area of the river Dyfi catchment and coast by Aberystwyth in mid-Wales contains inspiring landscapes and wildlife together with a local community passionate about their nature and culture.
Galloway and Southern Ayrshire: covers over 5000 square kilometres of SW Scotland based upon an upland catchment area and extending down to the coast, home to impressive nature and a population of 95,000 people.
Isle of Man: this new Biosphere covers the entirety of land and sea of this self-governing island in the Irish Sea, recognising its spectacular coastal nature, traditional management through fishing and farming, and rich cultural heritage.
North Devon: this longest-established UK Biosphere reaches up to the heights of Dartmoor and Exmoor and extends out to sea to the island of Lundy, covering a landscape loved by locals and tourists alike.
Wester Ross: the newly expanded Biosphere extends along over 5000 square kilometres of the wild west coast of Scotland, a remote mountainous region that is one of the UK’s most scenic and least-populated areas.
The UK Biospheres also work closely with the new Dublin Bay Biosphere in Ireland, taking in the highly populated urban and rural coastal catchment which has rich marine wildlife right next to the capital city.
Together we collaborate under the auspices of the UK Man and the Biosphere Committee that twice-yearly convenes our diverse suite of Biosphere Regions together with an array of national bodies and experts in environmental sustainability.
A wider network meeting of the UK’s Biospheres (and Eire) has just been held, in October 2016, in Dumfries hosted by the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere – to enable key people from the different areas to come together to share good practice and discuss common challenges. Our stimulating discussions ranged from partnership building and financial sustainability, through to the role of citizen science, landscape arts and environmental education – including presenting our pioneering work with local schools using our virtual Biosphere.
There are also opportunities for us to collaborate more widely through the ‘EUROMAB’ network, extending across both Europe and North America.
The UK is home also to a diverse network of other UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) sites and initiatives, all connected under its mission to “promote a culture of peace by fostering intercultural dialogue and international cooperation through collaborative work in the fields of education, the natural and social sciences, culture, communication and information”. The UK National Commission acts as the central hub to support the UK’s contribution to UNESCO and bring the benefits of UNESCO to the UK.
Other UNESCO designations in the UK include for example:
- World Heritage Sites e.g. the Jurassic Coast, of Dorset and East Devon
- Global Geoparks e.g. the North West Highlands of Scotland
- Creative Cities e.g. Liverpool, UNESCO City of Music
It’s clear that being a member of the global UNESCO network offers us unique opportunities to communicate our story, raise the profile of our area and its environment, and learn from the experience of others – all strong reasons for us to play a full part in our recently adopted family!
Rich Howorth, Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere – Programme Manager
Professor Martin Price, UK Man & the Biosphere Committee – Chair