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IOW Candidate Biosphere

The Isle of Wight is a pocket version of southern England. The Island has everything you could possibly need: from blustery downs fi lled with water to secretive salt marshes teaming with life; from Victorian beachside resorts to wild surf strewn beaches. It is a magnifi cent place to live, work and play, with splendid wildlife. 

Proof of the Island’s rich ecosystems, stretching back 65 million years, can be found along the coast through fossils and dinosaur footprints. The  Island has healthy ecosystems, with rare species; such as, the red squirrels in the woodlands, Glanville fritillaries on the cliffs and plants that occur
nowhere else in the British Isles.

Working with partner organisations across the Island, IW AONB are working towards achieving UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status for the Isle of Wight. This would highlight globally the Isle of Wight is one of the best places to explore people’s interaction with nature. 


Biosphere is the living surface of our planet, made from the land, the sea, the air we breathe and energy from the Sun. People across the world have learned about the wonderful benefi ts from their biosphere and how to use them sustainably. UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are some of the best examples where communities have found ways to resolve the conservation of ecosystems with their ongoing sustainable use. There are over 600  Biosphere Reserves in 120 countries including 20 transboundary sites.


Biosphere Frequently Asked Questions:

What is the biosphere?

The biosphere is a term that covers life, land, water and the air.


What is a biosphere reserve?

A biosphere reserve is an area that has been recognised for its unique mix of plants and animals, valued environment and sustainable way of life of the people who live and work within the biosphere reserve. The biosphere reserves are chosen by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) but rely on local cooperation to ensure the careful management of the resources within biosphere reserves that allow development without harming the area for future generations.


What are the functions of biosphere reserves?

Each biosphere reserve should fulfil three functions that work together and reinforce one another.

•A conservation function - to preserve genetic variation, species, ecosystems and landscapes;

•A development function - to foster sustainable economic and human development;

•A logistic function - to support research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.


Is a biosphere reserve similar to those big domes?

No, a biosphere reserve isn't an artifically constructed area. They are real places where people live and work. The local community care for the environment and manage resources in the biosphere reserve that allow stable and sustainable economic growth and development.


What are the benefits of biosphere reserves?

Biosphere reserves provide a framework for projects that improve people's lives and protect the environment in a sustainable way. Communities, local stakeholders and government officials gain an increased awareness of environmental and development issues. Biosphere reserves may attract funding to demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development that can provide lessons to be applied elsewhere.


Who is in charge?

Local communities are integral elements in a biosphere reserve. The communities are key decision makers in how the biosphere reserve is run and governed, ensuring the biosphere reserve meets its functions and objectives.


What is the difference between a biosphere reserve and a natural World Heritage site?

•A biosphere reserve is a representative ecological area with three mutually reinforcing functions: conservation, sustainable development and logistic support for scientific research and education.

•Natural World Heritage sites must have outstanding universal value in accordance with the UNESCO convention on the protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972).


How does UNESCO ensure that biosphere reserves function properly?

Biosphere reserves are governed by "soft law". Member countries of UNESCO commit to apply the Statutory Framework for Biosphere Reserves. The MAB national committee in each country ensures biosphere reserves are responding to the criteria and function properly; in the UK this is the UK MAB Committee.


How does an area become a biosphere reserve?

An area needs to have a potential core area that is already highly protected for the long-term and is of at least European importance for its ecosystems. It may be designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or Special Protected Area (SPA). It does not have to be a National Nature Reserve. The local community also needs to be willing to become a leader in sustainable development on the world's stage.

Following the identification of the core area, local support can be developed by creating a group or getting the local authority involved in the idea of becoming a biosphere reserve. Consultation with the UK MAB Committee will inform about the area's suitability and ideas for zonation. The UK MAB Committee will be able to advise if a designation is likely to get their support or not in a short time. If the area does not get the instant support from the UK MAB Committee, they will advise what steps are possible to make a more successful biosphere reserve application.

With support from the UK MAB Committee, the application will be developed by the local community. The application form can be downloaded from the UNESCO website (link). The application form is technical, requires a lot of information and requires evidence of the community working together to get the designation. There will need to be a lot of documented public participation in the planning of the biosphere reserve. Other crucial evidence includes good zonation of the areas for the biosphere reserve, a good management plan and a good organisation structure that is representative and can deliver the management plan for the biosphere reserve.

Throughout this development phase that can take between two and five years, UK MAB will give support on how the project takes shape. Ultimately the application document will need the endorsement of the relevant stakeholders in your area, the UK MAB Committee, the approval of the Minister for Defra or the Minister for environment in the devolved administration, before being sent by Defra to the UK Permanent Delegation to UNESCO in Paris.


How does UNESCO decide on designating an area a biosphere reserve?

UNESCO invokes its own review and approvals procedures and makes the final decision. This includes review by a special UNESCO advisory committee of experts and then by the International Co-ordinating Council for the MAB Programme (MAB ICC). The approvals process in UNESCO is undertaken only once a year, so deadlines for submissions are important. Dates for submission can be found on the UNESCO website.


What makes an area suitable to become a biosphere reserve?

Biosphere reserves are renowned for exceptional environments and a high diversity of life. Biosphere reserves are areas where the special attributes of the area are considered to be potential assets for the local people and local societies. When an area demonstrates good examples of using and preserving these resources, it may become a biosphere reserve.


Are people allowed to live in a biosphere reserve?

To fulfil the criteria for biosphere reserve, people must live in the area. The concept of sustainable development depends on local support and involvement. The people living in the area are essential to biosphere reserves.