Global significance of Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere recognised with renewed designated status and boundary extension in 10th anniversary year
Just over ten years since Galloway & Southern Ayrshire (GSA) was designated Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere, a global delegation of UN officials today (4 July) announced the renewal of the site’s UNESCO status for a further ten years, in recognition of its pioneering achievements in sustainable development and supporting global climate change goals. The revalidation reflects southwest Scotland’s world class natural heritage and the leading role the Biosphere plays in building a secure and greener economic future for Scotland and the UK.
Further highlighting the area’s global significance, the UNESCO delegation also revealed that the GSA Biosphere’s boundary will now be extended to incorporate Alloway (the home of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns), the Rhins of Galloway (Scotland’s most southernly point) and 12 nautical miles of the marine environment. The site will grow from more than 5,200 km² to almost 9,800 km².
This news has been welcomed by a myriad of community groups, conservationists, business leaders, landowners, farmers, schools, SOSE (South of Scotland Enterprise), local authorities, and other UK biospheres, who believe Galloway and Southern Ayrshire is “all the better – economically, socially, culturally, and environmentally - for being part of a UNESCO Biosphere.”*
Announcing the renewed status at a reception in Drumlanrig Castle on the Queensberry Estate in the heart of rural Dumfries and Galloway today, Meriem Bouamrane, Head of Research and Policy for the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, based in Paris, said: “The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is an inspiring, internationally recognised place for living, which is reconciling conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. We are absolutely delighted to announce today that we will be renewing its designated status for a further ten years, including an expansion of its geographical boundary.”
Professor Anne Anderson, Chair of the UK National Commission for UNESCO added: “Tackling the interconnected global challenges of our time – from the catastrophic impacts of drought, biodiversity loss, and flooding to the loss of traditional knowledge systems and gender inequality – requires everyone at the international, regional, and local levels to work together in new and unprecedented ways. The innovative work that has been done within Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere truly exemplifies the real difference that this collaborative approach can make.”
UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme promotes a long-lasting connection between people and nature through over 740 designated sites across the world, including Yellowstone (USA), Niagara Escarpment (Canada), the Everglades (USA) and the Black Forest (Germany). National governments nominate Biospheres for UNESCO accreditation, which is then awarded by the Director-General of UNESCO following the decisions of the MAB international intergovernmental Coordinating Council (MAB ICC).
Welcoming the ICC’s decision to renew the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere’s designation today, Anna Nsubuga, UK Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO said: “Working closely with their local communities, the inspiring network of UNESCO Biospheres across the UK plays a vital role in supporting our national commitment to conserve our natural heritage and leave our environment in a better state than we found it. The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is a world-leading example of this, delivering pioneering work that is making a positive difference to the environment and to communities. I’m delighted that UNESCO’s International Coordinating Council has confirmed the well-deserved renewal and boundary extension today.”
Melanie Allen, Chair of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, and business owner of the Biosphere Certified Nithbank Country Estate in Dumfries and Galloway, said: “On behalf of the Biosphere Partnership Board, I welcome the news of the revalidation of our precious designation. We are truly honoured to be recognised by UNESCO with an Ambassadorial visit to mark the occasion. The prominence of the visiting delegation really does speak volumes about the achievements and distinction of our organisation to date.
“This is a significant milestone and excellent news for our communities, businesses and partners. Their continued dedication to the Biosphere unites us with a shared vision and passion for sustainable rural economic development, through best practice and partnership working. The groundbreaking work that has already been delivered in partnership with our dedicated Biosphere team is absolutely astounding. We can’t wait to see what the next ten years brings.”
Looking to the future, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Director, Ed Forrest said: “Our success to date is testament to the fantastic support we’ve had from partners, including residents, community groups, business leaders, land managers, schools, local authorities and South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE). Our renewed and expanded UNESCO Biosphere designation will allow us to build on this and do so much more to support our vision for a just and equitable approach to life where people and the environment are both given equal consideration. The ultimate success of the Biosphere will be when people no longer think about the actions they have to do to achieve this balance, but rather do them automatically because they have become societal norms.”
In its first ten years, with funding from SOSE and three local authority partners, the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere:
- championed sustainable development in the area’s seven river catchments, 110 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 22 European designated sites, including: Silver Flowe, the most important patterned blanket bog in Britain; Cairnsmore of Fleet National Nature Reserve believed to be one of the wildest places in Scotland; and Merrick, identified by NatureScot as a nationally important Wild Land Area.
- launched the innovative Blackface Wool Project, supported by the Blackface Breeders’ Association and British Wool, to promote the versatility of local wool (an integral part of the local heritage and community) and its diverse potential as a sustainable resource.
- pioneered Biosphere Communities and the Biosphere Certification Mark, which recognise exemplars in local sustainable enterprise.
- launched the innovative Biosphere Footsteps Programme, which supports local residents to make positive environmental impacts while cutting domestic costs.
- played a key role in the development of Scotland’s award-winning UNESCO Trail – the first of its kind anywhere in the world – a network of thirteen UNESCO designations across Scotland including World Heritage Sites, Global Geoparks, Creative Cities and Biospheres.
- fostered international collaborations, including hosting colleagues from UNESCO Biospheres from around the world on learning journeys.
- launched a Learning for Sustainability Toolkit, to support the Scottish Government’s Curriculum for excellence, which is packed with ideas for teachers to use the region’s UNESCO Biosphere designation as a giant outdoor classroom, helping young learners connect with nature and better understand some of the most critical issues their generation will face.
- secured more that 400 businesses, organisations, schools and community groups as official Biosphere Proud Supporters.
- piloted groundbreaking Community Visioning workshops, which are part of a project involving the UK Commission for UNESCO, the GSA Biosphere and other UNESCO designations in Scotland. Led by the University of Manchester, the workshops bring together local residents, land managers and other stakeholders to look at specific area’s importance sustainability plans for the region as a whole. It is believed these could lead to a significant landscape restoration project.
- and much more.
Further explaining the significance of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire at a global level, Meriem Bouamrane, Head of Research and Policy for the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere (MAB) said: “It was the first Biosphere site designated in Scotland in 2012 and is part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (748 sites in 134 countries) working together to reconcile humans within nature, in all ecosystems based on sound scientific and local knowledge and supporting economic activities respectful of the living.”
UNESCO Biosphere Reserves provide models for how people can live with nature and use resources for the well-being of people everywhere, through knowledge sharing, poverty reduction and human well-being improvements, respect for cultural values and society’s ability to cope with change. A participatory planning approach is at the heart of all Biosphere models. Indeed, the boundary extension proposals were only made following a public consultation conducted by the GSA Biosphere in 2021/22 which showed overwhelming support for the idea.
For more information about the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, visit: gsabiosphere.org.uk
Individuals welcoming the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere’s renewed status:
- Eddie Fraser, Chief Executive, East Ayrshire Council: “East Ayrshire Council warmly congratulates the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere on the announcement that its UNESCO designation has been renewed for another decade. We have been proud partners of the Biosphere through our shared vision of moving forward together through economic and environmental changes as we work to create a better quality of life for local people. The Biosphere has been a leading partner in projects that empower East Ayrshire’s villages and towns, and protect the unique landscapes in between, from their role within the Coalfield Communities Landscape Partnership to delivering Learning for Sustainability in schools. UNESCO status puts this work on a global map and recognises southwest Scotland as a place where sustainable living can be learned and shared.”
- Eileen Howat, Chief Executive, South Ayrshire Council said: “Since its designation in 2012 the GSA Biosphere has been a key partner in making South Ayrshire a place we can all be proud to live in, with vibrant communities and inclusive growth. UNESCO status celebrates our region, our culture, and our incredibly special landscapes, and we are delighted that renewal of this designation for another ten years brings with it an expansion of the Biosphere’s boundary; the inclusion of Alloway and the marine environment all the way up to and including Ailsa Craig brings a wealth of opportunities for sustainable enterprise, tourism, and lifelong learning. South Ayrshire Council will continue to be part of the Biosphere story and we congratulate their Board, Director and team on everything they have already achieved.”
- Steve Rogers, Head of Economy and Development, Dumfries & Galloway Council said: “The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere is a fantastic asset to Dumfries and Galloway and an important part of the council’s vision for creating connected, healthy and sustainable communities. The UNESCO Biosphere title encompasses so much – supporting nature, safeguarding heritage, and inspiring pride in this amazing region – and confirmation of this remit for another ten years can only bring more tangible benefits for our area. We will continue to work alongside our UNESCO Biosphere as we strive towards climate resilience and Net Zero goals, developing a fair, Green Economy, and helping residents and visitors to D&G experience our great outdoors.”
Ann Berry, Founder of the social enterprise, Biosphere Bikes in Girvan Ayrshire, who welcomed the UNESCO delegation this week said: “Our community is all the better – economically, socially, culturally, and environmentally - for being part of a UNESCO biosphere. We’re so proud to welcome the UNESCO delegation this week and to hear that they are renewing GSA Biosphere’s designated status. As a social enterprise, our principles very much align with the Biosphere’s values. Supporting the community and looking after the natural environment is at the heart of all we do. We aim to make cycling accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical ability. Our bike hub brings health and social benefits to local people, and also supports local businesses through tourism.”
Billie Jones, at the Glentrool Hive (a community run project that aims to promote the local area in all its diversity whilst providing a focus for social and economic growth for the community) said: “Galloway and Southern Ayrshire offers a better way of living. Ensuring mutual benefit to people and nature is very much at the heart of everyday life for us here. And this has definitely been enhanced by the UNESCO Biosphere designation, so it is fantastic to hear that this has been extended today.
“The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere supports and promotes a huge range of innovative, dynamic, and sustainable businesses - like our own multipurpose community centre nestled on the outskirts of the Galloway Forest Park - that are providing services to locals and visitors alike.”
Professor Russel Griggs, Chair of SOSE, the South of Scotland enterprise agency, which has supported the project with five years of funding worth £1.9 million, added “In 2020 South of Scotland Enterprise committed to supporting the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere with one of our most significant funding awards to date, which recognised the organisation as bold, collaborative, and fully embedded in the communities of the south of Scotland but with potential to do much more. Renewal and expansion of the UNESCO designation recognises the opportunities already delivered by the Biosphere team through a ten-year programme that brought sustainability to the forefront of life, leisure and industry in this region, and we look forward to their next decade of success, innovation and growth.”
Jo Overty, Project Officer for UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man, said: “Our close neighbour Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere’s renewed designation is incredibly well deserved. Its ground-breaking work has inspired the work of other Biospheres around the world, including us. We congratulate the great team at GSA Biosphere and are proud to collaborate with it on many initiatives during climate and biodiversity emergencies and look forward to even closer relationships and shared learning now the Biosphere is extended out to sea.”
Paul Osborne, a trained Biosphere Guide and Director of The Biking Explorers in Girvan (which offers tours and bikepacking adventures for all ages and abilities, with a focus on local heritage and exploring with the ethos of ‘Leave No Trace’) said: “The Biosphere has really brought everyone together to preserve this wonderful area we all call home, with everyone contributing in their own way - it really is unique and special place.”
Alex Baird, Chair, Ochiltree Community Hub, a Biosphere Community in Ayrshire, said: “I’m incredibly proud of how the GSA Biosphere has worked with all communities to improve their understanding of local natural environment, biodiversity, climate change and importantly how our communities can work together to make a real difference in the global drive to achieve sustainable development.”
Sarah Blackie, a farmer and Learning for Sustainability teacher at Girvan Primary School, who helped to develop the toolkit, said: “Teaching children about the wonders of the Biosphere is so important to safeguarding our land and natural environment for future generations. In addition, farming in the Biosphere enables me to enjoy the changes that arise in nature throughout the year first hand. Being part of a Biosphere, helps us all to see the true beauty of it with fresh eyes every day. Every day in the Biosphere you can be immersed in something different.”
- Galloway & Southern Ayrshire (GSA) UNESCO Biosphere was designated in 2012, recognising the region’s world class heritage and natural environments.
- One of a network of more than 740 UNESCO Biospheres in 134 countries, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire was the first such designation in Scotland.
- The GSA UNESCO Biosphere now covers almost 9,800 km² of southwest Scotland and is home to 110,000 people.
- Its original geographical boundary was based on catchments of the rivers flowing out of the Galloway Hills.
- The Core Area of any UNESCO Biosphere is the region of highest conservation value – in the case of Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, these are the wetlands at Silver Flowe, the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) Merrick-Kells, and the National Nature Reserve (NNR) at Cairnsmore of Fleet. Silver Flowe is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a wetland habitat of international importance. Cairnsmore of Fleet is an upland region where a mix of heath, heather and blanket bog supports a wide range of wildlife. The Biosphere’s Core Area is focused on research and the protection of species, habitats, landscapes and ecosystems.
- The GSA Biosphere is very much a part of Scotland’s rural southwest, where the land and its uses remain integral to everyday life. Beyond its central Core Area the Biosphere is home to historic industries such as farming, fishing and forestry; a dynamic variety of micro-businesses and SMEs; and communities that range in size from tiny hamlets to small towns.
- The partnership with Manchester University is part of a pilot project involving the UK Commission for UNESCO, the GSA Biosphere and other UNESCO designations in Scotland aiming to support community visioning around nature recovery and sustainability. Due to the success of this first workshop the GSA Biosphere, Nith Life and The Stove will be working together in running a series of similar community visioning events at locations along the entire length of the Nith.
- The Biosphere and its partners are working together to promote the idea that ecologically sound activity can take place alongside conservation and research. Education, employment, tourism and enterprise can all be sustainable, and through a cooperative approach, they can achieve a balanced relationship between people and nature.
- Right across Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, the Biosphere celebrates positive cultural values and identity, to help people learn more about where they live and better understand the heritage they all share.
- The original biosphere boundary followed the rivers that flow out of the Galloway Hills through forests and farmland, historic villages and towns, all the way to a ruggedly scenic coast.
- Backed by funding from South of Scotland Enterprise and three local authority partners, the last decade has seen the organisation grow from just 1.5 FTE staff to a team of twelve delivering partnership projects in conservation, education, enterprise, and climate resilience.
- The delegation visiting from Paris and the UK on 3 and 4 July 2023 included Anna Nsubuga, the Ambassador of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to UNESCO and UK Permanent Representative Designate, and Meriem Bouamrane, Head of Research and Policy for the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme, alongside colleagues from the UK National Commission for UNESCO with its Chair, Professor Anne Anderson.
- The Biosphere region was represented by community leaders, owners of businesses that have been awarded the Biosphere Certification Mark, local councillors and MSPs.
- Public consultations conducted in 2021-22 showed overwhelming support for the proposed expansion among residents in the Rhins, especially for the opportunities offered for community development and coastal conservation.
- Now that UNESCO status has been assured the Biosphere will commence a programme of engagement to help the new areas connect with a diverse range of initiatives from destination marketing to landscape-scale nature restoration.
- The748 UNESCO Biospheres around the world all share the same goals:
- promoting the conservation of landscapes, wildlife and habitats.
- Supporting a better understanding of global challenges.
- Fostering a sustainable economy and society.
- supporting the resilience of communities in facing climate change impacts.
- Biosphere reserves are nominated by national governments and remain under the sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Biosphere Reserves are designated under the intergovernmental MAB Programme by the Director-General of UNESCO following the decisions of the MAB International Coordinating Council (MAB ICC). Their status is internationally recognized.