What is a biosphere?
A biosphere is an area that has a long term vision, and community support, for development and prosperity in tune with its environment, or in the lingo ‘sustainable development’. It acknowledges that safeguarding and improving the environment is central to the way of life for local residents, business and visitors; now and for future generations.
How does a biosphere come about, is someone in charge?
It is up to local communities to decide if they want their area to become a biosphere and how they plan to support, manage and develop it in tune with their local environment and culture. Biospheres are designated by the ‘Man and the Biosphere’ (MAB) Programme of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation). It does not add any new regulations or laws. It relies on existing agencies, rules and interested partners (such as Parish, District and County Councils, Natural England, Forestry England etc.) to come together to form a partnership around the common objective of supporting community and environmental prosperity.
What makes an area suitable to become a biosphere reserve?
Biospheres are renowned for their exceptional environments and a high diversity of life. Biospheres are areas where the ‘specialness’ of the area is considered to be the essential asset for local communities and businesses. To fulfill the criteria for a biosphere reserve, the area must have people living and working in the area. The concept of sustainable development depends on local support and involvement. The people living and working in the area are essential to biosphere reserves.
What area of the Forest of Dean could be suitable to become a biosphere reserve?
A biosphere reserve identifies a series of areas or ‘zones’:
- These need to be legally protected areas devoted to long term protection. In the Forest of Dean this could be existing designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), such as Speech House Woodland, the River Wye, Walmore Common, bat conservation sites etc. You can see such designated sites in the Forest of Dean area by visiting https://magic.defra.gov.uk/
- Buffer zones or ‘zones’ tend to surround or connect with the core area(s). Buffer zones can support the multiple functions of a biosphere reserve, while helping to ensure the protection and natural evolution of the core area(s). In the Forest of Dean this could be principal ‘open access areas’ such as the Public Forest Estate managed by Forestry England.
- UNESCO requires ‘an outer transition area’ where sustainable resource management practices are promoted and developed. In the Forest of Dean this could be the district, statutory forest or other area.
What is the Council doing about a biosphere?
The Forest Economic Partnership (FEP) looked at the merits and financial value a biosphere could bring to the district’s businesses; you can find out more in this report. This study was created with the assistance of Office for National Statistics (ONS) staff and found that every £1 invested (by government agencies, organisations and businesses) in a biosphere would on the whole return a value of around £3.89 to the district.
Leading on from that study the FEP secured funding to start asking the Forest of Dean community what they thought about the idea through a consultation exercise called ‘The Forest We Want’. There were 491 complete responses to an online survey with:
- 86% of respondents of the open survey (55% highly likely, 31% likely, 8% neutral, 4% unlikely, 2% highly unlikely) responded positively to the statement "As a whole the Forest of Dean District would benefit from becoming a Biosphere Reserve". This response was based upon what they currently knew.
- 6% of respondents were not likely to currently support designation
- 8% of respondents were neutral on the matter.
The creative artist's film and audio clips generated some 16,683 views over a variety of social media platforms and demonstrated that people were interested to find out more about this new subject.
Based on these two pieces of work Forest of Dean District Council set out in the May 2022 Cabinet Report that it would like to understand more about the benefits and implications of a biosphere within the district. The Council has developed an indicative road map, using existing staff and budget resources, to test this concept and how well it could be applied in the district. The road map covers the next two years and will include wider consultations on whether to proceed with a biosphere reserve. In early 2023 the Council commissioned some work to help them explore the possible extent of a Biosphere Reserve that might be established to focus on the Forest of Dean. This has led to further consideration and it is expected to be the subject of a further consultation later in the year.