UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme added 18 new sites in 12 countries to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which now numbers 701 biosphere reserves in 124 countries around the globe.
The International Co-ordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC) meeting in Paris from 17 to 21 June approved these additions along with the extension of eight existing biosphere reserves, which in most cases also led to a change in their official names.
The Kingdom of Eswatini joins the MAB Network this year with the inscription of its first site, Lubombo Biosphere Reserve. The inscription of Nordhordland marks Norway’s renewed commitment to the biosphere programme, 22 years after the withdrawal its only other site, Northeast Salvbard Biosphere Reserve.
UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay said, “There is a pressing need to take action for biodiversity, for our shared environmental heritage. After diagnosing the issue at stake, highlighted by the recent report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the vitality of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves gives us cause for hope. Each UNESCO biosphere reserve is an open sky laboratory for sustainable development, for concrete and lasting solutions, for innovation and good practices. They seal a new alliance between the world of science and youth, between humans and the environment.”
UNESCO Biosphere reserves seek to reconcile human activity with the conservation of biodiversity through the sustainable use of natural resources. This reflects UNESCO’s key objective of fostering innovative sustainable development practices and combatting the loss of biodiversity by accompanying communities and Member States in their work to understand, appreciate and safeguard the living environment of our planet.
New reserves are designated every year by the International Co-ordinating Council for the programme, a body with a rotating elected membership of 34 UNESCO Member States. Established by UNESCO in the early 1970s, the Man and the Biosphere Programme is an intergovernmental scientific programme that aims to improve relations between people and their natural environment. It is a pioneering initiative at the origin of the very notion of sustainable development.
Sites designated this year:
Lower Mura Valley Biosphere Reserve (Austria) covers 13,180 hectares along the border with Slovenia and is part of the European Green belt. Surrounded by agricultural land, the Biosphere Reserve is Austria’s second largest alluvial forest on a major river. It is characterized by a high biodiversity of water-bound flora and fauna, including 50 fish species, of which 14 are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species. The creation of the Biosphere Reserve completes the commitment by Austria, along with Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia to protect the multi-river system of the transboundary Mura Drava Danube Biosphere Reserve.
Lubombo Biosphere Reserve (Eswatini). The 294,020 hectare site, in the Lubombo Mountain Range, which straddles Mozambique and South Africa, is part of the Maputoland-Phondoland-Albany Biodiversity Hotspot and consists of forest, wetland and savannah ecosystems. Local Flora species include the Lubombo Ironwoods (Androstachys jonsonii), Lubombo Cycads (Encephalartos lebomboensis), the recently discovered Barleria species (Barleria lubombensis) and the Jilobi forest. Twenty of the 88 mammals identified in the area are only to be found only in the Lumomba region. Notable among these mammals are the White Rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum), Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Roan Antelope (Hippotragus equines), Tsessebe (Damaliscus lunatus) and the Suni (Nesotragus moschatus zuluensis), as well as threatened species such as the Leopard (Panthera pardus). The biosphere reserve is home to numerous conservation and monitoring projects, as well as commercial enterprises, industry, agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry.
Saleh-Moyo-Tambora “SAMOTA” Biosphere Reserve (Indonesia), situated between the Rinjani-Lombok and Komodo Island Biosphere Reserves, covers an area of 724,631.52 hectares, comprising five major ecosystems: small islands, a coastal area of mangrove, coastal, lowland and mountain forests, as well as savannah. The Biosphere Reserve is home to 146,000 people of diverse ethnic groups. Its core area plays an important role in conserving the region’s biodiversity while its buffer zone and transition area have agricultural potential for the production of fruit and vegetable, as well as rice, coffee and cacao, and animal husbandry. The beauty of the Tambora Mountains has tourist potential, while the Sumba Island communities attract cultural tourism.
Togean Tojo Una-Una Biosphere Reserve (Indonesia), covers an area of 2,187,632 hectares on an archipelago of 483 islands in Central Sulawesi, at the heart of the Coral Triangle, featuring the highest coral diversity in the world, as well as mangrove forests and small island ecosystems. The Togean Islands, part of the Biosphere Reserve, is host to 363 plant species, including 33 species of mangrove. They also contain animal species including tarsiers (Tarsius spectrum palengensis) and Togean monkeys (Macaca togeanus), as well as Togean babirusa, cuscus, dugong, whale and dolphin. Coral reef fish are abundant, with 596 species inhabiting the Togean Islands National Park. The area is also an important spawning site for turtles and fish. It is home to 149,214 people of great cultural diversity.
Po Grande Biosphere Reserve (Italy), is named after the Po River, which meanders through the site’s mosaic of ecosystems, among them marginal wetlands and oxbow lakes, fluvial islands, riparian forests, meadows, valleys and agricultural land. It covers an area of 286,600 hectares, and its buffer zone includes small islands, settlements and a marine area. Cultural diversity is very high in the Biosphere Reserve, whose establishment is a welcome addition to two recently created Biosphere Reserves along the Po River, Po Delta (2015) and Collina Po (2016). Connecting the three as ‘Po Grande’ is expected to contribute, notably, to the conservation, development and security of integrated water management in the region.
Julian Alps Biosphere Reserve (Italy). The 71,451 hectare biosphere reserve encompasses three different biogeographic areas: Alpine, Mediterranean and Illyrian, which contributes to its high biodiversity. Its wide-ranging collage of habitats are marked by various degrees of human intervention. It features rocky environments that alternate with forests, high grassland, mowed meadows, pastures, valleys crossed by water courses, and mountains. It is home to a wealth of rare and protected flora and fauna, including bear, lynx, wildcat, chamois, steinbock, deer, marmot, golden eagle, griffon vulture, peregrine falcon. Its forests are predominantly beech (Hacquetio-Fagetum, Dentario-Fagetum, Polysticho-Fagetum) mixed to varying degrees with hornbeam and South European flowering ash (Ostryo-Fagetum) and mugo pine. The biosphere reserve constitutes an important Alpine corridor, notably for large carnivores as well as birds. The area is also a meeting place of the Latin and Slav worlds with millennia of cultural interaction testified by its multitude of dialects, settlement methods, agricultural and artistic practices.
Kobushi Biosphere Reserve (Japan). The 190,603 hectare Biosphere Reserve encompasses most of the Kanto Mountains, including the main Okuchichibu ridge of 20 peaks rising above 2,000 metres. It is a watershed and source for major rivers, notably the Ara, Tama and Fuefuki rivers and Chikuma, or Shinano, River. The Biosphere Reserve features a wealth of geological formations and rock types with fauna that includes almost 40% of Japan’s recorded butterfly species, 24 of which are endangered. Mountains along the ridges, including Mount Kimpu and Mount Mitsumine, have long been objects of worship, entailing a ban on the felling of trees. The buffer zone in Nagano Prefecture is known for the production of highland vegetables and for its prized Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi) whose timber was widely exported during the Meiji era. The transition area of Yamanashi Prefecture has traditionally been a centre for the cultivation of grapes, persimmons, peaches and other delicacies collectively described as the “eight rare fruits of Koshu.”
Gangwon Eco-Peace Biosphere Reserve (Republic of Korea). The 182,815 hectare, largely mountainous, Biosphere Reserve at the watershed of the Taebaek Mountain Range in northern Gangwon Province, borders the southern limit of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) to the north and reaches the east coast of the Korean Peninsula to the east. It is home to a wide range of rare and endangered flora and fauna. The buffer and transition areas inhabited by residents also serve as movement routes for rare and endangered animal species; they are thus consistent with a key value of the biosphere reserve programme – the co-existence of humanity and nature. Development plans for the Biosphere Reserve focus on eco-tourism using the ecological, cultural and social resources of the area, as well as the exploration of relics of the Korean War in the area.
Yeoncheon Imjin River Biosphere Reserve (Republic of Korea). Located in the Chugaryeong Tectonic Valley, the Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 58,412 hectares encompassing the entire county of Yeoncheon and the Imjin River basin. Its core area consists of forests and cultural heritage protection zones, with the Imjin River as its centrepiece. The transition area outside the Biosphere Reserve’s core and buffer zone, includes residential settlements and farmlands. Temperate deciduous broad-leaved forests cover 60% of Yeoncheon County. Numerous animals travel to, and inhabit, the area around the river with its many rapids, swamps and wetlands, among them water spiders, red-crowned cranes, eagles, otters and wildcats. The Imjin River, mostly untouched by humans, is home to Korean endemic fish species, such as Acheilognathus gracilis and Tanakia signifier, and mammals, including water deer, otters and leopard cats. It serves as an ecological corridor to the DMZ and bridges inland areas with the ocean.
Nordhordland Biosphere Reserve (Norway). Situated in the west of the country, the 669,800 hectare biosphere reserve encompasses both marine and terrestrial areas characterized by fjords and mountains. Salmon populate the fjords, and herring are to be found in coastal areas. Nordhordland Biosphere Reserve is home to a population of 54,000 people who maintain agricultural activities, notably sheep and crop farming, as well as fish farming, though many combine these activities with work in industry and energy generation. The biosphere reserve is developing sustainability in the area, with innovative CO2 capture and storage experimentation and the development of renewable energy to reduce the importance of oil exploitation. The biosphere reserve also aims to reinforce the conservation of several cultural landscapes by promoting tourism and local products. Nordhordland is the only biosphere reserve in Norway, following the withdrawal of Northeast Salvbard Biosphere Reserve in 1997.
Roztocze Biosphere Reserve (Poland). Located in southeast Poland next to the Ukrainian border, the 297,000 hectare site forms a transboundary Biosphere Reserve with Ukraine’s Roztochya Biosphere Reserve. A scenic region of great natural and cultural value, it is also an important ecological corridor encompassing loess areas, a range of limestone hills covered by forests and ribbon fields, with deep river valleys and deposits of mineral waters and fossil wood. Visited by some 600,000 tourists every year, the site is home to approximately 160,000 residents whose livelihood chiefly depends on agriculture, forestry and tourism. However, unfavourable farming conditions, notably the fragmentation of farms, have stood in the way of modernization and let to a high level of emigration by young people. Development plans for the biosphere reserve seek to reverse this trend and allow the region to draw great benefits from its natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Lake Elton Biosphere Reserve (Russian Federation). The 207,340 hectare Biosphere Reserve bordering Kazakhstan contains a lake in an otherwise semi-arid and arid area whose history of salt mining and intensive agricultural exploitation, has raised issues concerning water availability and water pollution. Close 5,900 people live in 14 rural settlements and herder posts in the Biosphere Reserve, with seasonal variations almost doubling human presence in the area. The lake is important to nomads and their livestock, the only remaining agricultural activity in the Biosphere Reserve, and to numerous mammals and birds, including cranes, some of which belong to threatened species. The Biosphere Reserve aims to improve water management in the context of climate change, and develop ways to render agriculture and livestock-keeping more sustainable. Tourism development is also being planned to address the dual challenges of skilled labourer shortages and unemployment.
Alto Turia Biosphere Reserve (Spain). The 67,080 hectare Biosphere Reserve encompasses the middle course of the Turia River with the Turia Valley as at its northwest-southeast axis. A Mediterranean biogeographic region, it is characterized by diverse soils and vegetation, as well as hot and dry summers. Predominant arboreal species in the area include pine, oak and juniper. The main fauna found in the area are steppe birds, the Granada hare (Lepus granatensis) and the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). The white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus) as well as the common midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans). Endemic fauna include the Catalan barbel (Barbus haasi) and the Valencia chub (Squalius valentinus). Alto Turia is home to nearly 4,300 inhabitants and some 6,500 temporary residents living in eight municipalities and several isolated population centres. There are plans to develop the trade in local products of recognized quality to drive sustainable development in the territory.
La Siberia Biosphere Reserve (Spain). Situated in central-western Spain and bordering the Villuercas-Jara-Ibores UNESCO Global Geopark, the 155,717.49 Biosphere Reserve features major freshwater reservoirs along the Guadiana and Zújar rivers in a landscape of large plains and oak forests. Notable rare plant species in La Siberia include Drosera rotundifolia and Pinguicula lusitanica and its fauna includes species in danger of extinction (notably the Iberian lynx, Lynx pardinus, horseshoe bats, Rhinolophus ferrumequinum, and Rhinolophus serotinum). Emblematic birds found in the area include the Iberian imperial eagle (Aquila adalberti), the golden kite (Milvus milvus), the black vulture (Aegypius monachus) and the black stork (Ciconia nigra). Reptile species include the ocellated lizard (Lacerta lepida), the Mediterranean pond turtle (Mauremys leprosa) and the Lataste’s viper (Vipera latasti). The Biosphere Reserve produces prized organic products including cork, charcoal, firewood and honey, and supports organic livestock, including merino black sheep. Sustainable development plans to boost social and economic activity have been developed to curb emigration, which has led to a 57% decline in the local human population since the 1960s.
Valle del Cabriel Biosphere Reserve (Spain). Located in the Cabriel River basin in eastern Spain, the 421,765.93 hectare the Biosphere Reserve is characterized by a diversity of landscapes: mountains, rock formations shaped by the confinement of fluvial channels, agricultural use in alluvial plains, salt marshes and lagoons. Notable flora in the area includes Iberian gypsum vegetation (Gypsophiletalia), karstic calcareous grasslands, Mediterranean forests of endemic black pines, endemic forests of Juniperus spp, and pre-steppe areas of gramineous and annuals. Rich cultural heritage remains the area include Villar del Humo, part of the Rock Art of the Mediterranean Basin on the Iberian Peninsula World Heritage site. Fluvial channels across the Biosphere Reserve serve as ecological corridors connecting the whole territory and enabling the distribution of vegetation and fauna, as well as facilitating the dissemination of ideas and customs. The inhabitants of the Cabriel Valley have adapted to the their environment by employing unique, ancient sustainable practices based on agricultural activity, livestock and water use, which have helped them conserve their specific tangible and intangible cultural heritage.
Vindelälven-Juhtatdahka Biosphere Reserve (Sweden). Straddling the Arctic Circle, the 1.3 million hectare Biosphere Reserve includes large parts of the Vindelfjällen nature reserve, the largest in northern Europe, and 34% of its total area is protected encompassing three Ramsar sites, a national park and 90 nature reserves. The northern part of the Biosphere Reserve is mountainous, forests cover its central part, while the south is a coastal area. The area is home to two distinct cultural communities, Swedish and Sami and their rich cultural traditions. Activities in Biosphere Reserve include mining, forestry, and reindeer husbandry, which enjoys official protection as a traditional activity of public interest. The Sami Parliament is officially responsible for ensuring that Sami interests are defended in spatial planning, while Samernas Riksförbund (SSR), the National Federation of Swedish Sami people, works more directly to support ‘samebys’ on planning issues. The Sami Parliament has, moreover, drawn up an action plan for Sami livelihoods and culture to deal with climate change.
Voxnadalen Biosphere Reserve (Sweden). Located in the central part of the country, the 341,533 hectare Biosphere Reserve encompasses the catchment of the River Voxnan. Extensive boreal woodlands cover much of its northwest while open farmland to be found in the more populated southeast. The site is also home to engineering, hydro energy and high tech companies and to 274 nationally endangered specifies of flora and fauna as well as 16 that are internationally threatened. Local authorities have introduced policies prioritizing the preservation of several species including wolves (Canis lupus) and wolverine (Gulo gulo), and their habitats. The site is notable for its Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland, inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2012. Thirteen-thousand people live in the site, which will seek to explore and demonstrate collaborative approaches to sustainable development on a regional scale.
Isle of Wight Biosphere Reserve (United Kingdom). Covering an area of 91,496 hectares, including the 38,000 hectares Isle of Wight proper and marine areas along its 92 km coastline, the Biosphere Reserve is home to 140,000 inhabitants, making it the second most populous island in northern Europe. The Isle of Wight has a strong tradition of environmental action with numerous projects and initiatives promoting environmental education and awareness, increased community engagement, and healthier lifestyles and diets. The island is also developing eco-tourism and working with universities and institutions to foster environmental innovation and attract new investment, and testing new measures for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Extensions and name changes
Chile—Archipiélago Juan Fernández Biosphere Reserve (formerly Parque Nacional Archipiélago de Juan Fernandez) Located 670 km from the coast of mainland Chile, the archipelago is home to one third of Chile’s endemic birds with an almost equal level of marine resource endemism of close to 25%. With a population of 926 inhabitants, the Biosphere Reserve’s development is focused on sustainable tourism. Its total surface area is increased from 9,967 hectares to 1,219,558 hectares, including 1,209,182 ha of marine areas.
Chile—Laguna San Rafael y El Guayaneco Biosphere Reserve (formerly Laguna San Rafael). Located in the Valdivian Forest/Chilean Nothofagus biogeographical region, Laguna San Rafael is an area of highly varied topography and great scenic beauty. The extension includes the Continental Patagonian Range with rivers and lakes, the Insular Patagonian Range, the Central Plain and the Patagonian Glaciers. Its total area is increased from 1,742,000 hectares to 5,130,462 hectares.
Ecuador—Galapagos Biosphere Reserve (former Archipiélago de Colón) extension and renaming. With an expanded area of 14,659,887 hectares, the site becomes one of the largest protected marine areas in the world. The Galapagos Islands are known for their exceptional endemic flora and fauna and are featured on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Kenya—Malindi Watamu Arabuko Sokoke Biosphere Reserve (formerly Malindi Watamu Biosphere Reserve). The area of the biosphere reserve increases to 487,278 hecates and now comprises two marine parks and the Arabuko Sokoke Forest. The extension improves the connectivity between various ecosystems, which range from coral reefs to mangrove forest and coastal dry forest. The biosphere reserve is a cetacean migration area and home to six taxa of endemic butterflies.
Republic of Korea—Jeju Island Biosphere Reserve. Extension from 83,094 hectares to 387,194 hectares to improve integrated and effective conservation of biodiversity. Jeju Island is one of the few sites in the world to have a triple designation as a UNESCO biosphere reserve (2002), a World Heritage site (2007, expanded in 2018) and a UNESCO Global Geopark (2010).
Spain—Los Valles de Omaña y Luna Biosphere Reserve. The site is extended to cover a surface area of 81,162 hectares with agriculture, mining (stone and sand quarry) and forest products as the main sources of revenue for its inhabitant.
Spain—Menorca Biosphere Reserve. Its total surface area is extended from 71,219 hectares to 514,485 hectares to contribute to the conservation of the site’s marine species and ecosystems, which were only partially represented in the original biosphere reserve.
Spain—Cuencas Altas de los Ríos Manzanares, Lozoya y Guadarrama Biosphere Reserve (formerly Cuenca Alta del Rio Manzanares), extension and renaming. Its total surface area is increased from 46,778 hectares to 105,654 hectares, to include a transition area, where sustainable economic and human development is fostered. The biosphere reserve is home to 99,200 inhabitants.