What is a Biosphere Reserve?
Biosphere Reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located. Biosphere reserves serve in some ways as 'living laboratories' for testing out and demonstrating integrated management of land, water and biodiversity. Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil three basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:
What is the origin of Biosphere Reserves?
Biosphere Reserves are designed to meet one of the most challenging issues that the World is facing today: How can we conserve the diversity of plants, animals and micro-
The origin of Biosphere Reserves goes back to the "Biosphere Conference" organized by UNESCO in 1968, the first intergovernmental conference to seek to reconcile the conservation and use of natural resources, thereby foreshadowing the present-
Is there a difference between a Biosphere Reserve and a Biosphere Region?
NO – a Biosphere Reserve and a Biosphere Region refer to the same concept and same principle. The variation in terms came about during the Third World Congress on Biosphere Reserves in Madrid in 2008, where a number of Biosphere’s queried the use of the term Reserve in that within their local dynamics and understanding the term Reserve gave land owners the impression that it was intended to create a single fenced in area with altered management principles and ideal and many of these areas were experiencing challenges in creating awareness of what was intended within the concept. Through the adaptation to the term REGION instead of RESERVE, they immediately discovered far greater understanding and support from stakeholders within their regions.
As there were a number of Biosphere’s from around the world having expressed the same concerns, an official position was taken by UNESCO that Biosphere’s may individually opt for either option and both would officially be recognized by UNESCO and may be used in the official naming of the Biosphere. Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region in South Africa were one of the initial role players in this development and since adopting the term Region as opposed to Biosphere Reserve, have engendered far greater understanding and support from their stakeholder base.
Regardless of which terms is being used within a Biosphere, all principles, goals and objectives remain the same. Howevere it was also discussed that as the original term coined was Biospere Reserves, all UNESCO and general information material would continue to use this reference.
Why do we need Biosphere Reserves?
There are a number of reasons as to why Biosphere Reserves have been deemed as necessary. The include the following:
What is meant by Zonation in Biosphere Reserves?
To carry out the complementary activities of nature conservation and use of natural resources, biosphere reserves are organized into three interrelated zones, known as the core area, the buffer zone and the transition area.
The core area needs to be legally established and give long-
A buffer zone (or zones) which is clearly delineated and which surrounds or is contiguous to the core area. Activities are organized here so that they do not hinder the conservation objectives of the core area but rather help to protect it, hence the idea of "buffering". It can be an area for experimental research, for example to discover ways to manage natural vegetation, croplands, forests, fisheries, to enhance high quality production while conserving natural processes and biodiversity, including soil resources, to the maximum extent possible. In a similar manner, experiments can be carried out in the buffer zone to explore how to rehabilitate degraded areas. It may accommodate education, training, tourism and recreation facilities
An outer transition area, or area of cooperation extending outwards, which may contain a variety of agricultural activities, human settlements and other uses. It is here that the local communities, conservation agencies, scientists, civil associations, cultural groups, private enterprises and other stakeholders must agree to work together to manage and sustainably develop the area's resources for the benefit of the people who live there. Given the role that biosphere reserves should play in promoting the sustainable management of the natural resources of the region in which they lie, the transition area is of great economic and social significance for regional development.
This zonation is applied in many different ways in the real world to accommodate geographical conditions, socio-
Local communities -
Farmers, foresters, fishermen -
The world community -
How are Biosphere Reserves selected?
Biosphere reserves cover the great variety of natural areas of the biosphere, going from high mountains to greatly human-
Organizational arrangements should be provided for the involvement and participation of a suitable range of public authorities, local communities and private interests in the planning and management of the biosphere reserve. In the case of large natural areas which straddle national boundaries, countries are encouraged to co-
National MAB Committees or focal points are responsible for preparing biosphere reserve nominations and for involving the appropriate government agencies, relevant institutions and local authorities in preparing the nomination. Each nomination is examined by a UNESCO Advisory Committee for biosphere reserves, for recommendation to the International Co-
Who participates in a Biosphere Reserve?
At the site level -
At the national level -
At the international level -
Why a World Network of Biosphere Reserves?
Although biosphere reserves have very different geographical, economic and cultural contexts, they do have a common interest to seek concrete solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with the sustainable use of natural resources, for the benefit of local people. The World Network fosters exchanges amongst biosphere reserves -
The World Network is formally constituted by a Statutory Framework, which resulted from the work of the International Conference on Biosphere Reserves, held in Seville (Spain), in March 1995. This Statutory Framework sets out "the rules of the game" of the World Network and foresees a periodic review of biosphere reserves. Activities of the World Network are guided by the "Seville Strategy for Biosphere Reserves", also drawn up at the Seville Conference. At present, not all existing biosphere reserves fully participate in the Network and these guiding documents will help to improve their functioning in the forthcoming years.
What are the functions of a proclaimed biosphere reserve?
Each proclaimed biosphere is intended to fulfill 3 basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:
What is the difference between a proclaimed biosphere reserve and a natural World Heritage Site?
A biosphere is a representative ecological area with 3 mutually reinforcing functions:
Collectively, all proclaimed biospheres form a World Network linked by exchanges of experience and knowledge. They are part of a UNESCO scientific programme, governed by a "soft law", the Statutory Framework.
Natural World Heritage sites must be of outstanding universal value in accordance with the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972). Efforts to enhance local development and to promote scientific understanding are means to ensure the protection of the natural World Heritage values.
In some instances, a core area of a biosphere reserve can meet World Heritage criteria: the usually larger biosphere reserve can therefore serve as a complementary means to protect the integrity of the World Heritage site
Can a biosphere reserve be de-
The Statutory Framework makes provision for a periodic review every 10 years.
Reports are prepared by the concerned authority, and forwarded to the UNESCO Secretariat. The reports are examined according to a set procedure. In the event that a site designated as a biosphere reserve does not satisfy the criteria, after a reasonable period of time the area will no longer be referred to as a biosphere reserve of the World Network.
To date, this procedure has never reached this conclusion: however several counties have voluntarily withdrawn "non-
What is UNESCO’S role?
Biospheres are not the object of a binding international convention or treaty but are governed by a "soft law" -
The UNESCO Secretariat does not have a "police function" and it is the responsibility of each country, through its MAB National Committee or Focal Point, to ensure that the proclaimed biosphere responds to the criteria and functions properly.
For this, in most countries it is not necessary to enact special national legislation for biosphere reserves but rather to use the existing legal frameworks for nature protection and land/water management. This being said, an increasing number of countries are now giving biospheres a special legal status in order to reinforce their application.
In the case of a perceived problem, e.g. plans to construct an oil refinery within the site, the biosphere reserve status should be used as a platform for dialogue to arrive at an optimal solution. The MAB Secretariat will remind the concerned MAB National Committee/Focal Point of its responsibility in such cases.
How will a biosphere reserve benefit me?
Benefits to government
Benefits for environmental agencies, institutions, educators and individuals
Benefits to tourism
How many biosphere reserves are there in South Africa?
As of June 2019 there are currently 10 registered Biospheres within South Africa. For more information on all of these, please see the page SOUTH AFRICAN BIOSPHERE RESERVES on this website
Does a biosphere reserve impact the management of my property?
No – the MaB concept does not bring with it any “policing” authority. The concept is more about encouraging cooperation towards concepts of sustainable living and to supplying or creating frameworks and resources to enable stakeholders to do so.
Should it be required, current and established legislation can be used to assist in the management of a situation or impending problem within a region, however, this will need to be implemented by the necessary authorities within a region and not by the Biosphere themselves. Stakeholders within a Biosphere region still retain full management authority over their property, although adherence to Biosphere principles is encouraged and supported.
Is a Biosphere Reserve a fenced off area?
No – Biosphere Reserves are open areas or regions where land owners and stakeholders have joined together to establish a shared vision of sustainability for the area and does not mean the creation of a single fenced in reserve.