Biosphere Reserves

The Man and the Biosphere

Worldwide there are 651 biosphere reserves in 120 countries in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.

The Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) was launched in 1971 as an Intergovernmental Scientific Programme. An International Coordinating Council (ICC) was formed as a result that called for the establishment of reserves, to meet scientific, educational, cultural and recreational needs. Out of this emerged the Biosphere Beserve (BR) concept for context-specific conservation in 1974 and two years later in 1976 the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) was born. Since, several regional, sub-regional and ecosystem specific networks have also been established.

Overall, MAB has been set up to be a tool for international collaboration on issues such as nature conservation as well as related interdisciplinary research and education. It is meant to provide a basis for a more sustainable long-term approach to improve the relationship between the environment and people.

The most recent Action Plan for Biosphere Reserves, the Madrid Action Plan (2008-2013) also recognised that the biosphere model needs to be global but also locally adaptable.  Currently, the UNESCO MAB programme is working on a new Action Plan which will be published in Lima 2016: the Lima Action Plan 2016-2025. Running up to this conference, Assist Social Capital hosted an event on Social Enterprise in Biosphere Reserves (November 2015).


What are Biosphere Reserves?

Biosphere Reserves are designated by the UNESCO. They are also voluntary, cooperative conservation sites protecting not only biological but  also cultural diversity by promoting the reconciliation between human activities and the natural environment.

The three main functions of a Biosphere Reserve are:

  • Conservation - focussing on the preservation of ecosystems, landscapes, species and genetic resources
  • Learning and Research - through supporting projects, research and monitoring as well as environmental education
  • Sustainable Development - which includes fostering of sustainable economic and social/human development


UNESCO 4th WCBR LimaASC will be running workshop on 'Economics in and around BRs' in Lima at the 4th WCBR, 16th March. More information >>

Our Development Framework for Biosphere Reserves

SEBR Framework Document - Cover Page

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Related Topics:

"The network [WNBR] is a key component in MAB's objective to achieving a sustainable balance between sometimes conflicting goals of conserving biological diversity, promoting economic development, and maintaining associated cultural values. Biosphere Reserves are sites where this objective is tested, refined, demonstrated and implemented"

UNESCO, 1996