In 1976, UNESCO recognised Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve as one of the world’s first Biosphere Reserves (BRs). At that time the main focus of BRs was on conservation and research. In 1995, UNESCO widened the remit of BRs to be open and responsive to the needs of their local communities, in order to explore, demonstrate and promote sustainable development at a regional scale. To keep the UNESCO accolade, BRs have to show how they are making progress on these aims. In the case of Wester Ross, this would mean expanding the BR to a much larger area.
In 2012, Wester Ross Alliance a local organisation with an interest in the idea of a Biosphere for Wester Ross commissioned a Scoping Study. Led by Professor Martin Price of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Centre for Mountain Studies, the study found that there was very limited local awareness of the fact that a BR has existed in the area for nearly 40 years; and most people preferred the term ‘Biosphere’, rather than the more restrictive-sounding ‘Biosphere Reserve’. The research found a wide variety of activity being undertaken in Wester Ross which fitted well with the objectives of the concept of a Biosphere. Much of that activity appeared to be undertaken at the sub-regional or community level, and there were striking similarities in terms of the types of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats which communities identified in their own localities. There was therefore considerable scope for an extended BR to be a useful mechanism for development both within and between communities in Wester Ross.
In March 2013, ASC held an international conference on the Social Enterprise and Biospheres in Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere. One outcome of this event was a proposal to the Scottish Government for ASC to explore the idea of a Biosphere for Wester Ross using a participatory approach to sustainable development at a regional level in the Wester Ross area.
An extended Biosphere Reserve for Wester Ross?
On 8th March 2014, ASC hosted the first of a series of community events to clarify whether there was support for the proposal to carry out a 12-month engagement project to explore the idea of an extended Biosphere for the Wester Ross area: Prior to the event local radio station Two Lochs Radio interviewed Colin Campbell about the initiative, you can hear the interview below:
Phase 1: May - November 2014
During the first six months, the focus of the activities was on meeting the members of the local communities and relevant local organisations as well as businesses to raise awareness around the opportunities to make this application for an extended Biosphere Reserve to UNESCO. Overall, there were 82 meetings reaching 556 local people and other stakeholders.
Phase 2: December 2014 - May 2015
As the general feeling was that the Biosphere could be a positive initiative, the project was carried forward continuously using participatory and asset-based approaches. Another important aspect of the second phase of the project was to identify and confirm the zonation of the biosphere. On the 28th May 2015, the last meeting for finalising the nomination on the Wester Ross Biosphere Project took place to discuss the next steps on how to take the project ahead. Download the end of project report for WRBP from the sidebar above.
UNESCO Nomination: March 2016
The International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) adds new sites to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves each year. In 2015, the total number reached 651 sites, including 15 transboundary sites, in 120 countries.
ASC is extremely pleased to have returned from the 4th World Congress of Biosphere Reserves in Lima in March, with the news that the 28th meeting of the International Coordinating Council confirmed the nomination for the Wester Ross Biosphere to join the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
ASC is proud to have had the opportunity to work on this initiative and we would like to thank everyone who made the Wester Ross Biosphere Project (WRBP) a success and to congratulate the people of Wester Ross for coming together to achieve this global accolade.
The approach the project used to tap into local social capital and maximise participation was commended by UNESCO MAB as was the social enterprise approach for the forward plan. It is an excellent outcome for the Wester Ross Biosphere Project; delivered within just 12-months.
We wish everyone involved in taking forward the new Wester Ross Biosphere (WRB) every success and trust that the spirit of participation and collaboration will see WRB flourish for the benefit of the local community, future generations and natural heritage in the coming years.
The World Network of Biosphere Reserves currently counts 669 sites in 120 countries all over the world, including 16 transboundary sites. The new 2016-2017 map of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves shows the worldwide distribution of all biosphere reserves. The map is available in English, French, Spanish, and German and includes an overview of the objectives, tasks and structures of these areas.