The World Network of Biosphere Reserves

UNESCO Courier, May 1997 | Go to article overview

The World Network of Biosphere Reserves


Biosphere Reserves are geographical areas considered typical of the balanced relationship between people and nature. As of April 1997, 337 Reserves, located in 85 different countries, have met the required criteria for this designation laid down within UNESCO's "Man and the Biosphere" (MAD) Programme. They combine three functions:

* species and genetic variation;

* a development function - fostering economic development that is ecologically and culturally sustainable;

* a logistic function - providing support for research, monitoring, training and education related to local, regional, national and global conservation and sustainable development issues.

The Reserves form a World Network within which exchanges of information, experience and personnel are encouraged. They contribute to meeting the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity and Agenda 21 that resulted from the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro.

What are Biosphere Reserves for?

Human pressures on natural resources are drastically reducing the diversity of the earth's plant and animal species, ecosystems and landscapes. Biosphere Reserves safeguard samples of biodiversity, landscapes and ecosystems and contribute to the maintenance of the earth's life-support systems which serve to prevent soil erosion, maintain soil fertility, regulate dyer flow, replenish aquifers, recycle nutrients and absorb air and water pollutants.

Research may be conducted on the dynamics of the natural systems in the core areas of Biosphere Reserves, which have remained relatively unaffected by human activity. This research can be compared with the functioning of human-affected landscapes in the buffer and transition areas.

Sharing knowledge of practices that improve human well-being without degrading the environment is a central purpose of Biosphere Reserves. They are places where issues can be debated by all the stakeholders concerned: scientists, local farmers, fishermen, politicians, private enterprises and nature conservation associations.

How are Biosphere Reserves selected?

To qualify for designation as a Biosphere Reserve an area should normally:

* be representative of a major biogeographic region, including a gradation of existing human intervention;

* contain landscapes, ecosystems or animal and plant species or varieties which need protecting;

* provide an opportunity to explore and demonstrate approaches to sustainable development within the larger region where the Reserves are located;

* have an appropriate zoning system, with a legally constituted core area or areas devoted to long-term protection, a clearly identified buffer zone or zones, and an outer transition area.

How are Biosphere Reserves organized?

The core area needs to be legally established and give long-term protection to the landscape, ecosystem and species it contains.

A buffer zone must be clearly delineated. Human activities in this area should not hinder the conservation objectives of the core area but rather help to protect it. …

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