UNESCO Biosphere status for Brighton and Lewes Downs

UNESCO has recognised the Brighton and Lewes downs as a Biosphere, making it the UK’s first new Biosphere Reserve in 40 years.

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UNESCO have recognised the Brighton and Lewes downs as a Biosphere, making it the UK’s first new Biosphere Reserve in 40 years.

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It covers approximately 390km² and includes some of the South Downs National Park.

Chairman of the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership, Chris Todd, was quoted by UNESCO: ‘This is world recognition for the fantastic environment we have here and for all the hard work that local people put into looking after it.’

But what exactly is a Biosphere Reserve and what difference will it actually make to the area?

The status granted to Brighton and Lewes downs is part of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB). UNESCO describes this as a programme that ‘aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of relationships between people and their environments’. The aim is for a mutually beneficial relationship- sustainable development to create a healthy environment that benefits the local economy and people’s physical and mental health, whilst conserving it for future generations.

The Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere joins over 600 other Biosphere sites all over the world in more than 100 countries. These include the Rocky Mountains in the USA, the wadis of Jordan and the Amazon rainforest.

The UNESCO bid by the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere Project outlines the aims of the reserve ‘to better care for, manage, and enjoy our special local environment of countryside, coast and urban areas.’ The close proximity and relatedness of these environments was seen as a unique selling point of the bid.

However, some have been critical of the Biosphere status, which according to The Guardian have been called ‘little more than talking shops or marketing exercises’ by some local residents.

This is partly because a Biosphere is not actually a statutory protected area such as a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), so does not provide the same protection from planners or developers as these other types of protected area do. This could bring into question exactly what the value of this status is.

Although it may be a non-statutory designation, Rich Howorth, the Biosphere Project Officer for Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership, believes that the status ‘should act as a driver for better policy and practice including in land use planning and management through application by other public bodies’.

‘Our new Biosphere status is an excellent opportunity for local organisations and individuals to seize to put the environment at the heart of our local identity and activities, to improve the quality of our environment here, and ‘help nature to help ourselves’ – for example encouraging outdoor activity to improve public health and reduce pollution from motorised transport.

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‘Communication and marketing is certainly part of awareness-raising and creating new business opportunities, for example in eco-tourism, but is a means to an end to improve our environment and relationship with it. Essentially, being a new Biosphere is down to what we make of the opportunity!’