11 June 2014

Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere is here!

Brighton and Lewes Downs is first new UNESCO world Biosphere site in UK in 40 years

Today saw the first completely new Biosphere site in the UK established for almost forty years and the first ever in south-east England. The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere was awarded this designation by UNESCO’s International Coordinating Council (ICC) of the ‘Man and the Biosphere’ (MAB) programme, which met in Sweden earlier today (Wednesday 11 June).  It joins a global network of more than 600 “world-class environments” in over 100 countries, and is one of only a handful worldwide to include a city.

Achieving the status of a new World Biosphere site follows six years’ work by the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership to develop its bid. The partnership of some forty organisations, with Brighton & Hove City Council as a lead partner, includes other local authorities, public bodies, voluntary, educational and community organisations and private sector business.

Martin Price, Chair of the UK National Committee for UNESCO’s Man & the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, reports from the UNESCO meeting in Sweden: “I am very glad to say that the decision was taken today to approve the Brighton & Lewes Downs as a new Biosphere for the UK, so it is now a globally-recognised site of excellence where many individuals and organisations work in partnership to foster all aspects of sustainable development across the region.”

Chair of the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership, Chris Todd says: “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.  Now we have this accolade, we aim to build on the partnership to do even greater things. This is not about telling people what to do but creating a vision for the future.  More and more people are living in cities and we need to find ways of making them more pleasant places to live. We need to make sure that we build nature into the equation while raising awareness of how the natural environment contributes to our wealth and well-being.”

Jeremy Burgess, Eastern Downs Area Manager for the South Downs National Park and Vice Chair of the Biosphere partnership said: “Getting Biosphere status for this part of the South Downs and surrounding area is a great achievement. It means that an area already protected nationally for its special landscapes has been recognised internationally for the importance of its wildlife and the role it can play in improving quality of life and boosting a greener economy for the millions of people who live around it. The National Park isn’t an island and we hope that Biosphere status will help us reach out and encourage more visits, research and investment across the area.”

Where is our Biosphere?

The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere area covers all of the land and near-shore coastal waters between the two rivers of the Adur in the west and the Ouse in the east. The northern boundary of the South Downs National Park marks its northern limits, while it also includes the city of Brighton & Hove and neighbouring towns of Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Shoreham, Telscombe, Southwick and Shoreham Beach. Extending two nautical miles out to sea, it also includes part of one of the first ‘Marine Conservation Zones’ designated by the Government last year.

Notes to Editors

  • UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
  • Biosphere Reserves are internationally recognised by UNESCO as “sites of excellence” to balance conservation and socio-economic development between nature and people, and explore and demonstrate innovative approaches as learning sites for sustainable development.
  • There are 621 sites across 117 countries that make up the World Network of Biosphere Reserves; the UK presently has five sites, of which three are active modern Biosphere sites: North Devon (England), Dyfi (Wales), and Galloway & Southern Ayrshire (Scotland).
  • Biosphere Reserves are not statutory restrictive protected areas, but are places where people work together to pursue “win-win” solutions that improve our quality of life and local economy whilst enhancing the local environment.

Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere

Our Biosphere has three objectives to be jointly delivered:

  • Conserve and enhance nature
  • Support human development that is sustainable
  • Encourage environmental knowledge, learning and awareness and engagement
  • It thus aims to not only look after and improve the natural environment, but also better engage people in the nature on their doorsteps and promote action to reduce the environmental impacts of our lifestyles.
  • The Biosphere Partnership’s priorities for action to make improvements are: environmental awareness; outdoor recreation & eco-tourism; water use and quality; and green space networks.
  • Our Biosphere brings together three distinct but connected environments:     
  • Countryside – which is part of the South Downs National Park (our Biosphere’s ‘Buffer Zone’, and including ‘Core Areas’ – Sites of Special Scientific Interest)
  • Coast – extending 2 nautical miles out to sea in the English Channel (our Biosphere’s marine ‘Buffer Zone’ and ‘Transition Area’)
  • City & Towns – Brighton & Hove, Shoreham, Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Telscombe, Southwick and Shoreham Beach (our Biosphere’s land ‘Transition Area’)
  • The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership is made up of around 40 different local organisations, including all of the local authorities as well as other public bodies and representatives from the voluntary, private and educational sectors. The Partnership Board meets regularly to steer project delivery.
  • When inscribed by UNESCO on 11th June 2014, our Biosphere will be: one of only a handful of sites with major urban settlements worldwide; the first completely new site in the UK in almost 40 years; the only site in south-east England.
  • Anticipated benefits of becoming an international Biosphere area include: improved quality of life through a healthier and more resilient environment (“helping nature to help ourselves”) e.g. drinking water quality; reconnecting people to their local environment, reinforcing community identity and pride; heightened profile for the local area and its environment, boosting the visitor offer and helping to attract external investment e.g. European grant funding and new tourism business; encouraging more environmental research and education on the local area; and encouraging collaborative working across different administrative areas and sectors, for the benefit of people and nature.
  • As a non-statutory designation, Biosphere status will not impose any new regulation on land management or other practices, but will instead incentivise higher standards in environmental policy, planning and practical delivery by local bodies working more closely together.

Facts and figures

  • Almost 1500 local people have signed up as “Friends of the Biosphere” supporters, which all interested individuals are encouraged to do at events and through the project website.
  • The Biosphere project has been presented at 150 public events/meetings over 2 years.
  • Almost 1,800 individuals inputted to the public consultation run in early 2013, of which around 95% supported the Biosphere proposal and its objectives.
  • Our Biosphere area is the block of land and sea between the River Adur at Shoreham in the west and the River Ouse at Newhaven in the east; it covers 389 square kilometres (or 150 square miles), an area just larger than the Isle of Wight.
  • 371,500 people live here, and the area receives around 12 million visitors each year.
  • The area has an approximate economic value of £7 billion.
  • Thousands of species of wildlife occur, including more than 200 international conservation priorities.
  • Internationally important wildlife habitats include chalk grassland on the South Downs, vegetated shingle beaches, and undersea chalk reefs.
  • The local environment provides us with many of our daily needs, including pure water, clean energy, fresh air, local food, and open space for recreation.

Further information

For more information, including a short video on the new Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere area, please go to the project website www.biospherehere.org.uk