Unesco Biospheres get £3.5 million boost for sustainable tourism

A pioneering project to increase the economic value of tourism, while reducing its environmental impact, is underway in the four Unesco Biosphere Reserves of the Channel region including the Brighton & Lewes Downs area, known as ‘The Living Coast’.  

The three-year, £3.5million, Bio-Cultural Heritage Tourism (BCHT) project will develop a new, sustainable way of managing tourism across four Biospheres in France and England, using principal funding from the EU ‘Interreg France (Channel) England Programme’.

Brighton & Hove City Council, the lead partner of The Living Coast Biosphere programme, will receive a budget of almost £500,000 to work on the project. The money will be used to develop new niche tourism approaches, with involvement from local Biosphere partners - including the Royal Pavilion and Museums and the council’s tourism arm VisitBrighton who will host a new officer to manage the project.

Other Unesco Biospheres taking part in the project are North Devon in England and the Marais Audomarois and Iles et Mer d'Iroise in France. Due to their stunning landscapes and natural heritage, these areas collectively attract more than 20 million visitors a year.

By managing and mitigating negative visitor impacts, the Biosphere areas will work as pilots for a new approach that can then be adopted by other protected areas and heritage landscapes.  Encouraging visitors away from over-visited attractions to other places that have more capacity is one example of how visitor impact could be improved.

Funding will be used to support tourism businesses to improve their visitor experience, create new tourism offers that promote the Biospheres’ natural heritage and encourage local organisations to engage with and take part in a more sustainable approach.

Visitors will have the opportunity to conserve nature by actively getting involved in authentic experiences and then take the knowledge gained on holiday back home with them.  For example, visitors could be offered an experience to cultivate varieties of traditional foods such as apples or forage for wild mushrooms.

Alan Robins, chair of BHCC’s Tourism, Development and Culture committee said: “Having a high number of visitors in one location has the potential to damage the environment and affect the quality of life of those who live there.

“This Biosphere project is about developing new income streams from sustainable tourism while managing the environmental impacts; and to make this happen, residents, businesses and visitors all have their part to play. 

“We need to raise awareness of the need to conserve the nature and heritage we’re very fortunate to have right on our doorstep.  There’s a balance to be struck and this work will be a valuable step towards looking after the region’s precious assets for generations to come.”

More information on The Living Coast Biosphere programme.

The UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves covers 669 internationally designated protected areas in 120 countries. Biosphere Reserves demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature.

The project is being delivered through a partnership of organisations running the Biosphere Reserves - Devon County Council, Brighton and Hove City Council, Communauté d’Agglomération du Pays de Saint-Omer, Parc naturel régional des Caps et Marais d’Opale, Parc naturel régional d’Armorique and the Parc Naturel Marin d’Iroise – and resources partners, such as Pas-de-Calais Tourism and University of Exeter.

BHCC will participate in all aspects of the 4 million Euros project over the 3-year timescale, with a local budget of 544,000 Euros (approx £480,000 at current exchange rates) – for which it will receive EU funding of 365,000 Euros (approx £324,000 at current exchange rates) and will itself contribute the remainder as match funding (mostly ‘in-kind’ as staff time).