Cannock Chase to Sutton Park UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Feasibility Study

Client:  Natural England

UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are the equivalent of World Heritage Sites for biodiversity, rather than cultural, heritage. Similar levels of heritage importance are required, and similar emphasis is given to using the heritage assets to support sustainable development in the context of local social, economic and environmental issues through alignment with UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2014-2015 following initial work by NWE on the potential for a heathland restoration partnership in Birmingham, Staffordshire and the Black Country, we were commissioned by Natural England to produce a detailed study into the feasibility of establishing a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve linking the Cannock Chase Special Area of Conservation and Sutton Park National Nature Reserve. The work included detailed analysis of the area’s economic, social and environmental character and the synthesis of a detailed masterplan from various existing and aspirational proposals and initiatives.

Forty-two organisations were consulted individually during the production of the report, and over thirty of these participated in a stakeholder workshop held at the Museum of Cannock Chase. As well as several local authorities and Local Economic Partnerships, four government agencies, environmental NGOs and landowner organisations consultees included a Canal Restoration Trust, Local Nature Partnership, Canoe England and Wolverhampton University.

We formally presented the draft findings of the feasibility study to the UK Man and Biosphere Committee (the UK equivalent of ICOMOS-UK for Biosphere Reserves). They were highly supportive of the proposals and their feed back helped contribute to the direction of the final report.

It was also necessary to ensure the study was fully compatible with the more advanced proposals for a Black Country GeoPark, another UNESCO designation.

The final report was 137 pages in length with appendices plus 23 maps produced using GIS which document many of the relevant issues and options for the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In effect the document combined three elements -an appraisal of the assets and past initiatives; an options review and assessment against the UNESCO criteria; and an outline business plan demonstrating how the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve would operate in practice.

An eight-page summary document was produced, largely addressing the main issues from the perspective of Local Economic Partnerships. The report has been well received and it is anticipated that the Staffordshire LNP and Birmingham and Black Country LNP will take the concept forward in due course when resources for a major initiative become available.

3D Relief Model of the proposed Biosphere Reserve