Have you ever heard of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve? It's quite possible that you haven't although the inhabitants of Machynlleth, Brighton and Wigtown - and many other places around the globe will know what I am on about.

UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, through its Man and the Biosphere Programme, has promoted a world network of Biosphere Reserves since the 1970s. In the UK, the programe is overseen by the UK MAB Committee. Over time criteria have been set to ensure that the objectives of the programme will be met, and regular evaluation of the effectiveness of biosphere reserves is undertaken. UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are:

  • sites of excellence where new and optimal practices to manage nature and human activities are tested and demonstrated;

  • tools to help countries implement the results of the World Summit on Sustainable Development and, in particular, the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Ecosystem Approach;

  • learning sites for the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development.

In practice, biosphere reserves are a sort of living laboratory where partners work to develop innovative apporoaches to sustainable development in the context of landscapes of exceptional biodiversity improtance.

Neil Wyatt Environmental has been commissioned by Natural England to investigate the feasibility of using the establishment of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve as a way forwards for the Cannock Chase to Sutton Coldfield Biodiversity Enhancement Area.

The importance of the conservation sites concentrated in the landscape between Stafford and Birmingham has long been recognised by conservationists. Their dominant characteristic is heathland, but there are also many important grasslands, wetland and ancient semi-natural woodlands, chiefly of a generally acidic character,

Yet this landscape is not just of conservation value. It has importance for recreation, tourism and agriculture, with millions of people visiting the area every year. It is also home to around half a million people in several major settlements, which themselves contain important wildlife sites and green infrastructure.

Hopefully this workl will ultimately lead to ehe stablishment of a remarkable new Biospher Reserve that combines rural and urhban habitats of international importance, as well as being of exceptional value to local people.

Historic Heathland