Devon leads cross channel project to protect UNESCO Biosphere reserves
Posted on: 6 August 2018
A cutting-edge project to reduce the impact of tourism on four of the United Nation’s internationally protected nature reserves is underway and being led by Devon County Council.
Funded by the EU Interreg France (Channel) England Programme, the three-year £3.5million Bio-Cultural Heritage Tourism (BCHT) project aims to improve the experiences of visitors to four Unesco Biosphere Reserves in France and England and develop a new sustainable way of managing tourism across the four areas.
These areas are the Marais Audomarois and Iles et Mer d’Iroise in France and the Brighton and Lewes Downs and North Devon Biosphere Reserve in the UK.
The project is being lead by Devon County Council and delivered through a partnership of organisations running the Biosphere Reserves, Exeter University and local authorities in England and France.
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.
Due to their stunning landscapes and natural heritage the Biospheres attract many visitors. In a typical year more than 20 million people visit the four reserves.
But there are concerns that the high numbers are damaging the environment and affecting the quality of life of those who live there.
The project will develop a new sustainable way of managing tourism to enable it to benefit the areas environmentally and economically.
Each of the four Biospheres will Pilot a new approach through ‘bio-cultural heritage tourism’ that can be then adopted by natural heritage sites more widely.
It aims to improve the experience of visitors and tourism-generated income, manage visitor impact on natural heritage sites, support local tourist-based businesses to create a new ‘offer’ for visitors and encourage the participation of local bodies in this approach.
This will be done by encouraging providers of visitor activities to focus on the interdependence between the local way of life and the environment.
The strategy includes monitoring tourist numbers and identifying ways of encouraging visitors away from over-visited attractions to areas within the biosphere reserve that have capacity for new visitors.
The project also aims to raise new income from sustainable tourism by creating networks of ‘eco-engaged’ businesses.
Existing and new businesses, including providers of visitor activities will be encouraged to develop new niche products and services through tourism experiences that promote and sustain the reserves.
For example, visitors to a ‘potager conservatoire’ or traditional conservatory vegetable garden in Audomarois would help conserve local varieties of produce by taking part in an activity cultivate and use them.
By showing how cultural practices can sustain the landscape the project will offer an authentic experience to visitors and encourage them to act, visitors to get actively involved in helping to conserve nature both on their holiday and at home.
Professor Michael Winter OBE, Chairman of the North Devon Biosphere said: “The University is delighted to be a partner in this important research which builds on our long-standing close relationship with Devon County Council.”
Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for the
Environment said: “I welcome this project. It will put the systems in place that will allow some of the most beautiful areas in Europe to protect their local heritage, know-how and lifestyle by enabling visitors to experience traditional and eco-friendly practices while understanding how their habits impact on the environment.
“This will help visitors to limit their impact on the reserves, change their habits for good, and to support the areas through a network ‘eco-engaged’ economy so they are sustainable and are there for future generations.”
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