Is there and Economic case for a Forest of Dean Biosphere

Forest of Dean first to ask - “Exactly how does a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve benefit the local economy?”

In December 2018 the Forest of Dean District Council became the first rural council in the UK to declare a climate emergency. This left many asking the question whether reaching carbon neutral by 2030 was possible and if so, how it was achievable.

To achieve its goal the Forest of Dean District Council would need to look not only outwards across the UK and the world, but to also look at its own geography to see how it can not only achieve this goal but become leaders in tackling the climate emergency.

Could the Forest of Dean’s own unique natural assets assist with this issue?

Prior to the Council declaration, Cllr Chris McFarling had presented the idea of creating a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to members of the cabinet’s environment support group and the Forest Economic Partnership’s (FEP) Transport & Infrastructure group.  But while the benefits were obvious from an ecological perspective, the question of how it could actually benefit the local people and the Forest of Dean’s economy, was asked? 

What is a Biosphere Reserve?

It is a designated area in which to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development on a regional scale. They’re the world’s only internationally recognised accolade for demonstrating excellence in sustainable development practices.

The reserve has three functions; nature conservation, sustainable socio-economic development, and development of and sharing knowledge, learning and awareness. These functions are situated within three zones of the biosphere reserve:

  • The core zone - devoted to nature conservation and legally protected
  • The buffer zone - which incorporates an area where only activities compatible with conservation objectives of the core zone are allowed
  • The transition zone - where sustainable development objectives are encouraged and enacted, this where most people live and work (including market towns).

 There are currently over 700 biosphere reserves in 124 countries, with only 7 in the UK.

Support from the Office of National Statistics

When it appeared that there was no case proven worldwide of the economic benefits, FEP approached the Office of National Statistics (ONS) for further information on the sorts of model and data needed.

The ONS looked at the problem and through their CSR and Staff Development aims, a team of volunteers started the task of tackling the tricky data to come to some early conclusions of whether there was an economic case for a Biosphere Reserve based on the District as an example.

Their report looked at the benefits over a 30-year period of two scenarios; Scenario 1) there is no change to the status of the Forest of Dean and Scenario 2) implement the Biosphere Reserve.

In producing the report with the FEP, the team of economists and local volunteers looked at the characteristics of the Forest of Dean with its 13,605 hectares of forestry and its diverse economy. They examined eleven of a long list of viable benefits, which could accrue from biosphere status. But at the time of this report they were unable to accurately quantify the benefits of all of these and so concentrated on three where there was sufficient data: 

  • Biosphere Branding of Forestry and Agricultural Outputs
  • Encouraging coppicing of under-managed private woodlands
  • Increasing sustainable farming practices 

The Benefits

The outcomes delivered by these benefits include increased GVA (Gross Value Added) in areas such as forestry and agriculture and carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration is the process involved in carbon capture and long-term storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

The initial assessment concludes that over a 30 year period there is a benefit to cost ratio of 3:1 on cashable benefits to be gained by a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This is higher still when carbon sequestration is included.  

Given the complexity involved it is clear why no one has attempted to model the economic benefits of creating a biosphere reserve before it has been established” explains Andrew Callard, former Chair of FEP. “We’re extremely grateful to the ONS to help create a model which demonstrates significant benefit even when those benefits have been reduced by 40% to curb proposers’ over-optimism” 

With the Glover Report recently declaring the Forest a ‘National Landscape’, FEP are keen to explore how a Biosphere Reserve can be taken forward and the role it has in addressing not only maintenance of an environmental-economic balance of the District, but also with the Council’s climate emergency.” 

Cllr McFarling is over the moon that the evidence-based approach promoted by the FEP, and used by the ONS in their research, had shown such a strong economic case for the Biosphere initiative. “This now enables decision-makers and prospective partners to support the project on its journey with renewed confidence” he said.