The Heritage Forest Biosphere Reserve (HFBR) project seeks to undertake initial scoping and engagement work for a potential UNESCO Biosphere Reserve based upon the District to enhance and protect our unique environment with sustainable development.
This project builds upon the work undertaken in 2019 for FEP by the Office for National Statistics which established that under the most prudent approach a Biosphere Reserve option for the district yields a Benefit-Cost Ratio of 3.89:1.
It responds to the draft Local industrial Strategy where “Gloucestershire has the potential to be the greenest place to live and work in England” and there is a need to “establish Gloucestershire as a leader in sustainable growth by developing a baseline to determine how best to protect, maintain and enhance our natural capital assets.” And to the Glover Report declaration that the District is a National Landscape.
HFBR enables key stakeholders and the population of the Forest to be engaged to understand their first thoughts and be involved in the potential design of the Biosphere Reserve. The results of this can be used to prepare a business case and roadmap to seeking accreditation subject to further funding and if it is seen to be desirable.
What are Biosphere Reserves?
Biosphere reserves are designated by UNESCO. There are 686 sites in 122 countries. Brighton & Lewes Downs is the latest biosphere reserve in UK following a 2-year designation process. Designation sits alongside current and proposed AONBs as it demonstrates international significance. UK biospheres typically incorporate an AONB.
A biosphere provides solutions for sustainable development defined as: “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” FEP has an overriding objective to ensure a balance between future economic development without throwing away the natural environment currently enjoyed in the District and to futureproof that development against issues such as climatic change.
A biosphere has 3 zones:
- Core zones: has high biodiversity value and act as reference points on the natural state of ecosystems like SSIs. Information from these zones may be used to assess the sustainability of activities, or the maintenance of environmental quality, in surrounding areas. Managers of the core areas may contribute resources to projects developed with residents, businesses and other partners of the biosphere reserve.
- Buffer zone: surrounds or is contiguous to the core area. Activities are organized so they do not hinder the conservation objectives of the core area, but rather help to protect it. The buffer zone might be an area for experimental research, or may involve ways to manage natural vegetation, agricultural land, forests, or fisheries to enhance overall quality of production, while conserving natural processes and biodiversity. This zone may also accommodate education, training, tourism, and recreation facilities.
- Transition Zone, or Area of Cooperation: the large outer area of a reserve where most people live and work, using the natural resources of the area in a sustainable manner. The term ‘area of cooperation’ underscores the role of cooperation as the main tool to achieve the objectives of the biosphere reserve. It is here that the local communities, conservation agencies, scientists, civil associations, cultural groups, businesses and other stakeholders would agree to work together to manage and use the area in a sustainable way that will benefit the people who live there.
This zone designation would apply to anywhere within the defined biosphere. At this stage the whole of the District is considered part of a potential Biosphere. As a result of this project, the proposed biosphere could be a larger or smaller area than this. It should also be noted that this zone approach and definition is aligned to the proposed Forestry Commission Land Management Plan- Our Shared Forest.
To enter the nomination process for a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve evidence is required of community engagement, stakeholder support and basic viability. The anticipated outputs of this project include:
- Engaging c76 key stakeholder organisations, and gaining evidence of their feedback and support through 4/5 facilitated sessions for a total of 80+ people in Spring 2020.
- Raising the profile of the Biosphere Reserve concept and its potential application to the Forest of Dean district within the general community through web-based and face to face events. Provision of on-line and hard copy questionnaires to quantify views and support levels, Summer 2020
- Develop the high-level vision and strategic goals for a Forest of Dean Biosphere reserve, elicited directly from stakeholder engagement and confirmed in a facilitated event in Summer 2020
- Scoping the next steps -including challenges and opportunities- and mapping a route towards a nomination. This takes on board best practice from existing BR to learn from their experience Late summer 2020
- Business planning and preliminary modelling and scenarios of how a Biosphere Reserve could be financed to deliver on identified goals if the District is in favour.
In January 2020, the Biosphere Reserve Action Group submitted a bid the the Heritage Lottery Fund for funding for the community and stakeholder engagement works to be carried out. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the Heritage Lottery Funding was withdrawn to be redirected to support ongoing projects.
Following this news, the Biosphere Reserve Action Group amended their proposal to the stakeholders on their approach this engagement, which currently seeks approval for a bid to submitted to Arts Council England for just under £11,000. The bid will commission 1 lens-based and 1 audio-based artist to engage the Forest of Dean (FoD) community in a creative interpretation of landscape & place through film, photography & digital media.