Biospheres are internationally recognized for their natural resources and biodiversity, where nature and human activities connect. Yet, they are also actively managed to promote a balanced relationship between people and nature; conservation on the one hand, and sustainable economic development and human activity on the other hand. Another important goal of biospheres is promoting research and learning.
Biospheres or biosphere reserves were established under UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme launched in 1971. Places are awarded Biosphere Reserve Status by UNESCO but are managed in partnership by communities, NGOs and local and national governments.
The EuroMAB 2019 conference was hosted by Dublin Bay Biosphere from Tuesday 2nd April to Friday, 5th April. This conference was a biennial four-day conference for stakeholders from 302 UNESCO Biospheres in 36 countries across Europe and North America. The conference welcomed practitioners, managers, policy-makers, researchers, educators, ecologists, scientists, social entrepreneurs, creative and community leaders. Ireland sits on the Steering Group of the Man and Biosphere Programme, and is represented by Dublin Bay Biosphere.
To support sustainable development, UNESCO’s concept of a Biosphere has since evolved to include not just areas of ecological value but also the areas around them and the communities that live and work within these areas. Reflecting its significant environmental, economic, cultural and tourism importance.
Ireland has two designated UNESCO Biospheres. These are Dublin Bay and Kerry Biosphere Reserve. They were originally designated in the early 1980s. The Department (represented by the National Parks and Wildlife Service) is the national focal point for Biospheres under UNESCO and is a partner to both Biospheres.
Development within Biospheres is subject to an existing comprehensive legislative and policy planning framework implemented by all levels of government. Biospheres are an internationally recognised designation which does not alter these existing frameworks. Biosphere Partnerships are not a planning reference body involved in land use planning deliberations or discussions. While they remain neutral on individual developments, a Biosphere Partnership may make information available to inform evidence-based discussion, where appropriate. There are no additional planning burdens as a consequence of biosphere designations but in some cases areas are already designated as SAC/SPA and in the case of Kerry, contain National Park land so are already afforded protection.
The original biosphere designation in Kerry centred on Killarney National Park. Since 2017 my Department has funded works within Killarney National Park in the region of over €1.5m and refurbished Killarney House and Gardens as an interpretative centre for the Core Area of the Biosphere. My Department is not the anchor component of the Dublin Bay Biosphere. It has provided significant professional and expert support through the NPWS and it also provides small amounts of project funding from time to time. Circa €30K has been provided in the last two years.
Through its ten year capital plan for investment, Investing in Our Culture, Language and Heritage 2018 – 2027, my Department has committed to safeguarding our unique natural heritage and biodiversity and ensure a sustainable future. We intend to celebrate and highlight Ireland’s remarkable heritage on the international stage through investment in the management of our UNESCO Biosphere reserves.