IAE Professor Peter Bridgewater helps secure Isle of Man UNESCO Biosphere Reserve listing

The Isle of Man boasts a spectacularly landscape and robust economy. In recognition of the balance played between the natural environment, the communities that live there and the economy, the island has recently been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The IAE’s Professor Perter Bridgewater played an important role in the nomination and award of this prestigious title, and we talked to him about the Isle of Man’s nomination, and how Australia could also benefit from further Biosphere Reserve listings.

What are UNESCO Biosphere Reserves?

Biosphere Reserves are about sustainable living. They are places where active conservation of our landscapes exists alongside responsible development. In brief, they focus on core areas which are protected natural or cultural sites. Surrounding these core areas are buffer zones, including activities compatible with the conservation of the core area. Then you have a transition or sustainable development zones that focus on community and economic development in a responsible way.

Why is the Isle of Man worthy of this accolade?

The Isle of Man has an incredibly varied topography, from high peaks to valleys, wetlands to beaches. You will also find traditional farming methods, with small field patterning that has been the same for centuries. Then right next door are modern towns with vibrant economies. The Isle of Man is an outstanding example of these land uses siting side by side and prospering. But the key feature of the nomination is that it includes the marine areas as well as land, so the nomination was unique in including both land and sea parts of a complete jurisdiction.

What was your role in securing the listing?

I was lived there for a number of years and helped lobby the government to start the nomination process. I was then involved in identifying core conservation areas and writing the nomination.

Do you think Australia could benefit by designating more areas as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves?

Absolutely. In the 1990’s Australia was particularly innovative in the Biosphere space, but today several of the sites are no longer in accordance with Biosphere reserve principles, and there is no overall Australian approach. There should be a national Biosphere Reserve committee, and there isn’t at the moment, although I believe the UNESCO National Commission is trying to improve that situation.

A really interesting example would be the Prince Regent area of the Kimberley, Western Australia. I would nominate Prince Regent National Park as the core area for its environmental and cultural significance, and expanded the buffer and development zones throughout the Kimberley region to include Indigenous culture and sacred sites, as well as land uses such as cattle farming and mining. It would provide a formal and holistic plan for the future. Or the A-P-Y Lands in central Australia where a blend of Aboriginal land, pastoral lease and tourism could combine in an innovative way.

We have a number of World Heritage sites in Australia. Can we rely on this type of listing to manage our ecosystems in the same way a Biosphere Reserve would?

No, I don’t think so. Biosphere Reserves are different from World Heritage sites, which are strongly protectionist. World Heritage listing doesn’t integrate sustainable development with the environment. The Great Barrier Reef is in real trouble, for example. People think that the reason the Great Barrier Reef is a mess is solely due to climate change. What they fail to realise is that poor land management, and the lack of integration between land management and the reef is a key factor to reef deterioration. I think a lot of emphasis globally has been placed on World Heritage listing as governments think it will attract tourism. However, in the case of the reef, there won’t be anything to see soon if we don’t manage our land better – as a larger Biosphere reserve it would already be in better shape.

You can find out more about the Isle of Man UNSECO Biosphere Reserve listing here.

Photo: Professor Peter Bridgewater, Hon Howard Quale MNK, Chief Minister of Tynwald (Isle of Man Parliament), Han Qunli, Director of Division of Ecological Sciences, UNESCO.