Biosphere Reserves

The concept of the biosphere reserve originated from a Task Force of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)  Man in the Biosphere Program (MAB).

A biosphere reserve designation signals international recognition that meaningful actions, with measurable outcomes, are being taken to balance conservation initiatives with sustainable development. The designation provides a powerful mechanism that ensures the adoption of long-term stewardship practices and lasting environmental protection in the area. However, it does not (and cannot) intrude on property rights, Aboriginal rights, jurisdictional and administrative authorities, or on the responsibilities of elected bodies.

Biosphere reserves do not take positions on regulatory matters dealt with by local authorities, and they do not have legal authority over what people can and cannot do within an area. Instead, the 15 UNESCO biosphere reserves in Canada, and those the world over, play the role of convener – bringing environmentalists, outdoor enthusiasts, business people, councilors, policy-makers and landowners together in a neutral setting that facilitates discussion and cultivates meaningful partnerships that will advance a common agenda. As influential allies rather than authoritative bodies, reserves guide stakeholders in finding common ground, setting priorities, coordinating their efforts and ensuring the longevity of their community within the landscape of the biosphere. Over 109 countries now participate in UNESCO/MAB. Canada has been involved through the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and Canada/MAB since the beginning. For further information on the activities of our Canadian biosphere reserve partners, go to the biosphere reserve activities section.

An area can only be designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO. To become part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, individual countries nominate areas which they believe meet the requirements of a biosphere reserve. Land must already have been set aside for conservation within the area under consideration. A further seven criteria must then be met for designation to proceed. Three of these relate to the way that land use is arranged within the area. According to the Statutory Framework the area must include one or more of the three defined land use sectors: core areas, buffer zones and transitional areas – referred to as ‘areas of cooperation’ in Canada. Three more criteria relate to the core functions of a biosphere reserve (i.e. conservation, developmental and logistical), and whether these can feasibly be carried out in the area. The last criteria relates to whether or not the necessary organizational components are in place.

For further information, please go to:

Achieving biosphere reserve designation

The UNESCO website

The MAB website

The Seville Strategy for Biosphere Reserves