Isle of Wight UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
Biosphere is the living surface of our planet, made from the land, the sea, the air we breathe and the
energy from the Sun. People across the world have learned about the wonderful benefits from their
biosphere and how to use them sustainably.
UNESCO (United Nations Environment, Science and Cultural Organisation) Biosphere Reserves are
some of the best examples where communities have found ways to resolve the conservation of
ecosystems with their ongoing sustainable use.
There are over 700 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in 120 countries including 20 transboundary sites.
Seven Biosphere Reserves existed in the British Isles with two in England (North Devon and
Brighton). In 2016, the Isle of Wight started to process to become the third.
Why the Isle of Wight ?
The Isle of Wight is often described as a small version of southern England. The Island has everything
you could possibly need: from blustery downs filled with drinking water to secretive saltmarshes
teeming with life; from ancient woodlands full of bluebells to long-distance walking trails; Victorian
beachside resorts to wild, surf-strewn beaches. It is a magnificent place to live, work and play. It is
also one of the most biodiverse landscapes in south-east England.
Proof of the Island’s rich ecosystems, stretching back 65 million years, can be found along the coast
through fossils and dinosaur footprints. The Island has healthy ecosystems, with rare species such as
red squirrels, dormice and bats in the woodlands; downland populated by incomparable displays of
butterflies and wildflowers; Glanville fritillaries and other rare invertebrates on the cliffs; water voles
and otters our river systems; and plants that occur nowhere else in the British Isles.
In 2016 there were concerns raised about the protection of our most precious wildlife if the
withdrawal from the European Union lead to a reduction in protection of wildlife-rich sites such as
Special Protection Areas for wetlands and birds and Special Areas of Conservation for other habitats
and species. The Isle of Wight has a number of these sites including Briddlesford Woods, Isle of
Wight Lagoons and Downs as well as our estuaries and coast.
A small team from the Isle of Wight AONB, Environment Agency and Arc Environmental Consultancy
suggested an exploration of the concept of making the Isle of Wight a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to
maintain and enhance the awareness of the important ecological value of the Island. This would also
highlight, globally, the Isle of Wight is one of the best places to explore people’s interaction with the
In 2017, working with partner organisations across the Island, the Isle of Wight Area of Outstanding
Natural Beauty Partnership lead a bid to achieve UNESCO Biosphere Reserve status for the Isle of
In order to become a Biosphere, the Isle of Wight had to submit a nomination to UNESCO in Paris in
September 2018, after having been endorsed by UK Government. The culmination of two years of
public consultation, strategy meetings, public events and lots of hard work was on 19th June 2019
when UNESCO designated the Isle of Wight a Biosphere Reserve.
What does this mean ?
The designation confers no legal protection or obligation on the local or national government other
than that which is already found in UK law. The designation does show the world that the Isle of
Wight is an important area for wildlife and that this is due, in part, to the continuing commitment its
citizens have to its conservation and enhancement. Since the designation, the Biosphere is now
mentioned in local authority corporate plans, development plans, sustainable tourism strategies,
sustainable transport strategies, local election campaigns and nature and landscape conservation
initiatives. It has given the Isle of Wight a distinctive and unique identity which is being used in
funding bids for nature conservation, tourism and the arts.
Why should we care ?
In the face of a climate crisis and ecological emergency the need to conserve and enhance our
natural assets has not been more critical. This might mean reduction in emissions and run-off from
agriculture; increase storage and retention of carbon through woodlands, peat beds, saltmarshes
and seagrass / algal beds or simply in our soils; increasing sustainable transport options and
producing sufficient food for future needs. On the Isle of Wight, we have a head start in that many of
our sites of high nature conservation value are protected but they need increased resources to
conserve and enhance them. Individuals making informed choices, together with decision-makers,
local and national government agencies, environmental charities and local organisations can make a
difference and the Isle of Wight UNESCO Biosphere Reserve gives them the leverage to make the
As an Island , once these natural assets are lost they will be much harder to regain as natural
colonisation is difficult and man-made re-introductions are costly in both time and money. However,
land is increasingly at a premium for the many objectives that decision-makers and landowners will
have in terms of food, timber and energy production, economic development, transport
infrastructure, climate change mitigation and health and well-being. All these require the
conservation and enhancement of our natural assets and the ecosystem services they provide and it
is hoped that the whole Island community can share a common aspiration to maintain the Isle of
Wight UNESCO Biosphere Reserve ethos and designation going forward.
The Isle of Wight AONB recognises the work of all groups and organisations, big and small, that
contributed to the success of the application and bid to UNESCO. In particular, we would like to
Ian Boyd – Arc Environmental Consultancy
Joel Bateman, Richard Grogan and Peter Fellows – Isle of Wight AONB Unit
Chris Slann – New Carnival Company
Peter Taylor – Environment Agency
Author : Richard Grogan – Isle of Wight AONB Lead Officer