Sussex Downs in bid to become first British UNESCO biosphere reserve for 35 years

By Culture24 Reporter | 22 May 2012
A photo of a light blue butterfly perched on an olive green leaf
The Adonis blue butterfly - often found fluttering around Lewes Downs National Nature Reserve - could become part of the first British biosphere for decades
In the UK, seven “biosphere reserves” – areas of rich natural beauty given extra protection by this designated status – perch on a list which includes urban Paris, the Amazon rainforest and Cape Town.

But there hasn’t been a new British one for 35 years, and we don’t have any which encompass a city. So when a bid to turn the Brighton, Hove and Lewes Downs begins today, launched by a flock of starlings being jetwashed on a seafront wall and a lunchtime debate about the part the rolling Sussex hills should play in local life, it will also initiate a planning process with the aim of persuading UNESCO to grant a rare and much sought-after status to Sussex.

“We want to capture people’s imaginations with the wealth of interest all around us,” says Chris Todd, who’s chairing the Biosphere campaign which has united a coalition of interested groups.

“From the Whitehawk Soldier Beetle to the Red-nose paddock and the Bastard Toadflax, there is some colourful wildlife right here. Their environment is our environment, so if we look after them, we help ourselves.

“We rely on clean and healthy natural surroundings for our water, our food, the air we breathe and much, much more.  That’s why we hope people will see the sense in backing our bid.

“The project has already created a lot of interest. However, we would like to see many more people backing the Biosphere.”

Part of the challenge is raising awareness – anyone who lives near the Downs might struggle to see the point of getting the United Nations to tell them something they already know.

But beyond prestige, the most compelling reason for winning “site of excellence” status is the support for environmentalism it can herald.

The project has already helped the local council to earn £100,000 in European improvement money, and planners expect it to help inform future preservation efforts.

“If our bid is successful, it has the potential to lever in additional funding to protect the environment and encourage more people to use and enjoy it,” explains Pete West, a member of Brighton and Hove City Council.

“The bid to become a biosphere is all about putting the international spotlight on the unique combination of downland, city and sea we have on our doorstep.”

A range of consultative events are planned with residents ahead of a formal application in September 2013. A decision is expected during 2014.

More pictures:

A picture of rolling country hills under a light blue sky
Castle Hill Nature Reserve, one of the European Special Areas of Conservation in the proposed biosphere© Natural England
A photo of sheep grazing in the countryside
Sheep being used to graze green spaces around the city, which promotes the development of more flower-rich grassland areas. Local people are involved as volunteer "urban shepherds"
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