What is the Importance of Biosphere Reserves?
Each reserve will include one or more of ‘the following categories:
(a) natural biomes,
(b) unusual or unique communities,
(c) harmonious landscapes resulting from traditional land use practices, and
(d) modified or degraded ecosystems which will have some capacity to revert to more natural conditions.
It is intended that the criteria of representativeness, diversity, naturalness, and effectiveness as a conservation unit will “be essential and vital factors to be borne in mind while selecting the representative areas for conservation under this programme. High priority will %e accorded to those regions which have a few nature reserves, especially forests grasslands, coastal areas and islands in the tropics. Identification and conservation of fragile and endangered species of plants and animals are also likely to receive special attention.
The biosphere reserve concept is now one of the most innovative and viable means for the long term conservation of biodiversity. The protected areas provide the scientific knowledge, skills and human values to support the e sustainable management of natural resources both within the biosphere reserve itself and in the larger region of which it forms a part.
There is need for the improvement of both individual reserves and of network linkages at national, regional and international levels.
Some current priority issues deserving attention are listed below:
1. Promoting the use of biosphere reserves in such collaborative programmes as on the conservation, study and monitoring of biological diversity; for exploring the sustainable management of natural resources at the landscape level; for integrating social, cultural and economic dimensions in decisions relative to biodiversity and conservation of representative samples of ecosystems; for analysing the interactions between urban systems and protected areas.
2. Reinforcing the consideration given to the socio-economics of biosphere reserves;
3. Upgrading biosphere reserve data management and consolidating the current databases in terms of data quality and software functionality.
New reserves may also be added, based on several general considerations on such aspects as the recent trends in some countries towards biosphere reserves which cover very large land areas, and the need for particular coordination mechanisms and considerable financial and human support for the effective management of such complex units.
The nomination of biosphere reserves in coastal marine systems deserves to be encouraged, given the acuteness of resource use conflicts at the land-sea interface and the special problems encountered in delineating and managing such reserves. Issues involved in the setting-up of biosphere reserves in areas of intense development pressures (e.g. reserves near large urban centres) also require special attention.
By mid-1994, the international network of biosphere reserves comprised 324 reserves in 82 countries. This total includes 14 new reserves approved recently for a number of countries such as Brazil, China, Egypt, Finland, Mexico, Russian federation, Spain and Venezuela.
The following requirements may be suggested for a fully functional biosphere reserve:
1. There should be an identified boundary for the biosphere reserve, in particular for the core and buffer zones.
2. The core area should have secure legal protection and the buffer zone should have land uses that provide a buffer for the core area.
3. All relevant jurisdictions should formally support the establishment and implementation of the biosphere reserve.
4. A Biosphere Reserve Committee representing a broad range of local interests and authorities should be constituted so as to design and co-ordinate the biosphere reserve programme.
5. A plan for the whole biosphere reserve should be formulated. It should state the objectives and policies prepared by the Biosphere Reserve Committee and mention how the biosphere reserve would: contribute to the conservation of species and ecosystems; demonstrate and foster practical sustainable development; support scientific research and monitoring of both biological and social factors; involve local people; encourage environmental education and training; and participate in specific international programmes.
In many developing countries, approaches to conservation which seek to exclude people from a protected area are possible only in very limited cases. For conservation to succeed in the long-term, people have to form an integral part of the ecosystem to be protected. There should be a close association of research institutions with local resource users, also opportunities should be provided for developing links with scientific groups in other countries.
Countries like India and Mexico possess a wealth of biodiversity, with vegetation ranging from humid tropical forests to arid scrublands and from coastal mangroves to coniferous forests and alpine meadows. They have a rich vascular flora, a large number of insects, reptiles, and terrestrial vertebrates.
Although Mexico has a relatively large number of protected areas, with some legal protection, including national parks and forest reserves, attempts at protected area management have usually not worked well, particularly when based on mimicking the experiences and approaches of the developed world, which have often proven ill-suited to local conditions and social needs.
The idea of a biosphere reserve is not a fixed agenda for a given area, but a basis from which to develop a workable management plan compatible with local traditions, and conservation interests specific to the region.
In several developing countries in the past, most parks and reserves were established to protect ‘natural’ landscapes and watersheds or to provide recreational areas close to cities. One consequence was that certain ecosystems of critical importance—such as arid zones, dry tropical forests, coastal wet-lands and sub-tropical mountain forests—have tended to be poorly represented in the protected area system.
Another crucial factor has been land tenure. In the early 1980s, land ownership was not established in many of the national parks. The establishment of most protected areas on communal or settled lands resulted in sharp conflicts between the objectives of nature conservation and the needs of local people.
Biosphere reserves can provide geographic hubs for international scientific co-operation. This likely impact of the anticipated climate change and global warming are prompting scientists to assess the possible effects of climate change on rare and endangered biota, and what might be done to facilitate species response to changing habitat conditions. One good example in the Chihuahuan Desert region is provided by the Bolson Tortoise, North
America’s largest land reptile. This animal is currently restricted to a small area in north central Mexico. Conservation measures being taken to save the tortoise include co-operative land management agreements with landowners and the setting-up of a hatchery and nursery, with a view to increasing numbers and reintroducing the tortoise into areas of its natural range. Attempts to reintroduce the tortoise further north are also being made.
In Sri Lanka, Sinharaja is the largest undisturbed area of evergreen rain forests remaining in the lowland wet zone. It contains highly endemic flora and fauna: 70% of known trees and lianas and 95% of birds are endemic. Efforts are underway to promote sustainable development via participatory approaches to buffer zone development involving local people.
Such useful plants as cane, palm, and wild cardamom are being propagated, and local industries are encouraged to manufacture items such as cane-work. Establishment and maintenance of fast-growing timber and firewood species for local consumption, and setting-up of camping sites and other tourist facilities, are also being promoted.
One aspect being studied is the amount and distribution of genetic variation in natural populations of Dipterocarpaceae, the tree family that dominates the tropical lowland wet rain forests of South and Southeast Asia. Information on genetic variation is important not only for the understanding of the mode of speciation in tropical forests but also for the conservation of rapidly declining forest genetic resources.
In recent years, the biosphere reserve concept has attracted much interest from those working in the coastal zone as a tool for reconciling different interests of conservation, research, tourism development, industry, traditional fisheries and population monitoring.
The value of coastal biosphere reserves, covering both land and sea parts and their interface, lies in integrating conservation, research, and development goals in a single, publicly-supported, management scheme. This multi-purpose management can be achieved through the use of zoning, in which core, buffer, and transition areas carry different requirements for protection and human use (Batisse, 1990).