Monday 14 May 2012

Brighton & Hove and Lewes Downs Biosphere Reserve

The Biosphere is the world in which we live and share with other living things - the zone of life around our planet – for which UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is developing a global network of Biosphere Reserves which promote a balanced relationship between people and nature. These are real world-class natural environments.

The Brighton & Hove and Lewes Downs Biosphere Project  is a new partnership which aims to gain international recognition from the United Nations for the special nature of the local environment in and around Brighton and Hove

The Sussex Wildlife Trust is glad to support the project.   The aim is to become a “site of excellence” and part of UNESCO’s family.  Currently there are 580 sites spanning 114 countries including areas as diverse as the Amazon rain forest, Canary islands, to the city surrounds of Paris, Cape Town and Rio de Janeiro.  In the UK there are 7 Biosphere Reserves, including projects at North Devon and on the North Norfolk Coast.

By gaining international recognition the Biosphere bid hopes to enable the partnership to attract funding to improve our environment and to join up current work and activities.  The international accreditation will also help with tourism (economy), education and research as well as the more obvious health and environmental benefits.

The vision of the Biosphere project is to develop a unified approach to better care for, manage and enjoy our local environment. This includes the city itself, surrounding countryside of the South Downs and the sea, so we can help to bring people and nature closer together.  At present the only large conurbation within the project area is Brighton & Hove, but the bid is equally relevant to surrounding towns and villages such as Steyning, Upper Beeding, Shoreham, Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, East Saltdean, Ditchling, Hassocks, Hurstpierpoint, etc.

It is about increasing understanding about how our lives, whether rural or urban, are hugely dependent on the quality of natural environment.  For example, most of the area’s water supply comes from the chalk aquifer, the quality of which is dependent, in part, on how the Downs are farmed and the quality of the biodiversity on the Downs.  The Downs also provides food, including South Downs Lamb, cereals and other crops.  The sea provides locally sourced fish.  Both land and sea are also important for recreational opportunities, but the potential is again related to the quality of that resource.  For example, clean seas and beaches attract visitors, surfers and other recreational users, helping boost the local economy.

Three events are to be held in different parts of the Biosphere to launch the bid.  These will be on Tuesday 22 May 2012, the International Day of Biodiversity.

  • 10:00 - Madeira  Drive, Brighton - Opposite the Brighton Wheel on the mid level promenade.  A flock of starlings has been jet-washed on a Brighton seafront wall as part of a bid to put the international spotlight on the natural attractions of the area. 
  • 15:00 – Devil’s Dyke – National Trust with National Trust members
  • 16:30 – Lewes Downs – Lewes District Council and Sussex Wildlife Trust. 

In addition, between 12:00 and 13:30 there will be a debate:  ‘Food for Thought, what role should the South Downs play in our lives?’  at The Old Courthouse, Church St, Brighton BN1 1UD.  It will be chaired by Professor Martin Price of UNESCO, speakers will include representatives from the National Farmers Union, the Environment Agency, the South Downs Society, the South Downs National Park Authority and myself from the Sussex Wildlife Trust. Tickets are £5, which includes a light lunch of locally sources and organic food. They are available from Brighton Fringe on 01273 917272 or at