Meeting Report: Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere

Occasion: 
4 November 2011
Speaker(s): 
Nic Coombey (Southern Upland Partnership)

Nic Coombey, who served 15 years as a landscape architect with Solway Heritage, has embarked on a two-year Biosphere Reserve project, funded by Leader. It was on that very subject that he came to address Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society.

Biosphere Reserves are a network of UNESCO designated world class areas of which there are 580 in 114 countries. It is their contribution to people and nature that earns them such status. The style has been evolving since 1976 and the one located in Galloway and South Ayrshire will perhaps be the first new-style model in Scotland, according to criteria laid down in 1995. It will seek to promote a balanced approach between man and nature for sustainable living. Caerlaverock was designated as such in the 1970s but it was crossed off because it does not fit the current concepts. St Kilda, too, has lost that status, while Eigg might gain it. One drawback for Biosphere Reserves is that those in charge can only encourage people to follow their recommendation but, unlike administrators of National Parks, they have "no teeth".

Lanzarote promotes its uniqueness as a volcanic island and Slovakia conserves its primeval beech forest: these factors have gained them the designation. What is our approach going to be?

We must identify what is special about our area. In Galloway and South Ayrshire there is a Core Area of research and monitoring, which includes as protected areas Cairnsmore of Fleet and Merrick Kells/Silver Flowe, now linked up instead of being separate as formerly. Beyond the Core Area there is a Buffer Zone to ensure protection. The Transitional Area, outwith those key situations, is where we all live and try to promote sustainable living.

The focus has been identified as high-quality locally-produced foods and exceptional pieces of work in the craft field. Various special constructions in the area provide examples of outstanding design, such as 'The Striding Arches' by Andy Goldsworthy and 'The Snail' by Charles Jencks at Portrack. Another worthy feature of our landscape is the recognition accorded to the Dark Sky Park in Galloway.

Strong encouragement is given to groups to come together. For instance, a new community use is being sought for the recently-closed school at Glentrool. Support is being given to the Newton Stewart Walking Festival, as most of the walks take place on part of the Biosphere Reserve.

Other projects receiving attention are the preservation of the water vole, which has now been found to be more numerous than was first thought: high on the list for continued success in its survival is the control of mink. SEPA is leading a move to discover where the most important areas are for water courses. Attempts are also being made to involve youth clubs and scouts in 'fishing for knowledge' in the countryside.

Ideas abound with Nic providing encouragement to people in general to become involved in making South-West Scotland stand out from the rest of Scotland and convince UNESCO that we are worthy of the designation of the status of a fully-fledged Biosphere Reserve.

Nic believes that the case is a good one. In visiting communities throughout the area and delivering interesting, well-illustrated presentations, such as this, he is spreading the word that as many people as possible should become involved in proving the unique, go-ahead nature of our part of Scotland and subscribing to the principles of Biosphere Reserves. It will be to our advantage, especially in the field of tourism.