Biosphere reserve

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Number of biosphere reserves per country (as of 2013)

A biosphere reserve is a model region initiated by UNESCO in which sustainable development in ecological, economic and social terms is to be implemented in an exemplary manner (world network of biosphere reserves) . The program Man and the Biosphere ( Man and the Biosphere Program , MAB) program ensures its further development, evaluation, and links them worldwide and explored on a global scale, the most important ecosystems .

MAB is not about classic nature conservation in the narrower sense, but about an interdisciplinary approach, in particular the human being as part of the biosphere is in the foreground. Social and economic issues, e.g. B. also the generation of income, problems of urbanization and demography are part of the program. The overarching goals are to preserve biological diversity and ecosystem functions , to manage and develop cultural landscapes in a participatory manner, to promote climate protection through land use and adaptation to climate change, and to further develop the social, economic and cultural prerequisites for ecological sustainability. Citizen participation is at the core of the program.

Every biosphere reserve is a large protected area with a protective function , a development function and a research and educational function . The biosphere reserves are divided into three zones, a nature conservation-oriented core , a conservation-oriented maintenance zone and a socio-economically oriented development zone .

In March 2016 there were 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries. Over 150 countries are participating in the MAB program  .



The MAB program was founded as an interdisciplinary science program . Launched at the 16th General Conference of UNESCO in 1970, it was the first intergovernmental environmental program to further develop and research human-environment relationships. Since it was founded, the 14 major research projects on topics such as tropical rainforests, deserts, mountainous regions and coastal landscapes, which were defined at the first meeting of the intergovernmental MAB coordination council in 1971  , have been in the foreground of the program. Since 1993, MAB focused on the World Network of Biosphere Reserves ( World Network of Biosphere Reserves , WNBR).

With the Seville Conference in March 1995, the second World Congress of Biosphere Reserves , the program was completely redesigned and since then has followed the paradigm that the protection of biological diversity cannot be seen in isolation from the needs of people. Since then, biosphere reserves are essentially protected areas for the common habitat of humans and the rest of “ nature ” as a system, the biosphere . Besides naturschützerischem concerns also came cultural protection and educational goals added, making them model regions and learning regions for sustainable development. Since the reorientation towards the practical further development of the biosphere reserves, the MAB program has served as an instrument for implementing Agenda 21 negotiated in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and the environmental agreements agreed there, e. B. the Convention on Biological Diversity .

In February 2008, the Madrid Action Plan was adopted as a political framework document until 2013.

Seville strategy

The Seville Strategy (1996), a 90-point program with recommendations for global, national and regional level, and the International Guidelines for the World Network of Biosphere Reserves were decided upon at the conference - these documents were adopted by the UNESCO General Conference, i.e. confirmed by all member states of UNESCO. These documents form the international legal basis of the biosphere reserves, but are not binding in the sense of international law - every state and every area voluntarily submits to the rules through the content-related interest in cooperation.

The strategy comprises four key objectives :

  1. Use of the biosphere reserves to preserve natural biodiversity and cultural diversity
  2. Use of the biosphere reserves as models for land management and for approaches to sustainable development
  3. Use of the biosphere reserves for research , environmental observation , education and training
  4. Implementation of the concept of biosphere reserves

Madrid Action Plan

The framework plan adopted at the 3rd World Congress of Biosphere Reserves (February 2008 in Madrid) is intended to adapt the concept of biosphere reserves even more specifically to the changed goals of the 21st century, and more closely with other international measures in both climate protection ( e.g. UNFCCC , 2010 goals the CBD and Kyoto process ) as well as the globalization problem (in particular urbanization and loss of diversity in ecology and culture).

The overall objectives of the program are:

  • Anchoring the agendas for research, training, competence building and demonstration in the linked problem areas "Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity ", "Limiting and adaptation measures in relation to climate change " and "Socio-economic and cultural well-being of population groups"
  • Active use of the premises in the MAB network WBNR as learning centers
  • Documentation and public relations work on 30 years of work with the MAB program and global goals
  • Contribution to the emergence of a new generation of theorists and practitioners

The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) ran from 2008–2013 :

  • Promotion of sustainable development in particular in the form of partnership with all sectors of society
  • Testing and application of political concepts on climate change and applied ecology in the context of biosphere reserves
  • Elaboration of scientific research programs

The main task of the biosphere reserves today is to provide ecosystem services of all kinds, which follows the insight that the protection goals of the MAB program can only be financed and implemented if the protected goods are actually recognized locally as a valuable resource for solving current problems and socio-economic needs .

Structure of the program

Criteria of the biosphere reserves

Biosphere reserves represent a globally representative selection of all ecosystems; they are recognized according to internationally uniform criteria; the maintenance of cultural landscapes ranks above the protection of wilderness areas. In some countries, biosphere reserves are protected by law; all areas must develop a framework action plan in a participatory manner; they are evaluated regularly.

The International Guidelines laid down minimum conditions for the recognition and criteria for the periodic review of biosphere reserves: In a biosphere reserve not only nature and landscape should be protected, but also a. economic and social development are promoted and education, research and environmental monitoring are supported. In the ideal that is to be striven for, economic and ecological measures complement each other. The involvement of the local population is essential. In biosphere reserves, therefore, it is primarily about the preservation of man-made cultural landscapes, and only to a lesser extent about nature conservation of wilderness areas. Today it is more and more about climate protection and adaptation to climate change . Other focal points are the marketing of regional products and the promotion of rural areas against the background of demographic development.

Biosphere reserves are also protected areas , i. That is, they protect biodiversity , the diversity of species, ecosystems, their functions and genetic resources. What is special is that this protection should also be achieved primarily through economic use by humans. The reserve is integrated into local development via the Local Agenda 21 , the regional program of Agenda 21.

All UNESCO biosphere reserves form a global network for the exchange of knowledge; they are therefore special reference points for research, environmental monitoring and education. UNESCO, more precisely the International Coordinating Council of MAB , designates areas as biosphere reserves that are representative of a unique ecosystem or a significant cultural landscape on a global scale. Recognition by UNESCO is only granted if the inhabitants of a biosphere reserve support the concept of sustainability.

The condition of the biosphere reserves is regularly checked by an independent committee of experts, the MAB National Committee, on the basis of the national criteria as implementation of the international guidelines and on the basis of the individually formulated goals. Recommendations and suggestions for improvement are then drawn up. If the criteria are not adhered to, the designation UNESCO biosphere reserve can be withdrawn. The International Coordination Council (ICC) monitors national compliance with the guidelines by the biosphere reserves and the MAB national committees.

Several states define their biosphere reserves by law, in such cases biosphere reserves can exist without UNESCO recognition.

Objectives, functions and zoning of the reserves

Biosphere reserves are intended to be model sites for researching and demonstrating approaches to protection and sustainable development at the regional level and have the following three functions:

To implement the various goals and functions, biosphere reserves are - internationally uniform - spatially divided into three zones:

  • Core areas: These areas of a biosphere reserve serve long-term nature conservation in accordance with the protection goals. In Central Europe, these are mostly rather small areas, but these must also be large enough to meet the content-related goals. Core zones are generally excluded from commercial use, but there are numerous exceptions depending on the region. Traditional forms of use, including alpine farming or sheep farming, as well as hunting and fishing in general, are permitted. Furthermore, work for research or monitoring may be carried out. Forestry work, such as the removal of fallen trees, is limited to keeping hiking trails that lead through core areas free and when there is a risk such as pest infestation that can spread to adjacent forest areas. A nature-oriented touristic use or gentle leisure use of core zones is permissible as long as it is compatible with the protection goals. In some core zones, depending on regional legislation, such as in Lower Austria , there is a traffic ban, but no general entry ban.
  • Maintenance zones (buffer zones): These areas should enclose or border the core zones in such a way that there is no hard transition from wilderness to areas of normal use. Activities of gentle, natural land use should take place here, which are compatible with the protection goals. B. gentle tourism or organic farming.
  • Development zones (transition areas): In these populated areas of a biosphere reserve that are usually the largest in terms of area, v. a. about using model projects to advertise and promote the sustainable management of resources.

Organs of the MAB program

The MAB program is primarily controlled by the ( International Coordinating Council , MAB-ICC). The members of the ICC are states that are elected for four years by the General Conference of UNESCO. Half of the member states of the ICC are re-elected every two years, with all regions of the world (according to UNESCO definition) adequately represented. The ICC meets annually and elects its chairman and his five deputies from among the delegates of the member states of the ICC, who form a six-person bureau that conducts business between the annual meetings. The ICC advises on the professional development and orientation of the MAB program. Boshra Salem from Egypt is currently the chairman of this bureau. The ICC decides on the recognition of new areas as UNESCO biosphere reserves and discusses evaluations of biosphere reserves that are carried out at national level.

Composition of the MAB-ICC:
  • Member states up to the UNESCO General Conference 2013: Ethiopia, Australia, Bahrain, Benin, India, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, Turkey
  • Member states up to the UNESCO General Conference 2015: Egypt, Chile, Costa Rica, Côte d'Ivoire, Estonia, Ghana, Great Britain, Haiti, Honduras, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Korea, Luxembourg, Tanzania, Thailand, Ukraine, Belarus

The MAB Secretariat , which does the day-to-day work, is part of the UNESCO Department of Ecological and Earth Sciences in the Natural Sciences Sector . The head of the secretariat has been Dr. Thomas Schaaf. Around 20 employees work in this department.

The International Advisory Board for Biosphere Reserves consists of practitioners who provide technical advice to the MAB-ICC and the MAB Secretariat.

Many states have to participate in the MAB Program National Committee established, other states have only one national contact point (focal point) . The national committees are often affiliated to UNESCO national commissions. In Germany, the MAB National Committee is an independent body of currently 13 experts from all specialist areas relevant to MAB, which is appointed by the Federal Environment Minister and chaired by a representative from the Ministry.

Special terms

Biosphere reserves are officially in Austria Biosphere Reserve called; individual other areas operate under the name of biosphere region or biosphere area ; but these are not official names according to international standards.

National implementations

The individual biosphere reserves remain under the sovereignty of the respective state. Within the framework of the International Guidelines for the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of UNESCO, the individual states have scope for appropriate implementation in national law and other measures.


Logo of the German UNESCO Commission
Information sign in the BSR Schorfheide-Chorin , East Brandenburg

Biosphere reserves are defined in Section 25 of the Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG) as “areas to be uniformly protected and developed” that

  • "Are spacious and characteristic of certain types of landscape",
  • "In substantial parts of their area meet the requirements of a nature reserve , otherwise predominantly a landscape protection area",
  • "Primarily serve the preservation, development or restoration of a landscape characterized by traditional diverse uses and the historically grown biodiversity of species and biotopes, including wild and earlier cultivated forms of economically used or usable animal and plant species" and
  • " Serve as an example of the development and testing of the natural assets particularly gentle economic methods."

This national legal framework gives the individual federal states the opportunity to designate biosphere reserves. Legal security in the federal states often takes the form of either a special law or a regulation. Many federal states already had their biosphere reserves before the framework regulation in the BNatSchG, e. Partly with mention of UNESCO recognition, included in their state nature conservation laws. A legal safeguard at state level precedes UNESCO recognition in Germany today. Core zones and often maintenance zones of the biosphere reserves in Germany should meet the requirements for a nature reserve and, otherwise, largely correspond to a landscape protection area. As well as outside of protected areas, the intervention compensation regulation of the Federal Nature Conservation Act applies to most structural or other projects . The development goals of the biosphere reserves are to be taken into account in the urban land-use planning and must be presented and observed in development plans , insofar as they play a role in the scale. One speaks here of a takeover for information.

The German MAB National Committee appraises and advises proposals for new biosphere reserves, supports existing ones in their further development as model regions for sustainable development, and evaluates them every 10 years in a complex process. The office of the German MAB National Committee is located at the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation .

In Germany (as of 2017), 16 areas anchored as biosphere reserves under German law are recognized by UNESCO.

Biosphere reserves in Germany

With the Biosphere Reserve Karstlandschaft Südharz (30,000 ha), another region is striving for recognition as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.

The Bavarian Forest protected area no longer has the status of a biosphere reserve.


In Austria there are four biosphere reserves recognized by UNESCO; there is a MAB National Committee; The program is supervised by the Ministry of Life , the Federal Environment Agency , and the Academy of Sciences . In most cases, however, no separate category was created: the protected areas are based - at least in their core area - on national nature or environmental protection classifications or the generally applicable protection through state nature conservation laws (“Ex-lege protection”). Exceptions are the federal states of Vorarlberg and Carinthia , which have anchored the biosphere reserve in state law - the MAB reserves are generally called biosphere reserves in Austria . The biosphere park status was revoked from the Gossenköllesee, Gurgler Kamm, (Untere) Lobau and Neusiedlersee areas.


At the national level, the national park in Switzerland is protected, as are the moors (according to the Rothenthurm initiative , which actually prohibits the use of moors as arsenals ).

At the cantonal level, areas are designated as nature reserves, and private individuals (e.g. pro natura ) own their own reserves.

Examples of the work of biosphere reserves

  • In the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve , organic farming now makes up 32 percent of the agricultural area. In 1993 it was only 5 percent in the region. Across Germany it is around 6 percent today.
  • "Rhönschaf" and "Rhönapfel" are sold in the region. 72 percent of the residents of the Rhön Biosphere Reserve see advantages for their region in the biosphere reserve.
  • The Bliesgau biosphere reserve is striving to become an energy self-sufficient region and relies on the use of renewable energies, from biomass from local agriculture and forestry, water, wind and solar power.
  • In the Elbe River Landscape Biosphere Reserve, there are the largest projects in Germany in which dykes are relocated in order to improve flood protection in the face of climate change and at the same time to provide sufficient space for alluvial forests.
  • As junior rangers, children learn sustainability in the Schaalsee biosphere reserve , where they actively protect otters, sea eagles and cranes.
  • Climate-conscious behavior is strongly encouraged on the Halligen in the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea Biosphere Reserve : every household receives individual and free advice on energy efficiency.
  • In the Spreewald Biosphere Reserve , the water quality of bodies of water and their ecosystems is being improved through hundreds of large and small projects.
  • The Palatinate Forest Biosphere Reserve and the French Northern Vosges founded the EU's first cross-border biosphere reserve in 1998. Today there are German-French biosphere markets, coordinated hiking and cycling trails, exchange programs, bilingual publications and the exchange of environmental data with added value for the residents on both sides of the border.
  • In the Vessertal-Thuringian Forest biosphere reserve , tourism in harmony with nature is being promoted through the expansion of local public transport, new forms of education and information for holidaymakers and a new conception of the trail network on 36,680 hectares.
  • A project in the Gurgler Kamm biosphere reserve provided information on how far grazing by horses and sheep affects biodiversity and biomass in the Alpine region.
  • Biomonitoring of the air quality in the Vienna Woods Biosphere Park used mosses as bioindicators.
  • The Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve , the second largest in Europe after the Volga Delta, is home to the largest contiguous reed area in the world and an important bird sanctuary with the largest pelican colony in Europe.

See also





Web links

Commons : Biosphere Reserves  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Biosphere Reserve  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations




Individual evidence

  1. cf.
  2. The list of UNESCO biosphere reserves., June 10, 2015, accessed on June 10, 2015 .
  3. ^ Ingrid Klaffl, Irene Oberleitner, Maria Tiefenbach: Biogenetic Reserves and Biosphere Reserves in Austria . Federal Environment Agency: Report R-161, Vienna 1999, Section 3. Biosphere Reserves. P. 216 ff, esp. 3.3 Seville Strategy (Unesco, 1996). P. 218 ( pdf ,
  4. a b c Madrid Action Plan for Biosphere Reserves , (detailed discussion of the program)
  5. wording Madrid Action Plan for Biosphere Reserves. A.2 Provision of ecosystem services
  6. Sigrun Lange: Life in Diversity. Biosphere reserves in Austria - model regions for sustainable development. (PDF; 5.4 MB) Incl. Catalog of criteria for biosphere reserves in Austria ;. P. 17 , archived from the original on August 8, 2012 ; Retrieved August 3, 2013 .
  7. ^ Karl Sattler: Wienerwald Biosphere Park: Legal content - legal practice under environmental aspects. (PDF; 22.6 MB) Diploma thesis. 2012, accessed August 3, 2013 .
  8. The 15 German Biosphere Reserves. German UNESCO Commission V., accessed April 17, 2013 .
  9. Unesco recognizes the Black Forest area as a biosphere reserve. In: Spiegel online. Retrieved June 14, 2017, the same day.
  10.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archives ) Speech by State Secretary Dr. Bernhard - website of the Bayer. Ministry of the Environment (accessed November 5, 2007)@1@ 2Template: Toter Link /
  11. Biosphere Reserve. Retrieved May 19, 2020 .
  12. ^ Austrian Commission for UNESCO: Biosphere Parks in Austria. Retrieved May 19, 2020 .
  13. FOEN publication
  14. UNESCO Entlebuch Biosphere