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The Big Interview: Chris Todd, chairman of the Biosphere project bid
7:00am Saturday 16th February 2013 in News
A bid to get special recognition for parts of the South Downs National Park surrounding Brighton, Hove and Lewes was launched last month. CHRIS TODD, the chairman of the Biosphere project bid, talks about what it could mean to this special part of Sussex.
What is the Biosphere bid?
The bid is to have the area between the River Adur and River Ouse classified as a United Nations Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) Biosphere Reserve.
It is almost the size of the Isle of Wight and includes most of the countryside in the national park here, the urban areas of Brighton and Hove, Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven and Telscombe and part of the English Channel.
The term biosphere refers to the living surface of our planet, rather than an artificial dome as portrayed in The Simpsons or as seen at The Eden project in Cornwall.
It is everywhere that life is found – in the soil, in the air and in the sea.
Biosphere status is an international badge of excellence for nature conservation and sustainable development.
A Biosphere Reserve is a working example of a more balanced relationship between people and nature, recognising that our quality of life and local economy is linked to the health of our natural environment.
Is enough being done to communicate what it means?
The project was officially launched last May and in that time we have visited over 80 events and met with over 10,000 people.
Already over 1,000 people have signed up to be a “Friend of the Biosphere”.
Now we’ve just launched a 3 month consultation with a new website and leaflet outlining what we are proposing and what it will mean for the area. We are running a road show of around 50 events for local people.
Like anything that’s new, it takes time for people to hear about it and understand what it means. As it is voluntary, people can make of it what they will. If it inspires more people to engage with the natural world, then we will achieve our vision.
That’s the beauty of it.
It is not forcing a new set of regulations on people but encouraging community action and greater partnership working.
What actual change will it mean to residents or is it just dressing?
If it was just dressing, I don’t think our partners would be investing time and resources into the project. We are all busy people but we’re committed to working together to improve what we do already.
One of the main changes is that over time, there should be a greater awareness within the local population of our local environment.
People should acquire a greater knowledge of how our quality of life and local economy is underpinned by a healthy natural environment and how they can act to support that.
It’s not just about the obvious: that a better environment is good for tourism, but that we rely on the natural environment for our water, food and raw materials.
For example, what we chuck down our drains, or throw on the land, can either end up in our drinking water, or in the sea where we might swim or fish. Neither is good for us and costs us money to clean up.
While the Biosphere project aims to attract new resources to deliver some specific projects, it also provides a better framework for taking the natural environment into account in every-day decision making.
Once we realise that what is good for the natural environment is often good for us, it changes the mind-set.
What will the benefits be? Will it lead to extra money from Government and other external bodies?
The ultimate benefits will be a better quality of life, a strengthened local economy and in the longer term less money wasted repairing avoidable environmental damage.
It could also strengthen our role in environmental industries which are likely to be important in the future.
A high quality environment will be good for both our health and the tourism industry.
While greater research will lead to innovation with potential economic benefits.
The accolade of being designated a Biosphere Reserve should help strengthen joint funding bids to draw in more money to the area. However, in itself, there is no automatic guarantee of extra funding. It is down to us to make the most of the opportunities it presents.
What steps have to happen before Biosphere status is granted?
After we have finished the consultation and looked at the results, we will finalise our Management Strategy, which will form the basis of our bid. This has to be signed off by partners over the summer and the bid submitted in September this year.
After that, the bid has to be approved by the relevant Government Minister, before it can be submitted to UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Committee which meets in Paris.
It would hopefully be formally approved in July 2014.
What can people do to get involved?
In the first instance we want people to read our leaflet or look at our website and find out about the project.
They can also come along to our road show to find out more.
We hope people will support our bid, an essential aspect of gaining UNESCO’s approval, and fill in the questionnaire, which is also available online at www.biopsherehere.org.uk.
On the website there’s a list of other activities people can get involved with, such as taking part in a Brighton Photo Fringe project, planting wildflower seeds in the garden, or joining a Friends of group to help manage a local green space.
There are plenty of suggestions listed so we hope there will be something for most people.
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