THE “world class” rolling downs of Sussex have become the UK’s first new “Biosphere” in 40 years.

The Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere was assigned the designation by the United Nations yesterday as part of the Man and the Biosphere project led by UNESCO.

A Biosphere site declaration is an award in recognition of residents showing innovative approaches to living in harmony with nature.

Chris Todd, chairman of the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership, said: “This is world recognition for the fantastic environment we have here and for all the hard work that local people put into looking after it.

“Now we have this accolade, we aim to build on the partnership to do even greater things.

“This is not about telling people what to do but creating a vision for the future.”

The award follows six years’ work by the Brighton and Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership to develop its bid.

The partnership of some 40 organisations, with Brighton and Hove City Council as a lead partner, includes other local authorities, public bodies, voluntary, educational and community organisations and private sector businesses.

The newly-established Biosphere area covers all of the land and near-shore coastal waters between the two rivers of the Adur in the west and the Ouse in the east.

The northern boundary of the South Downs National Park marks its northern limits.

The Biosphere includes the city of Brighton and Hove and neighbouring towns of Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Shoreham, Telscombe and Southwick – covering a total of nearly 150 square miles.

Councillor Pete West, chairman of the environment transport and sustainability committee of Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “I’ve always been struck by the pride local people have in our special environment, so I’m delighted that we’ve been granted what I see as the natural equivalent of a world heritage site.

“It’s about more than just the green spaces over in the national park, and mitigating against climate change – but also about increasing biodiversity within our city for all our benefit.

“We’re already encouraging wildlife in our parks and green spaces, for example, but our ongoing work and the attention this award brings will attract visitors and investment to our region.”

This declaration means the area joins a global network of more than 600 other Biospheres in more than 100 counties and is one of only a handful worldwide to include a city.