North Devon Biosphere Reserve: Exploring the potential of Natural Capital

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The UK National Commission for UNESCO’s case studies are a series of studies that focus on specific interactions between UNESCO’s programmes, designations and objectives and the UK

North Devon Biosphere Reserve: Exploring the
potential of Natural Capital


This case study is part of the 2020 Nation Value of UNESCO to the UK Report.

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The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in North Devon is at the centre of two groundbreaking projects, one land-based, one marine, which are seeking to find innovative ways to govern our environment.

They are two of four ‘pioneer projects’ being carried out to help inform the implementation of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) 25-year plan.

DEFRA’s plan takes a longer-term approach and a more holistic view, aiming to make sustainable use and restoration of the environment central to all society’s decisions. Its ultimate vision is to repair, improve and protect our environment, so it’s in a better state for the next generation.

Both three-year projects are investigating how natural capital (geology, soil, air, water and living things) can be best managed to benefit the environment, economy and people. Led by Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation, the projects involve multiple national and local partners, including government agencies, universities, NGOs and the private sector. The land-based project is trialling new approaches to manage farmland, natural habitats, watercourses, coasts and urban environments in a better way for people and nature. After mapping existing sources of funding, it will identify where investment in natural capital is most needed and take action to secure new investment.

A similar approach is being taken by the marine pioneer which is testing new tools and methods for applying a natural capital model; demonstrating integrated planning and delivery and seeking to trial and ‘scale-up’ the use of new funding opportunities.165 Where possible the marine and landscape pioneer programmes are being brought together to demonstrate how the area can be managed as a single system. In addition to providing on-going changes to practice and funding for the pioneer area, the projects are hoping to offer lessons which can be applied nationally in other areas of the UK.

“Biosphere Reserves are all about innovating and testing new policy developments – it’s one of our key wider values to the UK. It’s a testament to North Devon’s history of powerful partnership working and our firm base in the local community that we were chosen to host two pioneer projects. I’m hopeful they will offer valuable lessons for the sustainable management of the environment and a tangible contribution to the SDGs.”

Andy Bell, North Devon Biosphere Reserve’s Coordinator

This case study was a part of the 2020 National Value of UNESCO to the UK Report 

ISSN 2050-8212 (Print)

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The 2020 National Value for UNESCO to the UK Report & Programme

The National Value Report seeks to capture the economic and wider intangible value of the UK network of UNESCO designations. It finds that the network is adding significant value to our economy and society and recommends how this value can be enhanced.

The National Value of UNESCO Designations to the United Kingdom Report shows how UNESCO is bringing sites, people and communities together, and creating and delivering value for the United Kingdom. It finds that the vibrant network of UNESCO sites in the UK, its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are contributing in three main areas: they contribute financial value, they make a rich and creative contribution to the UK’s environment, culture and communities and contribute to the attainment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

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The 2020 National Value for UNESCO to the UK Report & Programme Case Studies

The case studies that form this series illustrate these benefits to the UK that are contributed by the vibrant Network of UK UNESCO sites as found by the National Value Report; featuring financial value, academic research, environmentalism and climate change, promotion and preservation of culture, education and more.


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