Public puzzled over biosphere

The people of Galloway are puzzled about what being part of a biosphere means and how it can improve their communities.

That was the message that came across at a Wigtown Area Committee meeting on the subject of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Reserve held in Glentrool hall on Wednesday night.

At the well attended meeting, members heard Simon Fieldhouse, Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Countryside Services Manager, say that being made a biosphere was “more prestigious” than being a national park and the combination of the biosphere and the Dark Sky Park should put “Dumfries and Galloway on the map”.

He explained that a biosphere was “a designation, an accolade for the area”, but it was not a statutory body so had no powers to lay down legislation.

But all three Mid Galloway Councillors felt that the council were “dragging their feet” over getting the benefits of being a biosphere out to the communities within the ‘buffer zone’, like Glentrool and Newton Stewart, in terms of increasing employment, growing tourism and promoting local businesses through biosphere branding.

Councillor Alistair Geddes said: “I feel the council has not got to grips with how to milk this for all it’s worth to get the best out of it.”

Basic infrastructure like signs announcing the start of the biosphere area were still not in situ but Simon Fieldhouse said that three dedicated officers were now in place to address such issues and work with communities. They were also taking advice from officials in established biosphere areas about what works and what doesn’t. Mary Armstrong spoke with passion of her desire to see more conservation of the traditional ecosystem, resources, species and landscape of the Galloway hills, something she felt was being lost due to pressure on the land from the Forestry Commission in particular, but Mr Fieldhouse replied the Biosphere had to fit the criteria set out by UNESCO, who award biosphere designations, and their application showed this biosphere “retained a valuable ecosystem.”

Council field officer Nic Coombey then spoke of the importance and uniqueness of being a biosphere area through working with schools in the area. The council were also forging links with organisation like the RSPB and local landowners to establish a “sense of identity” within the biosphere.

Members were concerned that the two Leader funding bodies involved, South Ayrshire and Dumfries & Galloway were having difficulties working together.

They members all agreed interested parties needed to project a united front and businesses should be encouraged to use the biosphere branding on their products.