UNESCO announces 11 new biosphere reserves UNESCO announces 11 new biosphere reserves

The 11 new reserves in Europe, America and Asia are now part of a global network of protected biodiverse areas…
09 July 2024

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) has named 11 new sites to join its World Network of Biosphere Reserves, bringing its global total to 759 sites across 136 countries.

The new designations includes reserves in Belgium and The Gambia for the first time plus two transboundary biospheres.

Picturesque Kempen-Broek wetland spreads into both Belgium and the Netherlands, a prime habitat for dragonflies featuring stream valleys and vast moorland. In West Africa, red-limestone dominated Niumi Biosphere Reserve in The Gambia offers some of the last pristine mangrove forests in this region of the continent. Whereas the Julian Alps transboundary biosphere stretches across alpine mountains and karst plateaux in both Italy and Slovenia.

Other new biosphere reserves are located in Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mongolia, the Philippines, South Korea, Slovenia and Spain – covering a total area of 37,400 km sq, equivalent to the size of the Netherlands.

“At a time when the international community is being called upon to increase the number of protected areas, these new biosphere reserves play an essential role in sustainably preserving the biodiversity, improving the living conditions of local populations and Indigenous Peoples and fostering scientific research,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO.

Biosphere reserves address climate disruption and generate green income for local and Indigenous communities. They contribute to the overall goal of designating 30% of the Earth’s land and marine surface as protected areas and restoring 30% of the planet’s degraded ecosystems by 2030. 


These are the 11 new UNESCO biosphere reserves for 2024

1. Kempen-Broek Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, Belgium & the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Biodiversity pond of Kempen-Broek Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO/Erwin Christis)

Featuring vast moorland on the north and intriguing prehistoric sites inland, the once expansive wetland has retained remnants of its marshes, calm ponds, open marshlands and bog forests. It sprawls across the border of Belgium and the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is a prime habitat for dragonflies and diverse bird species of the two, with beautiful stream valleys and towns on higher ground.

2. Darién Norte Chocoano Biosphere Reserve, Colombia

Local communities actively participating in sustainable work in The Darien ecoregion (UNESCO/CODECHOCO)

Stretching across the lush tropical rainforests to the marine areas and connecting North and South America, the vibrant Darien ecoregion is home to the emblematic species of the majestic harpy eagle and the colourful poison dart frogs. Apart from the archaeological park and museum that tell the story of this region hosting one of the first Spanish settlements on the American continent, Indigenous Peoples and Afro-Colombian origins here are actively involved in sustainability affairs, especially among the young people and women.

3. Madre de las Aguas Biosphere Reserve, Dominican Republic

Mountainous landscape in Madre de las Aguas Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO/Julio J Cortorreal)

The vast territory of the reserve in the heart of the Republic presents a characteristic topography sculpted by the Cordillera Central with plateaus and waterfalls, which shelters 88 avian species in four distinct ecosystems, 20 of which are endemic and 17 under threat, including the critically endangered sparrowhawk.

4. Niumi Biosphere Reserve, The Gambia

Mangroves in Niumi Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO/Department of Parks and Wildlife Management, c/o Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, GIEPA House, Kairaba Avenue)

Securing some of West Africa’s last pristine mangrove forests, the biosphere features mangroves dominating the coastal areas and riverbanks and red limestone formations punctuating tropical forests and woodland downstream. It encompasses a Ramsar wetland and the UNESCO World Heritage site Kunta Kinteh Island which tells the history of the enslaved peoples before being transported to the Americas during the 16th and 17th centuries.

5. Colli Euganei Biosphere Reserve, Italy

Sunset in the Euganean Hills, Veneto (Shutterstock)

Europe’s largest thermal basin lies in the picturesque landscape in Veneto, northeastern Italy. It is home to no fewer than 81 volcanic hills, including the prominent Monte Venda which stands tall amidst the thermal spas, verdant plains, olive groves, and vineyards of the region. The region’s volcanic history and thermal waters contribute to its rich natural and cultural heritage.

6. Julian Alps Transboundary Biosphere Reserve, Italy & Slovenia

Mountain pasture in Julian Alps Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (Julian Prealps Natural Park)

Merging the two Slovenian and Italian biosphere reserves designated in 2003 and 2019 respectively, the transboundary reserve boasts a patchwork of alpine mountains and karst plateaux dotted by waterfalls and pristine lakes. The rich biodiversity includes brown bears, lynxes, otters and wildcats.

7. Khar Us Lake Biosphere Reserve, Mongolia

Enkh Orgil People from the Khar Us Lake areas (Enkh-Orgil)

Across the aquatic realms, deserts, high mountain terrain and steppe landscapes you will find the vast depression of the reserve within the Great Lake basin in western Mongolia, spanning an expansive 14,153 km sq. It is home to rare and endangered species and diverse ethnic groups whose livelihoods revolve around a sustainable form of animal husbandry, sustainable livelihood and sustainable ecotourism.

8. yApayaos Biosphere Reserve, Philippines

Natural rock formation and river in yApayaos Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO/DOT-CAR)

With the Apayao River as a vital watershed, this reserve is divided into the Upper Apayao with terrain, peaks,  plateaus and valleys, while the Lower Apayao features flatlands with rolling hills and plateaus. The vast 3,960 sq km reserve shows a coexistence of protected wildlife, the endangered Philippine eagle, the ethnolinguistic groups and 10 indigenous cultural communities whose traditions and laws are deeply intertwined with the land – just as its name, yApayaos, suggests. 

9. Changnyeong Biosphere Reserve, South Korea

Upo Wetland in Changnyeong Biosphere Reserve (Shutterstock)

The 531 sq km reserve encompasses habitats ranging from the lush forests of Mount Hwawang to the sprawling Upo Wetland, which is successfully conserved by the restoration of the endangered crested ibis since 2008. Sustainable agriculture is practised here and a balance maintained between freshwater ecosystems and forests teeming with diverse species. It is now pioneering agricultural diversification by cultivating local onions and garlic. Changnyeong-gun County was recognised as a Ramsar Wetland City in 2018.

10. Val d’Aran Biosphere Reserve, Spain

Montgarri village in Val d’Aran Biosphere Reserve (Conselh Generau Val d’Aran)

As Catalonia’s sole north-facing valley and a bastion of Occitan cultural and linguistic heritage, the reserve’s unique position as a watershed between the Mediterranean and Atlantic realms features diverse climatic and biological landscapes – Atlantic slope valley, mountain ranges and river.

11. Irati Biosphere Reserve, Spain

Autumn in Irati Biosphere Reserve (Alfonso Senosiain)

Nestled within the mid-mountain expanse of the western Pyrenees,the reserve’s expansive forests are dominated by beech and beech-fir, making it the second-largest beech forest in Europe. The Irati Forest is a Special Protection Area for birds and one of the last strongholds for woodpeckers. 


Fore more information, visit unesco.org.uk

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