THE Forest Council has agreed to move onto the next phase of considering the Forest of Dean as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, after 90 per cent of residents who responded to a survey said its main aims were important to them.
The council held a survey on Biosphere status for the Forest last year, and the “vast majority” of respondents - some 602 residents - agreed they want to see a sustainable economy, a greater focus on conservation and increased learning and education about the natural environment.
Councillors discussed the issue at a cabinet meeting last Thursday (May 12) and agreed that a new project team be set up to coordinate further work on the project.
UNESCO says the aim of Biosphere reserves is to “promote solutions” to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.
It also describes them as “learning areas for sustainable development under diverse ecological, social and economic contexts”.
Cllr Chris McFarling, who is the Cabinet Member for Climate Change at the council, said: “Thank you to everyone who took the time to watch the videos, listen to the podcast series, read the material and take part in our survey last year.
“It was great to see such a good response from residents.
“It is rare for a proposal for change to be so positively seen by local residents and the responses showed just how passionate our residents are when it comes to protecting the Forest of Dean for future generations.
“The vast majority of people want to see the local economy protected sustainably, they want increased focus on conserving our natural environment and they would like to see increased learning and education about the Forest of Dean’s ecology and biodiversity.
“These initial indicators align with what we would be able to achieve if the Forest of Dean were to become a Biosphere.
“However, an important part of the survey was to also find out what concerns people had with the concept.
“The impact on house prices and over tourism were among the most common concerns.
“This is something we will investigate and assess thoroughly before moving on with the next stage of the application process.
“We will consult with other British Biosphere Reserves to see how they have resolved these concerns.
“We will ensure to keep you updated with developments as we continue to consider the Forest of Dean as a Biosphere Reserve.”
The next phase of the process will include further consultation and evaluation, as well as increasing understanding for what it could mean for Forest residents and businesses.
The survey found that sustainable farming and forestry methods was the most important economic concept for residents, followed by the local sourcing of food and products.
The most important ecological concepts protecting the variety of species, enhancing unique habitats and encouraging a better understanding of how we can work with nature.
Improving the sustainability of dwellings and commercial developments, improving low carbon transport and flood prevention were also deemed important by more than 90 per cent of residents.
More information on Biosphere Reserves can be found at www.en.unesco.org/biosphere.