Mar 12

Reserve No More

Reserve No More

unescoNow, don’t panic!

This title may conjure up all kinds of worries, but fret not… our Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere still retains its status and its wonders… it just won’t be a “reserve” anymore.

We recently attended a workshop with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO’s) Man and the Biosphere (MAB) program. Hosted by the the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC), the workshop included escarpment organizations from all over the Rib.

The Niagara Escarpment is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a Biosphere (no reserve…have to get used to that!) and is one of four biospheres around the globe being used to develop a toolkit which can be used the world over. The toolkit is designed to help people like us simply and easily tell people what a biosphere is and why. The results of these four workshops will be presented later this year at the EuroMAB conference in Estonia.

ch6Even though each biosphere in the world is unique in its own right, the toolkit allows those championing protection to deliver the same message, but gear it to their local needs. The Niagara Escarpment faces different challenges than Long Point or Georgian Bay or the Galapagos Islands, so some of the local messaging will differ, but the biosphere message will remain the same.

The Man and the Biosphere program has always been about people living in significant natural areas in a sustainable manner, benefitting both people and the environment. The message however has been traditionally based in science and focused on environmental protection. In today’s world, it is becoming more important to help people understand that it is their interaction with the biosphere that makes it a biosphere. UNESCO’s new focus is promoting the relationship with people: to inspire a positive future by connecting people and nature today.

To that end, the word “reserve” is going the way of the Dodo. (Man, I hope all you cool kids know what a Dodo was… Google it if you don’t.) Research has found that people find the word “reserve” very restrictive. It feels like it’s describing a place you have to stay out of; a fenced off area that’s off limits.  That’s not at all the intended connotation. We want people to visit biospheres; to work, play, and live in biospheres in a respectful, sustainable manner. So, going forward, we’ll refer to the Rib as the Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere (no reserve!).

Welcome to the Biosphere!

ch10The other message UNESCO is trying to promote is that we are a part of a global community, linked by the way we treat our special natural places, by how our culture grows and develops from and within them, and how we, as people, are shaped by our natural surroundings. The biosphere family is planet-wide and bridges cultural gaps around the world using the foundation of our common goals.

So while we have a way to go with new biosphere messaging from UNESCO, we can be proud that we have contributed to the continued success of biospheres around the globe. We can also be happy that there are so many other dedicated people, groups and volunteers around the province helping to protect our Niagara Escarpment… perhaps even the beginnings of a new and refreshed Niagara Escarpment Network? (Shhhh… that one’s still in the works… stay tuned!)