Biosphere reserves


What is a Biosphere Reserve?

A Biosphere Reserve is a special ecosystem or a specialized environment with a flora and fauna that require protection and nurturing. These reserves are managed and studied for the conservation of various life forms found here. They are subjects of scientific and natural interest.

According to UNESCO, “Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. They are internationally recognized, nominated by national governments and remain under sovereign jurisdiction of the states where they are located”.

In 1971, UNESCO launched a global programme to formalize the scientific interaction between man and his natural environment. This programme is called the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB).  Some 120 countries have joined in by establishing 669 biosphere reserves, including 16 transboundary reserves connected by the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. The MAB is a worthy initiative aimed at conserving the ecology and environment which is essential to the very survival of many rare and dying species of flora and fauna. India, with its rich treasure trove of biodiversity, is geographically ideal for establishing, cultivating and maintaining a variety of biosphere reserves.

Biosphere Reserves in India

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India defines Biosphere Reserves thus – “Biosphere Reserves (BRs) are representative parts of natural and cultural landscapes extending over large area of terrestrial or coastal/marine ecosystems or a combination thereof and representative examples of bio-geographic zones/province”. The Government of India has established about 18 different Biosphere Reserves in the country. Of these, 10 are part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, set up under the auspices of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme. Not only are animals protected in the Biosphere Reserves of our country but the natural lifestyle of the indigenous people is also promoted. The communities in these regions are encouraged to retain their agrarian lifestyle and develop harmony with the plants and animals. The Biosphere Reserves of India correspond roughly to the IUCN Category V Protected Areas list and are often designed to include one or more national parks and national sanctuaries. The buffer zones of these Biosphere Reserves are open to economic activities as well.



  1. Criteria for designation of BR
  • A site that must contain an effectively protected and minimally disturbed core area of value of nature conservation.
  • The core area should be typical of a bio-geographical unit and large enough to sustain viable populations representing all trophic levels in the ecosystem.
  • The management authority to ensure the involvement/cooperation of local communities to bring variety of knowledge and experiences to link biodiversity conservation and  socio-economic development while managing and containing the conflicts.
  • Areas potential for preservation of traditional tribal or rural modes of living for harmonious use of environment.


The World Network of Biosphere Reserves of the MAB Programme consists of a dynamic and interactive network of sites of excellence. It fosters the harmonious integration of people and nature for sustainable development through participatory dialogue; knowledge sharing; poverty reduction and human well-being improvements; respect for cultural values and society’s ability to cope with change – thus contributing to the Millenium Development Goals. Accordingly, the WNBR is one of the main international tools to develop and implement sustainable development approaches in a wide array of contexts.


To ensure environmental, economic and social (including cultural and spiritual) sustainability through:

  1. The development and coordination of a worldwide network of places acting as demonstration areas and learning sites with the aim of maintaining and developing ecological and cultural diversity, and securing ecosystem services for human well-being;
  2. The development and integration of knowledge, including science, to advance our understanding of interactions between people and the rest of nature;
  3. Building global capacity for the management of complex socio-ecological systems, particularly through encouraging greater dialogue at the science-policy interface; environmental education; and multi-media outreach to the wider community.


  1. International Status of Biosphere Reserves (BR)

The UNESCO has introduced the designation ‘Biosphere Reserve’ for natural areas to minimize conflict between development and conservation. BRs are nominated by national government which meet a minimal set of criteria and adhere to minimal set of conditions for inclusion in the world network of Biosphere reserves under the Man and Biosphere Reserve Programme of UNESCO. Globally 621 BRs representing from 117 countries included in the network so far.


  1. Structure and functions of BR:

Biosphere reserves are demarcated into following 3 inter-related zones:

Core Zone

Core zone must contain suitable habitat for numerous plant and animal species, including higher order predators and may contain centres of endemism. Core areas often conserve the wild relatives of economic species and also represent important genetic reservoirs having exceptional scientific interest. A core zone being National Park or Sanctuary/protected/regulated mostly under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Whilst realizing that perturbation is an ingredient of ecosystem functioning, the core zone is to be kept free from l human pressures external to the system.

Buffer Zone

The buffer zone, adjoins or surrounds core zone, uses and activities are managed in this area in the ways that help in protection of core zone in its natural condition. These uses and activities include restoration, demonstration sites for enhancing value addition to the resources, limited recreation, tourism, fishing, grazing, etc; which are permitted to reduce its effect on core zone. Research and educational activities are to be encouraged. Human activities, if natural within BR, are likely to continue if these do not adversely affect the ecological diversity.

Transition Zone

The transition area is the outermost part of a biosphere reserve. This is usually not delimited one and is a zone of cooperation where conservation knowledge and management skills are applied and uses are managed in harmony with the purpose of the biosphere reserve.  This includes settlements, crop lands, managed forests and area for intensive recreation and other economic uses characteristics of the region.


  1. Tripartite functions of BR (Conservation, Development and logistic support)
  • To conserve the diversity and integrity of plants and animals within natural ecosystems
  • To safeguard genetic diversity of species on which their continuing evolution depends
  • To ensure sustainable use of natural resources through most appropriate technology for improvement of economic well-being of the local people
  • To provide areas for multi-faceted research and monitoring
  • To provide facilities for education and training
  1. Management

100% grant-in-aid is provided under the Biosphere Reserve scheme for the approved items of activities for implementation of Management Action Plans submitted by the concerned States/UT. The activities permitted under the scheme are broadly under the following areas:

  • Value addition activities
  • Sustainable use of threatened resources
  • Rehabilitation of landscapes of threatened species and ecosystems
  • Socio-economic upliftment of local communities
  • Maintenance and protection of corridor areas
  • Development of communication system and Networking
  • Development of Eco-tourism

BR scheme is different from other conservation related schemes. It has the focus on the welfare of local inhabitants through provision of supplementary and alternate livelihood support to the people in the buffer and transition zones in order to reduce biotic pressure on biodiversity of the natural reserves of core zone.


Main Characteristics of Biosphere Reserves

  1. Achieving the three international functions: conservation, development and logistic support.
  2. Outpacing traditional confined conservation zones, through appropriate zoning schemes combining core protected areas with zones where sustainable development is fostered by local dwellers and enterprises with often highly innovative and participative governance systems.
  3. Focusing on a multi-stakeholder approach with particular emphasis on the involvement of local communities in management;
  4. Fostering dialogue for conflict resolution of natural resource use.
  5. Integrating cultural and biological diversity, especially the role of traditional knowledge in ecosystem management.
  6. Demonstrating sound sustainable development practices and policies based on research and monitoring.
  7. Acting as sites of excellence for education and training.
  8. Participating in the World Network.




The bio-reserves in India

The Indian government has established 18 Biosphere Reserves in India,(categories roughly corresponding to IUCN Category V Protected areas), which protect larger areas of natural habitat (than a National Park or Animal Sanctuary), and often include one or more National Parks and/or preserves, along with buffer zones that are open to some economic uses. Protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to the human communities who inhabit these regions, and their ways of life. Animals are protected and saved here.

The Indian government has established eighteen biosphere reserves of India which protect larger areas of natural habitat and often include one or more national parks and/or preserves, along buffer zones that are open to some economic uses. Protection is granted not only to the flora and fauna of the protected region, but also to the human communities who inhabit these regions, and their ways of life.

The bio-reserves in India are:


Ten of the eighteen biosphere reserves are a part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, based on the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB) list.



List of Biosphere reserves in India. Name of Biosphere reserve, Year of Notification, Total Area and Location is as follows…..
Sl. No.Name of Biosphere ReserveDate of NotificationArea of the core / buffer/transition (In Km2)Location (States)
(Core 1240 & Buffer 4280)
Part of Wayanad, Nagarhole, Bandipur and Madumalai, Nilambur, Silent Valley and Siruvani hills (Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka).
2Nanda Devi18.01.19885860.69
(Core 712.12, Buffer 5,148.570) & T. 546.34)
Part of Chamoli, Pithoragarh, and Bageshwar districts (Uttarakhand).
(Core 47.48 & Buffer 227.92, Transition Zone 544.60)
Part of Garo hills (Meghalaya).
4Great Nicobar06.01.1989885 (Core 705 & Buffer 180)Southern most islands of Andaman And Nicobar (A&N Islands).
5Gulf of Mannar18.02.198910,500 km2
Total Gulf area
(area of Islands 5.55 km2)
Indian part of Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka (Tamil Nadu).
(Core 391 & Buffer 2,446)
Part of Kokrajhar, Bongaigaon, Barpeta, Nalbari, Kamprup and Darang districts (Assam).
(Core 1700 & Buffer  7900)
Part of delta of Ganges and Brahamaputra river system
(West Bengal).
(Core 845, Buffer 2129 & Transition 1400
Part of Mayurbhanj district (Orissa).
(Core 340 & Buffer 425)
Part of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia Districts (Assam).
(Core 4094.80 &Buffer 1016.70)
Part of Siang and Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh.
11Pachmarhi03.03.19994926Parts of Betul, Hoshangabad and Chindwara districts of Madhya Pradesh.
(Core 1819.34 & Buffer 835.92)
Parts of Khangchendzonga hills and Sikkim.
13Agasthyamalai12.11.20011828Neyyar, Peppara and Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuaries and their adjoining areas in Kerala.
14Achanakamar –    Amarkantak30.3.20053835.51
(Core 551.55 & Buffer  3283.86)
Covers parts of Anupur and Dindori districts of M.P. and parts of Bilaspur districts of Chhattishgarh State.
15Kachchh29.01.200812,454 km2Part of Kachchh, Rajkot, Surendra Nagar and Patan Civil Districts of Gujarat State.
16Cold Desert28.08.20097770Pin Valley National Park and surroundings; Chandratal and Sarchu&Kibber Wildlife Sanctuary in Himachal Pradesh.
17Seshachalam Hills20.09.20104755.997Seshachalam Hill Ranges covering parts of Chittoor and Kadapa districts of Andhra Pradesh.
18Panna25.08.20112998.98Part of Panna and Chhattarpur districts in Madhya Pradesh.


The International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves

The International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves is the primary scientific and technical Committee body advising the International Co-ordinating Council (ICC) of the MAB Programme and its World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) and the Director General of UNESCO on matters pertaining to the WNBR.

The Committee advise the Director-General of UNESCO and the MAB-ICC on scientific and technical matters concerning the nomination of new sites and, changes and periodic reviews of sites already included in the WNBR, as well as the development, operation and monitoring of the WNBR which they constitute in accordance with the Seville Strategy and the Statutory Framework for the WNBR.

The Committee is composed of twelve members, who are appointed for four years by the Director-General, after consultation with the Member States and or the National Committees for the Man and the Biosphere Programme of the countries concerned.

The members of the Committee are selected for their scientific qualifications and for their experience in promoting and implementing the concept of biosphere reserve.

Designation of Biosphere Reserves

Article 5 of the 1995 Statutory Framework of the World Network of Biosphere Reserve, states the designation procedure for biosphere reserves. It reads as follows:

Article 5- Designation procedure

  1. Biosphere reserves are designated for inclusion in the Network by the International Co-ordinating Council (ICC) of the MAB Programme in accordance with the following procedure.
  2. a) States, through National MAB Committees where appropriate, forward nominations with supporting documentation to the secretariat after having reviewed potential sites, taking into account the criteria as defined in Article 4.
  3. b) The secretariat verifies the content and supporting documentation: in the case of incomplete nomination, the secretariat requests the missing information from the nominating State.
  4. c) Nominations will be considered by the Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves for recommendation to ICC.
  5. d) ICC of the MAB Programme takes a decision on nominations for designation.

The Director-General of UNESCO notifies the State concerned of the decision of ICC.

  1. States are encouraged to examine and improve the adequacy of any existing biosphere reserve, and to propose extension as appropriate, to enable it to function fully within the Network. Proposals for extension follow the same procedure as described above for new designations.3. Biosphere reserves which have been designated before the adoption of the present Statutory Framework are considered to be already part of the Network. The provisions of the Statutory Framework therefore apply to them.

Periodic Review Process

The periodic review is an important event in the life of a biosphere reserve. It enables a review, every ten years, of the functioning, zoning, scale of the biosphere reserve as well as the involvement of the populations living in the site. The Statutory Framework for the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) makes provision under Article 9 that “the status of each biosphere reserve should be subject to a periodic review every ten years, based on a report prepared by the concerned authority, on the basis of the criteria of Article 4, and forwarded to the secretariat by the State concerned. The report will be considered by the Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves for recommendation to International Co-ordinating Council.”

The periodic review represents an opportunity to carry out a qualitative survey of the actions implemented, their results. It’s a time to take stock of progress made by the biosphere reserve, especially as concerns the updating of knowledge, skills and expertise in resource and ecosystem management. It also provides an opportunity to discuss the updating of the zonation system and assess its relevance, question the objectives and means of management policies and examine the issues and problems tied to implementation. It is also a time to discuss weak points.  Its objective is to improve the quality of the biosphere reserves and their functioning as sites for testing and demonstrating approaches to sustainable development. To date, 356 periodic review reports were received by the Secretariat and examined by the MAB International co-ordinating Council.

Biosphere reserves which are not able to meet the criteria of Article 4 have been withdrawn by the countries from the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) (see Article 9 of the Statutory Framework). As of August 2013, 16 sites have been withdrawn.

Biosphere reserves are sites established by countries and recognized under UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme to promote sustainable development based on local community efforts and sound science. The Programme of Biosphere Reserve was initiated by UNESCO in 1971. The purpose of the formation of the biosphere reserve is to conserve in situ all forms of life, along with its support system, in its totality, so that it could serve as a referral system for monitoring and evaluating changes in natural ecosystems. The first biosphere reserve of the world was established in 1979, since then the network of biosphere reserves has increased to 631 in 119 countries across the world. Presently, there are 18 notified biosphere reserves in India.



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