Biosphere reserves are sites recognized under UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme which innovate and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development. There are 531 sites worldwide in 105 countries. Since farming economies appeared five centuries ago, the human population has increased more than 10,000 times, Demographic growth and increasing consumption have made severe pressures on all ecosystems and risk causing the collapse of the earth's life support system. UNESCO believes that utilization and conservation of land and water resources should go hand in hand, and that an interdisciplinary approach and long term vision are key. Biosphere reserves are much like laboratories where new and optimal practices to manage nature and human activities are tested and demonstrated. They outpace traditional confined conservation zones, combining core protected areas with zones where sustainable development is fostered by local dwellers and enterprises. Their governance systems are often highly innovative. In some cases, new legislation can be introduced. Biosphere reserves have three inter-connected functions:
- Conservation: landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation
- Development: economic and human and culturally adapted
- Logistic support: research, monitoring, environmental education and training
They generate knowledge and experience which can be used in the wider land and seascape. They are tools to help countries implement the results of the WSSD and in particular the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Ecosystem Approach. They are "learning sites" for the UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development.
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve
A Biosphere reserve is a region identified for careful, scientific management. Consistent with the concept of preserving biodiversity in its totality, rather than conservation of plants, animals and micro organism in isolation, the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve was constituted on 1st September 1986.This biosphere reserve represents a unique and threatened ecosystem in the tropics within the Western Ghats Mountain system. It is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and provides habitat for the probably largest South Indian populations of tiger (Panthera tigris), elephant (Elephas maximus) and other large mammals. Several ethnic groups inhabit the area, including the only surviving hunter-gatherers of the Indian subcontinent, the Cholanaikans who concentrate in the Nilambur area. The 1,160,200 permanent inhabitants of the biosphere reserve (2000) subsist on the use of natural resources (such as medicinal plants), agriculture, agri-horticulture and the commercialization of these products. Eco-development programmes are envisaged to provide schemes for generating additional income and security for people, such as forest and grassland management, habitat improvement, animal husbandry, apiculture and aquaculture, development of crafts, education and health, etc. About 200,000 people visit this region annually (2000), thus tourism has also become an important source of income.
The Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve extends over contiguous areas of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamilnadu. It embraces the sanctuary complex of Wayanad, Nagarhole, Bandipur, Mudumalai and the entire hillslopes of Nilambur and Nilgiri, the upper Nilgiri plateau, Silent Valley National Park and Siruvani hill. It includes substantial areas undisturbed by man. The vegetation types range from dry scrub, dry and moist deciduous forest, semi evergreen and wet evergreen forest to evergreen Sholas and grassy downs & swamps. The outer areas are inhabited by a number of tribal groups traditionally dependent on forest for their existence. The total area of the reserve is 5520.4 sq.km, out of this 1455.5 sq.km falls in Kerala, 1527.4 sq.km in Karanataka and 2537.6 sq.km in Tamilnadu. The reserve has a core area of 1240 sq.km and a buffer zone of about 4280 sq.km in area. The average annual rainfall ranges from 500 mm to 7000 mm. Temperature also shows wide fluctuations. It can reach as high as 40 degree Celsius during summer in the rain shadow areas. The major mountain ranges that add to the grandeur include Nilgiri, Nilambur and Siruvani hills. The sanctuary has abundant water supply, thanks to the presence of the rivers Krishna, Godavari, Cauvery and their tributaries like Bhima, Thungabhadra, Kabani and Bhavani.The parts of the reserve in Kerala include Wayanad Wildlife division, Silent Valley National Park, Mannarkkad, Palghat, Nilambur south and Nilambur north division. The core area is 239.5 sq.km, the forestry zone is 870 sq.km and the tourist zone is 100 sq.km.
The mammal population includes more than 100 species. There are also 550 species of birds and 30 species of reptiles. The reserve takes pride in the fact that the largest known population of the two endangered species namely the Nilgiri Tahr and Lion Tailed Macaque are found here. Perhaps the largest south Indian population of Elephants, Tiger, Gaur, Sambar and Cheetal are found here. Fresh water fishes of the genera Horabagrus, Bhavania and Travancorica are also seen.
Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve
Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve was notified on 12th November 2001 under UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme. This project is developed under 100% central Government sponsored scheme. The Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve falls solely in Kerala, covering an area of 1701 square kilometers. The forest tracts of Neyyar, Peppara, Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuaries and Achencoil, Thenmala, Konni, Punalur, Thiruvananthapuram Divisions and Agasthyavanam Special Division are included in Agasthyamalai Biosphere Reserve.
For the co-ordination of the activities of various departments in the Biosphere Reserve area and for ensuring the scientific management of the Biosphere Reserve a local committee and a state level Biosphere Management Committee are also constituted as per Government of Indian guidelines.