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9th December 2021

Melanie Allen elected as new Chair of GSAB’s Partnership Board

Local business owner Melanie Allen has been elected as the new Chair of Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere’s Partnership Board.

Melanie brings more than two decades of experience in strategy, governance and stakeholder engagement having worked in private and third sector organisations in addition to running her own business, Nithbank Country Estate at Thornhill.  As well as having served as Vice-Chair of the Biosphere’s Partnership Board Melanie sits on the board of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance and is Company Secretary for the Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers.

As a longstanding ambassador for Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere and exemplar of Proud Supporter principles that embody an environmentally-aware, ‘love local’ approach, Melanie has taken Nithbank on a journey to become a multi-award winning rural business that champions community connections and the Biosphere ethos of celebrating landscape and culture.  In her first speech as new Chair Melanie spoke of her goals for the organisation to be “bold and creative” in sharing its stories and in seizing opportunities to put the Biosphere and the south of Scotland on the global map.

Outgoing Chair, Dr Joan Mitchell, stood down at the AGM after ten years’ service with a heartfelt speech that encouraged the whole Biosphere team to be “confident, ambitious and generous” in their partnerships and future plans.

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire was awarded the UNESCO Biosphere designation in 2012 in recognition of qualities that make it a world class environment for people and nature: a unique natural and cultural heritage and opportunities for sustainable development, learning and research.  The Biosphere’s Director, Ed Forrest, leads a team of seven full-time staff each with a specialised project portfolio that encompasses the organisation’s principles of being both participatory and community-led.  In the decade since designation the Biosphere has become a regional lead in conservation through supporting pioneering approaches to land management that protect biodiversity including critically important habitats and iconic species such as the red squirrel and black grouse, while supporting rural skills and land-based jobs.

With ambitious environmental targets to be met across its three local authority areas the GSA Biosphere has become a key player in climate awareness and education; its programme of delivery seeks to increase the resilience of communities and local industry while ensuring a just transition to net zero carbon emissions. The Biosphere’s Proud Supporter scheme invites individuals, businesses, organisations and groups to commit to an ethos of strengthening economic and community wellbeing, and the Biosphere Certification Mark scheme has created a regional network of enterprise committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Having been awarded £1.9 million in funding by South of Scotland Enterprise in 2020 the Biosphere will be expanding its programme of delivery in conservation, education, land use, and the creation of sustainable Biosphere Communities, while the branded network of Biosphere certified businesses will play a key economic role in the local post-pandemic green recovery.  As Chair of the Partnership Board Melanie will have a critical role in steering new projects which showcase the Biosphere as a destination for sustainable tourism, with collaboration in international marketing campaigns such as Scotland’s UNESCO Trail and VisitScotland’s Year of Stories 2022.  Meanwhile, as the Biosphere approaches its 10-year anniversary its geographical boundary is set to expand, bringing in the Rhins of Galloway and new communities including Stranraer, with staff recruitment underway to increase the organisation’s capacity and reach.

Commenting on her appointment and this dynamic period of growth, Melanie said, “I am delighted and honoured to be leading the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere into a new and exciting era.  The success of the past 10 years is testament to the dedication and passion of Joan and our core team, for which I give my sincerest thanks.

“It is so empowering to be part of a network of likeminded people who inspire every day with stories about their connection to our world class environment.  The Biosphere is now of its time, we have a fantastic opportunity to champion the distinctiveness of our established UNESCO designation and take the lead on sustainability through collaboration and shared learning.  Together, we will continue to work closely with partners to drive forward a new and dynamic strategy to benefit people and nature for years to come.”

Professor Russel Griggs OBE, Chair of South of Scotland Enterprise, said: ‘There is immense potential for Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere to take a lead role in south-west Scotland’s green recovery and having knowledgeable and impassioned people at the helm is an essential element in achieving this.  South of Scotland Enterprise believes in everything the Biosphere represents: collaboration, innovation, and an equal regard for people and nature.  As an organisation we are committed to supporting the Biosphere’s programme of delivery and as SOSE’s Chair I anticipate a long and productive connection with Melanie Allen as she steps into her new role as Chair of the Biosphere’s Partnership Board.’

Cllr Katie Hagmann, D&G Council, said: ‘As the Dumfries and Galloway Council representative to the Biosphere, I am delighted to congratulate Melanie in her new role as Chair of the partnership board. I have been very impressed by her energy and enthusiasm alongside her tireless work to promote south-west Scotland and in particular Dumfries and Galloway, where she lives and works.  The Biosphere is an important key partner for Dumfries and Galloway Council as we work towards achieving our ambitious council priority to ‘Urgently respond to climate change and transition to a carbon neutral region’.  I would like to wish Melanie the very best of luck in her role at this exciting time and look forward to working more closely with the Biosphere as we celebrate our culture, heritage and continue to promote our region as a world class visitor attraction.’

Cllr Drew Filson, East Ayrshire Council, said, ‘On behalf of East Ayrshire Council I am delighted to welcome Melanie as the new Chair of Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere’s Partnership Board.  Since its inception the Biosphere has been a key component in EAC’s environmental strategy, particularly in our drive to create healthy communities where people are proud to live and work.  The challenges of current times make our regeneration goals more critical than ever, and the Biosphere’s creative leadership both in its Director Ed Forrest and now Melanie Allen as Chair makes for a truly exciting future for East Ayrshire.’

Cllr Alec Clark, South Ayrshire Council, said, ‘South Ayrshire Council is committed to a long-term future of partnership working with Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere and I am thrilled that such a staunch advocate for our region has been elected as Chair of the Board.  I was particularly delighted to hear Melanie at the AGM giving a commitment to pursue the embedding of UNESCO Biosphere principles as part of our schools’ curriculum.  We are in a period of great opportunity – for bringing our communities together and working with a collective energy towards a stronger, sustainable economic future.  Melanie’s cross-sector experience is exactly what this role demands.’

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