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10th July 2024

UNESCO delegation visits GSA Biosphere for landmark partnership promoting agricultural resilience

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Partnership and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) have welcomed representatives from UNESCO and the abrdn Charitable Foundation to southwest Scotland this week, to showcase a US$25,000 project developing a methodology for assessing natural capital on farms holistically.

In August 2023 the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science & Culture in Europe announced that the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere was one of five new sites selected to participate in an international peer learning project exploring the implementation of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, with other winning proposals coming from UNESCO sites in France, Montenegro, Romania, and the United States.  The 12-month project, funded by the abrdn Charitable Foundation, addressed the urgent need to evaluate and  protect natural capital on Scotland’s farms, trialling auditing techniques in real time and developing an innovative methodology with the potential to be expanded nationwide.

In developing the project the GSA Biosphere’s Land Use & Biodiversity team worked with SAC Consulting, the SRUC’s specialist service providing independent advice for rural businesses. The new methodology examines six ‘pillars’ of natural capital including biodiversity, carbon capture and soil health, with the team analysing over 100 audit tools to find those best suited to use on farms and estates. Aiming to halt degradation of natural habitats and restore biodiversity while improving the farm business, recommendations will be based on a holistic view of each farm holding and will provide managers with the tools to identify the best possible interventions for their land.

The delegation for this week’s visit met Biosphere Trustees and heard from partner organisations including NatureScot, the NFUS, Dumfries & Galloway Council and South of Scotland Enterprise during a one-day conference and tour visiting a working farm and seeing some of the UNESCO region’s most important environmental sites. With increasingly urgent discussions on Scotland’s climate targets and the country looking ahead to a revised Agriculture Bill incorporating new requirements for managing natural capital, the project is especially of its time.

John Thomson, Acting Chair of the GSA Biosphere Partnership, said: “We are proud to have spent more than a decade working with farmers to identify how we can together make sure that agriculture in our region fully reflects the principles that underpin its UNESCO designation and is thus truly sustainable, both financially and environmentally. Thanks to the UNESCO Regional Bureau of Science and Culture in Europe and the abrdn Charitable Foundation’s generous grant, we have been able to build on the research and relationships that already exist to create a toolkit that is accessible and dynamic, with transformative potential for agriculture and land use in Galloway and Southern Ayrshire and across Scotland as a whole.”

Jane Morrison-Ross, Chief Executive of South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE), said: “The success of farming and land-based enterprise is absolutely critical to the South of Scotland economy. The project led by the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Partnership demonstrates how our region is in the very vanguard of research and innovation that will build long term resilience for local businesses and communities. Our discussions with the many partners who attended this week’s event were truly inspiring and a fantastic example of how shared learning can accelerate sustainable development; it showcases why the South of Scotland is the Natural Capital Innovation Zone for Scotland.”

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Partnership is a registered Scottish Charity (SC044137) supported by funders including South of Scotland Enterprise, and Dumfries & Galloway, East Ayrshire and South Ayrshire Councils. Its work covers the entire UNESCO-designated region, more than 9,700km² of terrestrial and marine areas and communities that are collectively home to over 105,000 people. The GSA Biosphere Partnership delivers a variety of collaborative projects in conservation, education, enterprise and climate resilience, all of which are targeted towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

More information about the GSA Biosphere Partnership’s activity programme including its work in natural capital is available by email request to

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