The only Biosphere Area in the country
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People and businesses living in the Dyfi Valley are being asked whether and how they want to take advantage of a unique opportunity. The area could become the only Welsh member of an exclusive international club of 'special places'.
In the same way that World Heritage Sites are places of outstanding heritage and architectural interest, 'Biosphere Areas' are places where people are working to protect and make use of their unique ecological and cultural assets.
Right: Dyfi Bridge at Pont-ar-Ddyfi, Machynlleth, courtesy of Bro Ddyfi Communities First
A series of nine public events has been arranged to explain what it's all about and to find out what people think. These include Glantwymyn Community Centre on Friday 6th October, Neuadd Goffa Talybont on 18th October and the Owain Glyndwr Institute at Machynlleth on 26th October. All the events will start with a locally-sourced buffet at 6.45.
'Biosphere Areas' are designated by UNESCO, which is the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. They are intended to be 'special areas for nature and people' and 'beacons of sustainable development'.
Today there are 450 biosphere areas in nearly 100 countries, but only one is in Wales.
UNESCO originally welcomed the Dyfi Biosphere Area as a member of this network because of the important international habitats which are found around Cors Fochno (Borth Bog) and the estuary, but then they changed the rules! These days, biosphere areas are not primarily about nature conservation but instead are about how people benefit by looking after things that are important to them.
The Dyfi biosphere area as it stands today is too small and doesn't contain enough people for it to be considered a 'modern' biosphere area. The community is being asked whether it would like the whole valley to become the Biosphere Area and to explore what it would mean in practice. The alternative is to tell UNESCO to remove it from the club.
The new criteria imply respect for culture as well as for landscape and nature. They mean we have to consider the welfare of future generations and of the rest of the world as well as the true quality of our own lives.
This probably means developing a more self-reliant economy based on local resources, reducing our dependence on expensive oil and gas, and valuing and caring for the Welsh language as well as for fragile habitats and rare plants.
Amongst other potential benefits, the designation would open up opportunities for sustainable tourism, such as wildlife-watching, and offer a 'brand' that would help local producers of quality food and other suitable goods to market their produce.
Many people and organisations are already working in this direction and there is little doubt that UNESCO will approve an application if it is made. Because the designation is totally voluntary, no application for it can be made without community participation and support.
The four local authorities and others have formed a partnership to oversee the process of deciding what to do.
They have appointed Delyth Richards to be the Community Engagement Officer and ecodyfi to assist her. She is responsible for communicating information about biosphere areas, for exploring with people how they could take advantage of the designation and for recording people's feelings. She would like to discuss the issues with individuals – whether they are for it, against it or don't see its relevance to them – and is keen to talk to groups and societies in their own meetings.
"This high-profile status could be very important for the future of the valley" she said. "I'd like lots of people to come to the meetings to get a taste of local produce and to have their say on the matter, whether or not they like the sound of it at first". "I know some people will be afraid it might mean more bureaucracy, but I'd rather have the opportunity to discuss it with them than have people complain later if it goes ahead without them!"
Each meeting will have a common first half, followed by a focus on a specific theme in the second half. In Talybont this will be agriculture. It will be tourism in Borth and Aberdyfi, the environment in Corris and Taliesin and the economy in Machynlleth.
Delyth will also be seeking opportunities to talk to organisations in nearby communities such as Aberystwyth.
For further information or an informal chat, contact her on 01654 703965 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information is available on Biosphere Project
Dyfi Biosphere Areas
Come and learn more about the proposed Dyfi Biosphere Area by UNESCO. Here's your chance to discuss its importance to your business, school, farm, shopping and standard of living.
Each meeting will start with a buffet made of local produce followed by a presentation and an open discussion. The second part of the evening will be to see how relevant the designation will be to the specific themes, which are noted below: