How the Isle of Man has taken conservation to an island-wide enterprise

As the first nation to be awarded a UNESCO Biosphere reserve, the Isle of Man has become an island escape into a sustainable future

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* Evening Light on Cronk Ny Arrey Laa by Paul Marriott

When the Isle of Man was named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 2016, its community's already commendable approach to sustainable development and environmental protection was welcomed onto the world stage as an example to many – right on the UK's doorstep. The only island nation to be awarded this coveted UN status, the island's DEFA minister, the Hon Geoffrey Boot MHK says it has only increased the government's commitment to funding solutions that could impact a wide-reaching community beyond its shores.

Eager to discover more, Tempus spoke to UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man Project Officer Jo Overty ahead of the magazine's inaugural Earth Conservation Gala on 31 May, who says the island has invested into businesses, charity partners and development solutions that benefit the environment and the economy. The island boasts a rich and varied wildlife, including seven protected species of bat, nesting birds, grey and common seals, leatherback turtles, harbour dolphins and the rare basking shark. Elsewhere, wildflowers and endemic plants are also protected and studied. Here, Overty shares the island's "suite of strategies" to take its sustainability efforts toward a long-term environmental solution, becoming sponsors of the Tempus Earth Conservation Gala in aid of WWF, and preserving the island's natural beauty for generations to come.

The Isle of Man was named a UNESCO world biosphere region in 2016. What has this meant for the region?
The Island’s population has tremendous pride in being the only entire nation to belong to the UNESCO world network of Biosphere reserves. Our status reflects the fact we are a special place for people and nature and there was cross community support for the bid to be accepted into the world network in 2016. We tell as many people as we can about it and involve everyone in making the most of it. We are particularly proud of the recognition for our innovative approach to sustainable development and finding solutions that benefit the environment and the economy.

What conservation projects are you focusing on, and what impact has that had on the environment on a local and wider scale?
The Government has a suite of strategies in place to support the long-term sustainability of the Isle of Man’s biodiversity and use of its land and seas for both leisure and business purposes. The work of the UNESCO Biosphere project complements those and is, uniquely, overseen by a stakeholder partnership group chaired by the Island’s Chief Minister and incorporating environmental charities and user groups, as well as others. This oversight will ensure projects are pursued that will have a positive effect on the Island’s valued environment, vibrant community and resilient economy. It is early days yet for us as a UNESCO Biosphere area but we are working cohesively for the good of the Island.

In terms of specific projects, we have some great examples of conservation projects that engage the community and bring benefits to the economy as well as the environment. A new approach to marine conservation in Ramsey Marine Nature Reserve has protected world-class marine habitats and supports a sustainable, low carbon fishery. Fishermen are directly involved in gathering the scientific data that informs management and local divers are monitoring the recovery of seagrass beds and other habitats in the bay. >>

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* Port Erin Coastal Walk by Mary Davies

Another project in the north of the Isle of Man, the Ramsey Forest Project, is a partnership between the Manx Wildlife Trust and the Isle of Man Government and aims to join up ancient woodland remnants, restore wildflower populations and create a community forest for everyone to use. We also have some fantastic projects engaging the population as 'citizen scientists'. Manx Basking Shark Watch is a community project that engages residents to report basking shark sightings and in recent years has developed a world class research programme. The Isle of Man is a great place to see basking sharks from the coast and it is possible to see courting basking sharks and to spot elusive baby basking sharks. Tagging the basking sharks in our waters has made an important contribution to global understanding of this endangered species.

What makes the Isle of Man so unique as an eco-system or environment?
We are home to a surprising wealth of different species and habitats. There are very few places with such diversity of landscape, above and below the waves. World-leading work is going on to develop 10 marine protected areas in conjunction with the fisheries industry and leisure users and businesses. You may have seen the recent video on the BBC website of the inquisitive seal, befriending divers. The diving around the Calf of Man is world-class, with colourful rocky reefs and inquisitive seals and throughout our waters special habitats like horse mussel reefs, eelgrass meadows, and maerl beds, which are now protected.

On land, the Island is the spring and summer home to, or an important stopping off point for, many migrating birds. Its Calf of Man bird observatory, one of 20 accredited observatories in the British Isles, plays an important role in tagging and monitoring passage migrants. The Island has a national nature reserve with rare plants, invertebrates and breeding birds, and many smaller reserves, managed by the Manx Wildlife Trust. Our populations of chough and hen harrier are the envy of our neighbours and coastal seabird colonies such as the Sugarloaf Rock are a spectacular site.

Tell us about your project partners – from charities to local businesses, how have they gotten involved?
UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man has more than 100 partners across Government and the business, education, community, culture, environment and charitable sectors. Sustainability is at the heart of UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man and our partner pledge to develop our economy in a sustainable way; make a positive environmental impact and protect natural resources, support and promote cultural heritage and engage with the community. The Pledge reflects the fact the economy, community and environment cannot exist without one another and all form an intrinsic part of what makes the Isle of Man such a fantastic place to live, work and visit.

Part of the UNESCO status also looks at development – including investing in local produce and waste minimisation – and education. Could you tell us about those projects and how they tie in?
The Isle of Man’s strategy to grow the food and drink sector has seen an increase in its value of more than £20 million in three years. Through our Government’s support and the hard work of our entrepreneurs, buoyed by our Biosphere status, there is a fantastic ‘foodie’ scene on the Island, with new businesses springing up all the time. Many of these businesses are partners of UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man. The Island is home to the award-winning Beach Buddies, a community group that has kept beaches clean for a decade. In recent years public awareness of this initiative has grown, and now 10% of the Island’s population takes part. Government is about to introduce a strategy to minimise the use of single-use plastics, too. >>

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* Towns Peel Harbour by Julie Chambers

Has the new status had an effect on business investment or tourism industries?
The Island has a burgeoning economy and is always keen to attract more inward investment and boost exports. Our UNESCO Biosphere status tells the world we are a great place to do business. It makes it easier for employers to attract the skilled employees they need, who are enticed by a greater quality of life than they might experience elsewhere. Within minutes of leaving work on the Isle of Man, you can be on one of our uncrowded beaches, walking down one our unspoiled glens or taking to our dramatic uplands. Our Biosphere accreditation is bound to appeal to those who visit the Island to take in our stunning scenery and nature and enjoy the adventurous pastimes we offer aplenty.

You're partnering with Tempus for our Earth Conservation Gala in aid of WWF. Why did you want to get involved? Are you looking forward to attending?
The gala is an extremely worthy event and provides the Isle of Man Government and UNESCO Biosphere Isle of Man with a fantastic platform to inform an influential and knowledgeable audience about the Isle of Man and all it offers in the way of natural beauty, fascinating wildlife and many opportunities to do business in that setting.

How important is it for fundraisers to spread the word about the impact of climate change?
Though only a small Island, the Isle of Man is playing its role in trying to mitigate the impacts of climate change through its own strategies. However, governments cannot act alone and the more awareness there is about the impact of climate change and other environmental challenges, the greater understanding there is of the need to ensure the future of our planet and greater participation.

Find out more about the Tempus Earth Conservation Gala here