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UPSC Study Notes: Biosphere Reserves of India

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UPSC Study Notes: Biosphere Reserves of India

Definition of Biosphere Reserves

  • Biosphere Reserve (BR) is an international designation by UNESCO for representative parts of natural and cultural landscapes extending over large area of terrestrial or coastal/marine ecosystems or a combination thereof.
  • BRs are thus special environments for both people and the nature and are living examples of how human beings and nature can co-exist while respecting each other’s needs.
  • These areas are internationally recognized within the framework of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme, after receiving consent of the participating country.

Functions of Biosphere Reserves

Some functions of Biosphere Reserves are:


  • To ensure the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variations.
  • To encourage the traditional resource use systems
  • To understand the patterns and processes of functioning of ecosystems
  • To monitor the natural and human-caused changes on spatial and temporal scales


  • To promote, at the local level, economic development which is culturally, socially and ecologically sustainable.
  • To develop the strategies leading to improvement and management of natural resources

Logistics Support

  • To provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development
  • Sharing of knowledge generated by research through site specific training and education; and
  • Development of community spirit in the management of natural resources.

National Biosphere Reserve Programme

India has created a network of protected areas in the form of 96 National Parks, 510 Wildlife Sanctuaries, 28 Tiger Reserves and 25 Elephant Reserves. The area covered under protected area network accounts for around 5% of the total geographical area of the country. The rich biodiversity in India has given shape to variety of cultural and ethnic diversity which includes over 550 tribal communities of 227 ethnic groups spread over 5,000 forest villages.

The national Biosphere Reserve Programme was initiated in 1986 and its aims and objectives are described in the following sections.

Aims of the Scheme

  • To serve as wider base for conservation of entire range of living resources and their ecological foundations in addition to already established protected area network system
  • To bring out representative ecosystems under conservation and sustainable use on a long-term basis.
  • To ensure participation of local inhabitants for effective management and devise means of improving livelihood of the local inhabitants through sustainable use.
  • To integrate scientific research with traditional knowledge of conservation, education and training as a part of the overall management of BR.

Objectives of the Scheme

It must be noted that BRs are not a substitute or alternative, but a re-enforcement to the existing protected areas. The objectives of the Biosphere Reserve programme are as follows:

  • To conserve the diversity and integrity of plants and animals within natural ecosystems
  • To safeguard genetic diversity of species on which their continuing evolution depends; • To provide areas for multi-faceted research and monitoring
  • To provide facilities for education and training; and
  • To ensure sustainable use of natural resources through most appropriate technology for improvement of economic well-being of the local people.

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Criteria for Selection of Biosphere Reserves

The criteria for selection of sites for BRs are listed below:-

Primary Criteria

  • A site that must contain an effectively protected and minimally disturbed core area of value of nature conservation and should include additional land and water suitable for research and demonstration of sustainable methods of research and management.
  • The core area should be typical of a biogeographical unit and large enough to sustain viable populations representing all tropic levels in the ecosystem.

Secondary Criteria

  • Areas having rare and endangered species
  • Areas having diversity of soil and micro-climatic conditions and indigenous varieties of biota.
  • Areas potential for preservation of traditional tribal or rural modes of living for harmonious use of environment.

Structure and Design of Biosphere Reserves

In order to undertake complementary activities of biodiversity conservation and development of sustainable management aspects, Biosphere Reserves are demarcated into three inter-related zones. These are:-

(I)   Natural or Core Zone

The core zone is kept absolutely undisturbed. It must contain suitable habitat for numerous plant and animal species, including higher order predators and may contain centres of endemism. Core areas often conserve the wild relatives of economic species and also represent important genetic reservoirs. The core zones also contain places of exceptional scientific interest. A core zone secures legal protection and management and research activities that do not affect natural processes and wildlife are allowed. Strict nature reserves and wilderness portions of the area are designated as core areas of BR. The core zone is to be kept free from all human pressures external to the system.

(II)  Manipulation or Buffer Zone

In the Buffer Zone, which adjoins or surrounds core zone, uses and activities are managed in ways that protect the core zone. These uses and activities include restoration, demonstration sites for enhancing value addition to the resources, limited recreation, tourism, fishing and grazing, which are permitted to reduce its effect on core zone. Research and educational activities are to be encouraged. Human activities, if natural within BR, are likely to be permitted to continue if these do not adversely affect the ecological diversity.

(III) Transition Zone Outside the Buffer Zone

The Transition Zone is the outermost part of a Biosphere Reserve. This is usually not delimited one and is a zone of cooperation where conservation, knowledge and management skills are applied and uses are managed in harmony with the purpose of the Biosphere Reserve. This includes settlements, crop lands, managed forests and area for intensive recreation, and other economic uses characteristic of the region.

In Buffer Zone and the Transition Zones, manipulative macro-management practices are used. Experimental research areas are used for understanding the patterns and processes in the ecosystem. Modified or degraded landscapes are included as rehabilitation areas to restore the ecology in a way that it returns to sustainable productivity.

List of Biosphere Reserves of India

Nine of the eighteen biosphere reserves of India are a part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (* marked in the above image), based on the UNESCO MAN and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme list.

How Biosphere Reserves are different from protected areas such as National Parks (NP) and Wildlife Sanctuaries(WS)?

It must be noted that the BR is not intended to replace existing protected areas but to widen the scope of conventional approach of protection and further strengthens the Protected Area Network. Existing legally protected areas (National Parks, Wildlife Sanctuary, Tiger Reserve and reserve/protected forests) may become part of the BR without any change in their legal status. On the other hand, inclusion of such areas in a BR will enhance their national value.

However, the Biosphere Reserves differ from protected areas due to their emphasis on :

(i) Conservation of overall biodiversity and landscape, rather than some specific flagship species, to allow natural and evolutionary processes to continue without any hindrance.

(ii) Different components of BRs like landscapes, habitats, and species and land races.

(iii) Developmental activities, and resolution/mitigation of conflicts between development and conservation,

(iv) Increase in broad-basing of stakeholders, especially local people’s participation and their Training, compared to the features of scheme on Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks.

(v) Sustainable environment friendly development, and sustained coordination amongst different development organizations and agencies.

(vi) Research and Monitoring to understand the structure and functioning of ecological system and their mode of reaction when exposed to human intervention

Hope this gives you all the information you need.

Also Read : How to Prepare Art and Culture for UPSC 2019?

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