What is a Biosphere Reserve?

Biosphere reserves are model areas for sustainable development

Biosphere reserves are model areas for sustainable development designated under the Man and the Biosphere programme (MaB) of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


Biosphere reserves form a worldwide network, known as the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR), which in 2022 numbered 738 sites in 134 countries. In Finland, there are two of them: the North Karelia and the Archipelago Sea Biosphere Reserves.


Biosphere reserves are action programmes and defined geographical areas with unique natural and cultural features. They aim to achieve harmonious interactions between nature and people by promoting solutions reconciling the conservation of nature with its sustainable use.

Englanninkielinen infografiikka, jossa kerrotaan että biosfäärialueita on 727 kpl 131 maassa. 22 aluista on maiden rajoilla.
Lähde: UNESCO, 2021


Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil three basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:

    1. Promote biodiversity conservation.
    2. Encourage a regional economic development that is socio-culturally and environmentally sustainable for the area.
    3. Support development projects, environmental education, guidance and research.

Biosphere reserves are complementary to the existing network of culture and nature conservation areas, national parks and other areas with natural and cultural significance. Biosphere reserve designation does not in itself provide any legal protection or any further restrictions or additional demands on existing protected areas.

launched in

Biosphere reserves are formed according to local needs and conditions. After the designation, the biosphere reserves are managed at national level and are required to report regularly and share research outcomes within World Network of Biosphere Reserves. In Finland biosphere reserves are coordinated by the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centre) under the Ministry of the Environment (YM). The functioning of the biosphere reserve is based on voluntary agreements between different actors, such as municipalities, businesses and associations.

Biosphere reserves typically consist of three interrelated zones with different intensity levels of human activity and where their three functions are pursued:

1. The core area consists of particularly valuable nature areas, which in the North Karelia Biosphere Reserve are represented by the Koli, Patvinsuo and Petkeljärvi National Parks; the Koivusuo Strict Nature Reserve; and the Kesonsuo and Ruunaa Nature Reserves.


2. In theorethical biosphere reserve model a buffer zone surrounds the core area and mitigates human impact on the protected nature areas.


3. The transition area forms the outer area of a biosphere reserve with different types of human activities. Sustainable economic activities can take place inside the buffer zone and the transition area without compromising natural and cultural values or ecosystem services of the protected core areas.

Lähde: UNESCO, 2020

The Three Main Functions of Biosphere Reserves

Conservation: Contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation.
Development: Foster economic and human development which is socio-culturally and ecologically sustainable.
Logistic support: Support for demonstration projects,environmental education and training, research and monitoring related to local, regional, national and global issues of conservation and sustainable development.

Read more