Sir, – A great deal of media attention has been paid to the campaign for a Galloway national park over the years and it seems to be accelerating as per coverage in last week’s front cover story of The Scottish Farmer (‘Farmers’ parklife fears’).

Much less well-known is an established organisation, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere – with a remit similar to the stated aims of the national park lobby – and it has already been working in South-west Scotland for nearly a decade.

The Biosphere, which enjoys support from the Scottish Government and three local authorities plus a range of other public agencies, has recently received substantial funding from South of Scotland Enterprise with the intent that its staff and activities should significantly grow.

This success in gaining support is in no small measure due to the fact that, even working on a shoestring budget, it already has considerable achievements to its credit.

So far, 177 businesses have signed up as ‘Proud supporters’ embracing the ethos of environmentally sustainable development, 28 of which have achieved 'biosphere' accreditation and can market their goods and services as produced in a sustainable way, minimising their environmental impact, promoting the region as a destination of choice for ‘green’ tourism and collaborating with other local businesses.

These include a range of growers, producers, and farm diversification enterprises – both new and long-standing – who are working with the biosphere team to expand and promote sustainability in their operations.

Collaboration is the essence of the biosphere – it has no regulatory powers although it can influence decision-makers. It is governed by a partnership board which is a unique combination of local business people, community representatives and public agencies.

It has already provided, both working alone and in partnership with academic institutions, a platform where different land management interests – farming, forestry, conservation and recreation – can discuss the pressures driving land use change with the intention of achieving a better balance and more integrated land use in the South-west.

Not all farmers will see the relevance of the biosphere ethos to their business, but for those who understand the need to address the twin challenges of reducing their carbon footprint and tackling the crisis of biodiversity loss, who wish to combine a financially sustainable business with a greater respect for the natural world, who see the need to differentiate their product in an increasingly hostile trading environment, and who appreciate the value of working across sectors to build a vibrant, sustainable rural economy, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere provides a great opportunity.

As an organisation, it is a dynamic entity that actively seeks out opportunities to work in partnership on the land management and food systems issues that are critical to Scottish farming.

Galloway National Park is an aspiration which may, or may not, come to pass. The internationally recognised UNESCO Biosphere designation is a reality here and now, with the ambition to make South-west Scotland a model of modern, sustainable rural development – it offers a real opportunity for the farming community to grasp today.

Joan Mitchell

Chair GSAB board,


Newton Stewart.