Sussex South Downs declared new UNESCO biosphere reserve

The Brighton and Lewes Downs have become the first place in the UK to be declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve in nearly half a century

The Amazon rainforest of Brazil, the Galapagos islands of Ecuador, and now the South Downs of Sussex.

The link may sound unsuitable, but it shouldn’t. The Brighton and Lewes South Downs have just joined an illustrious group of UNESCO declared biosphere reserves – one of only 631 worldwide, and the first one to be awarded in the UK for forty years.

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme is a global initiative that aims to establish a scientific basis for the improvement of sustainable relationships between people and their environments. More than just offering protection and preservation, the award is intended to be a demonstration of the harmonious co-existence between a region’s people and their surrounding natural world.

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The new reserve, one of only a handful worldwide to include a major populated area, covers almost 400km squared of land and sea between the river Adur at Shoreham and the river Ouse at Lewes and Newhaven. It connects city, countryside and coastal environments into a single unified ecosystem. And best of all it’s right on our doorstep.

Here are some tips for checking out the new biosphere reserve in an eco-friendly way:

The South Downs Way is a 100-mile long footpath that traverses the South Downs National Park from Eastbourne to Winchester and cuts right through the northern tip of the new biosphere. Spend a couple days hiking from the village of Rodmell, where the author Virginia Wolfe lived and did most of her work, to the arable lands and wide-open vistas of Ditchling Beacon where warning fires of the Spanish armada’s approach were once lit. From there the route follows the high downs until it reaches Devil’s Dyke, and a view the painter John Constable described as “the grandest in the world”.

Brighton is teeming with healthy, organic food. For the best sustainably sourced fish and chips in the south head to local’s favourite Bankers. Veggies are spoiled for choice here too: Food for Friends is an award winning restaurant that uses only locally sourced ingredients and is guaranteed to convert the taste buds of even the staunchest carnivore.

Get off the high street and into The North Laines: five blocks of pedestrianised streets and local independent retailers. Eco-minded traders include: Fair: beautiful fairtrade items from around the world and Baroque Bespoke Jewellery: the first retailer in the region to be accepted as a fairtrade and fairmined gold and diamond supplier.

For a sustainable break, Georgian guesthouse, Five, in Brighton, is just a stones-throw from the beach and has been awarded a silver certificate by The Green Tourism Business Scheme. For a treat, try their award-winning, locally sourced eat-in-bed breakfast hamper. Or for a bit more pampering stay at Pelham House in the historic town of Lewes – a beautifully restored 16th century townhouse with good green credentials, boutique bedrooms and fabulous fine dining.

Aaron Millar is Positive News’ travel editor and writes a blog at The Blue Dot Perspective.