The Val d’Aran, a valley in the Spanish Pyrenees, was recently designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, joining the world network that now includes 759 sites in 136 countries, covering a total area of 37,400 km², equivalent to the size of the Netherlands.

UNESCO recently designated 11 new biosphere reserves in 11 countries, including Belgium and Gambia for the first time, as well as two transboundary reserves. The other countries selected include Colombia, Spain, Italy, Mongolia, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Philippines, the Republic of Korea, the Dominican Republic and Slovenia. The designation was approved at the 36th session of the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme, held in Agadir, Morocco, from 2 to 5 July 2024.

The new Val d’Aran Biosphere Reserve

These designations come at a critical time for humanity, which is facing a global biodiversity crisis and climate change. By increasing the number of protected areas, these new biosphere reserves play a crucial role in preserving biodiversity in the long term, improving the living conditions of local and indigenous populations, and boosting scientific research.

The Val d’Aran Biosphere Reserve, located on the western border of the Catalan Pyrenees, covers some 632 km² and is the only north-facing valley in Catalonia. Its unique position, between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, gives it exceptional climatic and biological diversity. The region is also a bastion of Occitan cultural and linguistic heritage.

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The Valle d’Aran is renowned for its ecological wealth, with a variety of landscapes ranging from imposing mountains to alpine lakes. Its designation as a biosphere reserve aims to promote the conservation of the region’s unique biodiversity, while supporting sustainable development practices and improving the living conditions of local and indigenous populations.

The Val d’Aran is home to around 9,983 inhabitants and has a rich history of agricultural, craft and commercial activities. Recently, the reintroduction of brown bears has caused concern among local livestock farmers. Designation as a biosphere reserve aims to improve biodiversity protection, revitalise traditional practices, halt depopulation and promote a resilient rural development model. The management plan for this reserve has been drawn up in collaboration with the villages and local associations promoting tourism and livestock farming.

These initiatives are in line with the objectives set out in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, adopted in December 2022, which calls for 30% of land and sea areas to be protected and 30% of degraded ecosystems to be restored by 2030.