A large UNESCO World Heritage reserve is a step closer to being established across the Altai Mountain region straddling the border between Russia and Kazakhstan thanks to the work of a Writtle College academic and his colleagues.
Dr Peter Hobson has been jointly working on a Management Plan for the 1.6 million hectares of mountain landscape for more than two years with Professor Pierre Ibisch and project staff from Eberswalde University of Sustainability, Germany.
The 350-page plan is now going into official publication and both Russian and Kazakh governments have agreed to transboundary cooperation. The project has also involved producing a nomination application for a UNESCO World Heritage Trans-boundary Biosphere Reserve.
Dr Hobson said: “The reserve will be one of the largest areas of its kind designed to safeguard the cultural heritage of local tribal communities and the last few remaining populations of snow leopard, lynx, bear, mountain sheep and Ibex.”
The Principal Lecturer in biodiversity conservation at Writtle College has been collaborating with a professional team of staff from the two countries. He has made several visits to the Altai Mountains in the southern region of Siberia to work on the major project, which has included intensive workshops with those involved and situation analyses.
Dr Hobson said: “This is truly a unique landscape of mixed old growth forest, steppe, glacial lakes and traditional range land. It is an area of international importance for biodiversity, supporting a number of globally-threatened species, in particular, the Snow Leopard. Many communities continue to live here as they have done for centuries.”
The Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, which Dr Hobson established with Co-Director Professor Ibisch from Eberswalde University in 2011, was contracted by the German Ministry for Environment BfN to steer the project. It was funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), the German Federal Environmental Agency, as well as BfN.
At an international workshop in Öskemen / Ust Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, the Centre delivered the Management Plan and a nomination dossier for the proposed UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which comprises protected areas in Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.
With the launch of the strategic management plan and the application for UNESCO designation, the Altai Mountains will join the elite ranks of those few but globally important transboundary reserves that require international efforts between neighbouring countries for the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development.
The Altai Mountains, which also span the borders of Mongolia and China – which the team are looking at in the next phase of the project - are one of the unique landscapes of Central Asia.
Dr Hobson said: “The main challenge to conservation in this region is the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources as well as the unregulated expansion of tourism, and climate change.
“The exposure to risks like climate change and the inherent vulnerability of the fragile region requires an ecosystem-based conservation approach, which was applied using the MARISCO method during a three-year participatory planning process that was initiated back in 2012. The management plan was the final outcome of the project and was developed together with the application document for the official designation as a UNESCO Transboundary Biosphere Reserve.
“Developed as a long-term adaptive management plan, the final document meets the established requirements for biosphere reserves. The management plan also serves as an overarching transboundary management strategy for two existing and adjacent biosphere reserves in the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation.”
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