The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has recognised Magaliesberg as a World Biosphere Reserve – one of 20 new reserves across the world announced at the 27th Session of the International Co-ordinating Council of the Man and Biosphere Programme at UNESCO headquarters in Paris this week.

UNESCO has described its biosphere reserves as “Science for Sustainability support sites”. There are 651 sites that have been chosen across the world, where experts are studying the best ways for humans to interact and bring about sustainable development in a particular ecological system.

The Magaliesberg area has been chosen after nearly a decade of lobbying by the Magaliesberg Biosphere Initiative Group (MBIG). MBIG has argued that the area’s rich biodiversity (it comprises more than 46% of total bird species in the Southern African sub-region) as well as the rich archaeological value of the Cradle of Humankind make it a truly unique area in South Africa that needs to be protected while also harnessed to support local communities.

In a statement on MBIG’s website, the group’s chairperson, Paul Fatti, welcomed the news.

“We are delighted with this acknowledgement of the unique nature of the Magaliesberg and the powerful contribution it is making to our country, to the ecosystem services in Gauteng and the North West, and the communities it nurtures over an extensive area,” he said.

UNESCO says the biosphere management plan for Magaliesberg “aims to stimulate conservation and promote, among other things, tourism, farming and sustainable practices (such as solar power and water saving)”.

The former chair of MBIG and renowned author of The Magaliesberg, Vincent Carruthers, has been one of those championing the cause since 2006.

South Africa now has eight biosphere reserves: Kogelberg, the Cape West Coast, Waterberg, Kruger to Canyons, the Cape Winelands and Vhembe, while Magaliesberg and the Gouritz Cluster (which straddles the Eastern and Western Cape) are the newest additions to the list.