Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere named on ‘Cool List’ for 2024

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire (GSA) Biosphere, Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere, is celebrating the news that National Geographic Traveller (UK) has named it as the only Scottish destination in the prestigious global Cool List for 2024.  The “editors’ selection of global destinations set to make the news over the next 12 months” identifies the top places around world “where tourism benefits communities and the environment as much as the visitors and locals themselves.”

Cultural significance

GSA Cornish Cairn.

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere’s listing celebrates the reserve’s natural heritage, its UNESCO designation and its recently extended boundary, which recognises the site’s cultural significance. It was revealed earlier this year that the site has now almost doubled in size from more than 5,200 km² to almost 9,800 km² – incorporating Alloway (the birthplace of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns), the Rhins of Galloway (Scotland’s most southernly point) and the marine environment out to 12 nautical miles offshore.  The National Geographic Traveller listing also reflects the key role the Biosphere played in the development of the world’s first UNESCO trail, a gamechanger for Scottish tourism.

Welcoming the news from National Geographic Traveller UK on behalf of the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Partnership Board, Chair Melanie Allen, said: “We are thrilled that this year’s National Geographic Traveller (UK) Cool List recognises the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere for developing tourism as a force for good. This is fantastic recognition of southwest Scotland as an outstanding visitor destination and highlights the importance of the Biosphere’s collaborative approach – working with Biosphere Certified Businesses, strategic leaders and partners – to build a secure and greener economic future for Scotland and the UK. Thanks to this ethos visitors can truly enjoy Galloway and Southern Ayrshire safe in the knowledge that their visit is as good for our communities and environment, as it is for their soul. With its awe-inspiring natural landscapes, fascinating heritage, and culture, we already knew the Biosphere was ‘cool’ and now its official!”

Herding Blackface sheep.

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Director, Ed Forrest said: “It is crucial that we all work together to find new ways of tackling the biggest interconnected challenges of our time. UNESCO Biospheres provide a blueprint for living in cultures all around the world, and the proof of their value is already being realised, as people begin to realise that sustainability in living, learning and leisure has to become our societal norm. So, it is brilliant to see National Geographic Traveller has included the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere among the top places around the world where visitors can do this.”

Stunning scenery

The Galloway Hills.

Congratulating the Biosphere, VisitScotland Destination Development Director Gordon Smith said: “The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is an area of outstanding significance for its geological and scientific interest, as well as its stunning scenery. Part of Scotland’s UNESCO Trail, the Biosphere has a key role in contributing to make Scotland a world-leading responsible tourism destination and it is fantastic to see the Biosphere included in National Geographic’s Cool List for 2024. This accolade will help shine the spotlight on the awe-inspiring beauty and diversity of the region as well as the invaluable work between the Biosphere and the local community.”

A bird paradise.

Daniel Steel, Chief Executive of the Ayrshire and Arran Destination Alliance said: “There is a huge amount to be excited about in the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, so it’s no surprise to hear it has been named on the National Geographic Traveller Cool List. This incredible accolade, and the UNESCO Biosphere’s recently boundary extension, reflects Ayrshire’s cultural significance and provides a fantastic platform to encourage visitors to enjoy our national assets in a sustainable way.”

UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere programme promotes a long-lasting connection between people and nature through over 740 designated sites across the world, including Yellowstone (USA), Niagara Escarpment (Canada), the Everglades (USA) and the Black Forest (Germany). National governments nominate Biospheres for UNESCO accreditation, which is then awarded by the Director-General of UNESCO following the decisions of the MAB international Coordinating Council. UNESCO Biosphere are models of sustainable development demonstrating how living in harmony with our natural environment is good for people, the economy and nature.

For more information about the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere, visit:


Did you know?

  • Galloway & Southern Ayrshire (GSA) UNESCO Biosphere was designated in 2012, recognising the region’s world class heritage and natural environments.
  • One of a network of more than 740 UNESCO Biospheres in 134 countries, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire was the first such designation in Scotland.
  • The GSA UNESCO Biosphere now covers almost 9,800 km² of southwest Scotland and is home to 110,000 people.
  • Its original geographical boundary was based on catchments of the rivers flowing out of the Galloway Hills.
  • The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere launched the innovative Blackface Wool Project, supported by the Blackface Breeders’ Association and British Wool, to promote the versatility of local wool (an integral part of the local heritage and community) and its diverse potential as a sustainable resource.
  • The GSA Biosphere is very much a part of Scotland’s rural southwest, where the land and its uses remain integral to everyday life. Beyond its central Core Area the Biosphere is home to historic industries such as farming, fishing and forestry; a dynamic variety of micro-businesses and SMEs; and communities that range in size from tiny hamlets to small towns.
  • The Biosphere and its partners are working together to promote the idea that ecologically sound activity can take place alongside conservation and research. Education, employment, tourism and enterprise can all be sustainable, and through a cooperative approach, they can achieve a balanced relationship between people and nature.
  • Right across Galloway and Southern Ayrshire, the Biosphere celebrates positive cultural values and identity, to help people learn more about where they live and better understand the heritage they all share.
  • The original biosphere boundary followed the rivers that flow out of the Galloway Hills through forests and farmland, historic villages and towns, all the way to a ruggedly scenic coast.


All images courtesy of GSA Biosphere.

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