With its unique natural habitats winning Galloway and Southern Ayrshire the status of UNESCO Biosphere, locals and tourists alike are now being encouraged to explore all the region has 
to offer

TOURIST interest in East Ayrshire has increased exponentially after two world renowned publications spotlighted the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Biosphere as a place to visit in 2024.

First was National Geographic Traveller, which put the Biosphere on its “Cool List” for this year.

This was quickly followed by the prestigious Rough Guides where the Biosphere was namechecked as part of Scotland’s UNESCO Trail in their Best Travel Destinations for 2024.

Covering almost 9,800km², Galloway and Southern Ayrshire was designated a Biosphere by UNESCO in 2012, making it the first of only two in Scotland

UNESCO Biospheres are living ecosystems marked out by geographical and cultural lines rather than administrative boundaries and, as a result, the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere encompasses many of the villages and rural landscapes of East Ayrshire.

In common with the rest of the region, East Ayrshire’s part of the Biosphere includes natural habitats recognised as being of international importance.

However what it has to offer has often been overlooked – something that may now change as the result of the National Geographic and Rough Guides accolades.

“It’s a marvellous spotlight for this whole region, especially areas like East Ayrshire that are relatively young in terms of tourism development,” said Tamara Fulcher, the Biosphere’s

Communications & Marketing lead. “We’ve seen a huge increase in engagement as word of this recognition spread through national and international press. It’s a fantastic opportunity not just for the Biosphere organisation but for all local businesses, hospitality and visitor attractions to celebrate and share what makes southwest Scotland unique.” 

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One of the ways the Biosphere team is capitalising on their new audience reach is by collaborating with VisitScotland to promote the region’s coolest experiences month by month.

January’s theme was off-grid and outdoor well-being, and February’s was astrotourism under the Biosphere’s dark skies. The UNESCO region includes the UK’s first Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Park, and Dalmellington in East Ayrshire has been dubbed “the village in the stars”.

Some of the Biosphere’s trained guides are Dark Sky Rangers, experts not only in science and astronomy but also the folklore and nocturnal ecology of the area.

“We have a whole roster of Biosphere Guides offering tours and experiences based on their own passions,” said Ms Fulcher. “Some offer foraging, or off-road cycling, others facilitate distillery or genealogy tours, or visits to our array of prehistoric sites. 

“And if someone wants to book a bespoke dark sky experience in East Ayrshire they can contact Dark Sky Rangers through the Biosphere’s website at gsabiosphere.org.uk.”

The theme for March is wildlife watching as the Biosphere literally springs to life. Sites in East Ayrshire that people can visit include Hannahston Community Woodlands and Knockshinnoch Lagoons, described as a birdwatcher’s dream because it sits on the migration path between the Clyde and the Solway. 

Mined for many years, the regenerated land is now a Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserve with public paths throughout. The Biosphere has an introduction to this fascinating location on YouTube as part of its Adventures in Nature series of video shorts.

Nearby Craigengillan Estate, awarded the Biosphere Certification Mark for sustainable practice, has 3,000 acres of native woodland, pasture, wetlands, heaths and lochs, with  many walks and trails. It’s close to Loch Doon and Ness Glen, a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its rare mosses and ferns.

Loch Doon is famous for ospreys, which arrive from late March. It’s also home to the last naturally occurring breeding population of arctic char in south Scotland – a rare relative of the salmon. 

The Herald: Workshops held with local people resulted in walking trails such as the Ochiltree Heritage Walk and the Lugar Water Walk

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere is proudly focused on its communities, recognising that people are the most critical part of what makes a Biosphere thrive.  

The organisation’s principal goal is to promote sustainability: finding a balanced relationship between people, planet and profit. Tangible benefits follow if equal attention is paid to all three.

The Biosphere’s work in communities can be seen at Ochiltree, East Ayrshire’s first Biosphere Community. Walk leaflets are available online or in paper form at local community hubs.

“We are working with communities to develop their own specific offering to visitors in a way that is sustainable,” said Ms Fulcher. 

“This embodies what UNESCO Biospheres are all about, all around the world – partnerships, collaboration, and creating a better future for people and nature alike.”