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Scotland's first UNESCO Biosphere named on National Geographic 'Cool List' for 2024

Biosphere national geographic award 400 x 400

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire 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." The full results appear in the December 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK), which hits the newsstands today (2 November).

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!"

Councillor Alec Clark, Cabinet Member for Tourism, Culture and Rural Affairs who represents South Ayrshire Council on the UNESCO Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Board said: "This is another important accolade for our Biosphere which has recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. Our focus is very much on promoting the Biosphere both at home and abroad and attracting visitors who not only appreciate all that the area has to offer but help us protect it for future generations."

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.

"Participation is at the very heart of the UNESCO Biosphere model and our success to date is absolutely testament to the incredible support our team has had from residents, community groups, business leaders, land managers, schools, local authorities, South of Scotland Enterprise, Dumfries and Galloway Council, South and East Ayrshire Councils, VisitScotland, the South of Scotland Destination Alliance, the Ayrshire and Arran Destination Alliance and more."

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."

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."

David Hope-Jones OBE, Chief Executive of the South of Scotland Destination Alliance, said: "This is tremendously exciting news for the Biosphere, and indeed for the whole of the South of Scotland. Scotland's first UNESCO Biosphere in Galloway and Southern Ayrshire is a world class environment connecting people with the natural world. Newly expanded and with community collaboration and participation at its heart, it has rightly forged a reputation as one of the leading sustainable travel destinations in the UK, featuring benchmark-setting businesses like Nithbank Country Estate - which is up for the Climate Action Award at the national Scottish Thistle Awards next month - and Loch Ken Eco Bothies.

"The Biosphere's international recognition by this fantastic list of exciting global destinations is another huge confidence boost for the region, following on from the South of Scotland being the only Scottish destination under the spotlight in Lonely Planet's Best in Travel guide for 2023. Many congratulations to the whole Biosphere team and community."

Professor Russel Griggs, Chair of SOSE, the South of Scotland enterprise agency, which has supported the project with five years of funding worth £1.9 million, said: "In 2020 South of Scotland Enterprise committed to supporting the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere with one of our most significant funding awards to date, because we could see that the organisation was bold, collaborative, fully embedded in the communities of the south of Scotland and offered great potential for further sustainable development in the region. We're delighted to see that The National Geographic Traveller Cool List agree. This is excellent recognition for the south of Scotland."

The Cool List 2024 will be published in full in the December 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK), available for UK readers to purchase, from 2 November 2023, priced £5.25. To see the full list online, visit:

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is committed to ensuring that tourism is a force for good and brings only positive impacts to people and nature through truly special and memorable visitor experiences to visitors. The Biosphere's website is full of information on how visitors can explore the area responsibility. Fifty businesses in the area have been awarded the Biosphere Certification Mark, which provides assurance to customers and guests that their spend will be sustainably reinvested in the local community and economy, and that it will support positive environmental practice. More here:

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 (MAB ICC).

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: