North Devon’s Biosphere Reserve is a UNESCO biosphere reserve in North Devon. It’s centred on Braunton Burrows, the largest sand dune system in England.

Cyprum itidem insulam procul a continenti discretam et portuosam inter municipia crebra urbes duae faciunt claram Salamis et Paphus, altera Iovis delubris altera Veneris templo insignis. tanta autem tamque multiplici fertilitate abundat rerum omnium eadem Cyprus ut nullius externi indigens adminiculi indigenis viribus a fundamento ipso carinae ad supremos usque carbasos aedificet onerariam navem omnibusque armamentis instructam mari committat.

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  • Dumque ibi diu moratur commeatus opperiens, quorum
  • Paphius quin etiam et Cornelius senatores, ambo
  • Quae dum ita struuntur, indicatum est apud Tyrum

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  • The project

Date: 2012/2015

The work presented here has been developed in the case studies of the VALMER Interreg 4A Channel project (2012-2015).

Section coordination by M. Philippe, J. Ballé-Béganton and D. Bailly
based on written contributions from O. Langmead, T. Hooper, C. Griffiths, N. Beaumont and S. Guilbert.

Site description

The core of the North Devon Biosphere Reserve is the Braunton Burrows dune system. The marine area of the North Devon Biosphere Reserve extends over 1500 km² of primarily sedimentary habitats and includes the Lundy Island Marine Nature Reserve, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Tourism is a very important source of income for the local community, and fishing contributes to both the economy and the cultural heritage of the area.

Focus of study

The objective was to raise awareness of the importance of sedimentary habitats, and to explore whether it was possible to generate information that would support the North Devon Biosphere Reserve management partnership’s input into local and national initiatives including the designation of Marine Conservation Zones and the proposed development of an offshore wind farm.

The study considered the role of subtidal sedimentary habitats in carbon sequestration, waste remediation and the provision of nursery habitats for important commercial species.

Key stakeholders and their involvement

The principal stakeholder was the North Devon Biosphere Reserve Coordinator, and representatives from the Fisheries Local Action Group, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Coastwise (a local NGO), and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agency were also key participants.

Other stakeholders involved included statutory agencies, harbour masters, fishermen, and representatives of diving and sailing clubs. The stakeholders were involved in the choice of the case study focus and scenario development, and provided feedback on study outputs.

Approach for Ecosystem Services Assessment

A spatial modelling approach was taken. A qualitative assessment of the potential level of service provision by each habitat was made using existing literature, and mapped across the North Devon Biosphere Reserve.

The effect of known fishing pressure (as the key local impact) was then taken into account and the expected actual service delivery was mapped.

A Bayesian Belief Network was used to model changes in the delivery of the services resulting from three hypothetical management scenarios involving marine conservation zones, aggregate extraction and mussel aquaculture. Stakeholder preferences for particular services were accounted for in producing aggregated outputs.

Summary of main results

The site provides negligible levels of carbon sequestration, and waste remediation is also low across most of the area, but nursery habitat is provided at higher levels.

Even with fisheries displacement having a negative effect on nursery habitats, establishing marine conservation zones and mussel aquaculture could provide a net benefit across the North Devon Biosphere Reserve (in terms of percentage change in delivery of the three services), while aggregate extraction would cause a small net loss.

Use of results

There was strong consensus among stakeholders that the approach taken was very useful, illustrated by a request from Natural England to describe the process to their local marine team.

Some stakeholders expected to use the maps of current levels of service delivery, although other outputs were less useful due to their hypothetical nature.

The north coast and northwest of Lundy are key areas for service provision.

Examples of lessons learned

The lack of data for the North Devon Biosphere Reserve restricted options for the Ecosystem Services assessment, leading to a greater reliance on expert opinion and qualitative assessment and reduced confidence.

However, the stakeholders are used to making decisions where uncertainty is high, and responded well to the outputs despite the limitations.

Maps showing “heat spots” with direction of change of service delivery were better received than attempts to quantify a percentage change.

The process also showed that careful explanation of the purpose of ecosystem service approaches can turn sceptics into supporters.

Photo: © Devon Maritime Forum | NDBR