Limestone based Doi Luang Chiang Dao. Credit: DNP

Doi Chiang Dao designated as new UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve

The site provides a good example for forest related policies that aim to address harmonous co-living between forest dwellers and nature, said the Environment Minister

The International Co-ordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme under UNESCO, which is holding its 33rd session online from Nigeria’s Abuja until September 17, decided last night to designate Thailand’s “Doi Chiang Dao” as its new Biosphere Reserve along with some other 22 sites around the world. These sites including Doi Chiang Dao will be added to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, which has 714 biosphere reserves in 129 countries, including 21 transboundary sites.

Apart from World Heritage Sites, UNESCO also promotes this Man and Biosphere Programme, under which sites demonstrating the good linkage between conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use of humans will be designated as Biosphere Reserves.

As explained by UNESCO, they are “learning areas for sustainable development under diverse ecological, social, and economic contexts, touching the lives of more than 250 million people”.

“They are sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions between social and ecological systems, including conflict prevention and management of biodiversity.

“They are places that provide local solutions to global challenges,” notes UNESCO.

Normally, Biosphere Reserves are nominated by national governments and designated under the intergovernmental MAB Programme by the Director-General of UNESCO following the decisions of the MAB International Coordinating Council (MAB ICC) if meeting criteria.

Doi Chiang Dao has been nominated by Thailand over the last three or four years. This is the fifth, after Ranong Biosphere Reserve, which was designated in 1997. The other three previously designated reserves are Sakaerat Environmental Research Station (1976), Hauy Tak Teak Biosphere Reserve (1977), and Mae Sa-Kog Ma Biosphere Reserve (1977).

According to the International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves (IACBR), which met online from 8 to 12 March, it had welcomed Thailand’s proposal and congratulated the country on the new nomination.

Located in Chiang Dao District of Chiang Mai Province, it is the only region in Thailand covered with sub-alpine vegetation, found in the Himalayas and down through the southern part of China, the committee noted.

The core areas, which account for 41.92% of the total area (proposed at over 536,900 rai), have been strictly protected as the Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary for more than 40 years. The north-western tip of the core area, which is not surrounded by a buffer zone or transition area, borders the Pha Daeng National Park. It’s home to rare and preserved animals including gorals and serows, plus over 670 species of wild animals.

A goral is spotted on Doi Chiang Dao, where its sub-alpine ecosystem and several other wild species and livelihoods dependent on them are recognised by UNESCO. Credit: DNP

The buffer zones consist mostly of secondary forest and reforested area, belonging to the Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary, the Chiang Dao National Reserve Forest, and areas designated for agricultural land reform. These areas are targeted for ecologically friendly economic activities, the committee noted.

One of the two transition areas, it said, is located at the eastern end of the site; the other is surrounded by the western section of the buffer zones. Both areas are administrated by regional and local authorities.

Following its limestone formations, rains have infiltrated through and created a number of caves, and the largest and most important of these is Chiang Dao Cave. The cave, however, houses a Buddhist temple in the Lanna style and is a place where the legend of Chao Luang Chiang Dao originated, thus being revered as a sacred place.

Meanwhile, numerous underground creeks converge to form the Ping River to the east of the proposed site, and there is a traditional gravity-based irrigation system called Maung Fai, which is also a notable feature of the areas. Such numerous examples of these have been maintained in accordance with local practices and knowledge over almost 800 years, the committee noted.

The site is also an ecotourism destination with natural and cultural activities in the Chiang Dao Cave and the Yang Pu Toh Hot Spring, as well as birdwatching along the Mae Kong River.

The committee said it acknowledged that the conceptual framework of the biosphere reserve management is consistent with the existing plans of the districts, sub-districts and the Sanctuary and took note of a policy of payment for ecosystem services (PES) operating in the southern buffer zone.

A forest village, Ban Pang Ma-O (PMO), sells branded forest-shade coffee, the packaging of which informs buyers that their purchase helps maintain the forest, which provides water-regulating services for the Ping River.

“The proposed site presents a good model for visitor impact management, which can be as a reference by other fragile ecosystem destinations.

“Previously, the summit of Doi Luang Chiang Dao and the opium fields were subject to high visitor numbers. At present, only nature research visits are permitted on the summit and are regulated by strict controls and impact mitigation measures. The summit is also well managed with zero waste,” the committee pointed.

It, therefore, recommended that the site be approved, the recommendation which was endorsed by the MAB ICC last night.

Mr. Varawut addresses the new designation of Doi Chiang Dao as a new Biosphere Reserve at the press conference today, in parallel to the MAB ICC meeting being held in Nigeria. Credit: DNP

What’s next?

Environment Minister Varawut Silpa-archa said Thailand is pleased that Doi Chiang Dao has now been designated as UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserve. This is part of 45 years of Thailand’s participation in the programme and it’s the country’s fifth after Sakaerat Environmental Research Station (1976), Hauy Tak Teak Biosphere Reserve (1977), Mae Sa-Kog Ma Biosphere Reserve, and Ranong Biosphere Reserve, which was last designated in 1997.

The new designation, he said, would not mean the end of all dedicated work in all those years, but rather mark the beginning of a serious pursuit of the work.

Doi Chiang Dao, he added, is important not only because it represents the sub-alpine ecosystem and is inhabited by rare and preserved species of wild animals, but also upholds spiritual values that are fundamental to locals’ conservation work and sustainable use of resources.

Unlike World Heritage Sites, Biosphere Reserves reflect the value of the balanced use of resources and conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems, thus being advanced in terms of resources management.

“At the heart of the concept is people’s knowledge and understanding in resources’ carrying capacity in sustaining life, and these areas can provide a good example for the country’s forest-related policies that also aim for harmonious co-living between forest dwellers and nature,” Mr. Varawut said.

The Department of National Parks, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation plans to come up with the integrated plan for Doi Chiang Dao, and a new management structure with a joint committee and a manager of the site will be introduced to direct development and conservation in the area, Mr. Varawut said.