North Devon Biosphere Reserve Arts Strategy Committee 

How may ecological interdisciplinary arts practice inform and support sustainable development policy and environmental agencies? (Interdisciplinary arts practice is rooted in rigorous consultation, holistic ways of seeing and indigenous learning techniques, employing participatory and collaborative approaches to research and instigate appropriate social and ecological interventions within specific communities while maintaining a global perspective.)

In 2011 I was invited to participate in the development of the North Devon Biosphere Reserve Arts Strategy Committee utilizing the Arts as a means towards ecological and sustainable actions and development within the UNESCO designated area. I have since developed a number of projects to enable and explore the possibilities and nature of such interventions. (see

The following essay begins to study some of the ways that Art may be used as an essential creative aspect of any environmentally sustainable development policy…


a study by peter ward


Before beginning to address the issues raised in the above statement it is important to provide some definitions and to look at the context within which they may apply…

What is a Biosphere Reserve?

Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. Biosphere reserves serve in some ways as ‘living laboratories’ for testing out and demonstrating integrated management of land, water and biodiversity. Collectively, biosphere reserves form a world network: the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR). Within this network, exchanges of information, experience and personnel are facilitated. There are over 500 biosphere reserves in over 100 countries.

What are the functions of biosphere reserves? 

Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil 3 basic functions, which are complementary and mutually reinforcing:

  • a conservation function – to contribute to the conservation of landscapes, ecosystems, species and genetic variation;
  • a development function – to foster economic and human development which is socio- culturally and ecologically sustainable;
  • a logistic function – to provide support for research, monitoring, education and information exchange related to local, national and global issues of conservation and development.

What are the benefits of biosphere reserves?

The biosphere reserve concept can be used as a framework to guide and reinforce projects to enhance people’s livelihoods and ensure environmental sustainability. UNESCO’s recognition can serve to highlight and reward such individual efforts. The designation of a site as a biosphere reserve can raise awareness among local people, citizens and government authorities on environmental and development issues. At the national level, biosphere reserves can serve as pilot sites or ‘learning places’ to explore and demonstrate approaches to conservation and sustainable development, providing lessons which can be applied elsewhere.

(from What is a Biosphere Reserve? FAQ’s


What is the North Devon Biosphere Reserve?

Essentially the North Devon Biosphere Reserve is an area defined by the water catchment areas of the Taw and Torridge Rivers, and extending into the Bristol Channel to encompass Lundy Island Marine Nature Reserve. The area includes the North Devon Coastal AONB and small areas of Exmoor National Park and Dartmoor National Park. It is further defined by the Cornish County border in the west and the Somerset County border in the east. The NDBR is within the umbrella of the statutory NDABS, in association with Devon County Council, North Devon District Council, Torridge District Council and Natural England.

The designation has been offered to the area because of the already rich and remarkable diversity, both natural and cultural, that North Devon exhibits. Not only does the region provide a natural haven and home for bird, animal and plant life, it also includes a multitude of agricultural practices and tourist locations, including walking and surfing holidays, as well as opportunities for renewable energy sources of all kinds. Such richness and diversity should indeed be a matter for celebration and development.

North Devon Biosphere Reservean opportunity not to be missed

The UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve designation offers the area, and its constituent parts, an opportunity to engage and implement actions and policies which may promote and instate environmentally sustainable social and economic development, primarily as an example to other areas, but also as a necessary move towards such practices in response to Global Issues such as Peak Oil, Climate Change, The Global Food Crisis and Threats to Biodiversity.

It is seen and understood by many that only through collaborative action between all sectors of society, business, agricultural, scientific, legal and cultural, that we may truly make the changes necessary to cope with the challenges that we may soon all be facing. The shift to a society that takes account of environmental and ecological impact within all its decision-making processes, away from one that treats the Earth and its resources, whether that is human, animal or material, as an infinite and mechanistic commodity is one that needs to be made immediately if we are to avoid local and global catastrophe.


What is Ecology?

‘Ecology expresses the interdependence of an environment; how the action of a part affects the whole.’

While the beauty of the North Devon Coast and countryside is obvious to all, what creates that richness and beauty is often taken for granted. Through an understanding of the concepts and practical implications of Ecology we may begin to understand the interplay between all the elements of the region, both human and natural, that give the area its outstanding appeal and also the inherent responsibility that we have to maintain it.

The very nature of the UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve designation to North Devon as an area of great integral and ecological richness, rather than to a specific location, such as Ayres Rock and the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Sites, offers us a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of Ecology and its implications both environmentally and socially. How we chose to implement such an opportunity is the matter to which we, as active co-inhabitants of the region should primarily address our thoughts.

As Prince Charles has stated in his recent book Harmony, it is essential that we begin to shift our perception away from one that puts us as separate from or even an integral ‘part’ of Nature, to one where we may see ourselves as Nature. The implication being that all our actions are done to ourselves and not to something outside of ourselves, and hence that if we harm or exploit anything through our actions, we are ultimately hurting ourselves and those that we are close to.

While the UNESCO designation may define the North Devon Biosphere Reserve as an individual entity, within ecological understanding it is of the utmost importance to remember that the boundary of the NDBR is an arbitrary and artificial one we are all still connected through our global through ecology. So, it is important to develop a degree of local resilience and self-sufficiency in the face of the challenges ahead it is also essential to maintain our connections and links to the rest of the global community.

 cultural symbiosis (digital photograph; peter ward 2011)

stone hollows, westward ho! (digital photo; peter ward 2010)


 “Through evolutionary creativity, new patterns of organization come into being, and through repetition, these new patterns become increasingly habitual if favoured by natural selection. The already-established habits of nature, culture and mind provide the context in which further creativity occurs, and in which new patterns are subject to natural selection.” from ‘The Rebirth of Nature – The Greening of Science and God’ by Rupert Sheldrake

Within a generally held cultural context Art & Creativity may cover practices and activities as diverse as painting, illustration, sculpture, ceramics and craft, music, theatre, drama, writing and graphic design to name but a few. However, within an ecological perspective the boundaries and implications of such definitions may begin to become blurred. All the above practices may be seen to bring us to a deeper understanding of the nature and function of Creativity within our lives – our ability and inherent power to change things and to make things from the materials and resources available to us. They may lead us to new understandings of these materials; of the way they behave under certain circumstances and how we may apply them in our efforts to sustain ourselves. When put like this the differences between Art and Science also seem to blur and we may begin to appreciate the importance of our creative and inquisitive minds in all our actions, and even how such resourcefulness as a race has brought us to this point in our evolutionary history.

Furthermore, from this new ecological perspective Art & Culture may be seen and appreciated as an action within and intrinsic function of human society and community. It is also apparent that as the universe and society evolve so the nature and function of Art & Culture also change – what was once considered Art may no longer be seen as such, nor may its original relevance be pertinent. From an extreme perspective it may be said that while a society without the Art of the past would be sad, a society without the Art of now would be a complete tragedy and maybe even an impossibility! In essence, good Art brings people together through the communication and affirmation of our shared dreams for humanity and the universe of which we are an integral part.


Joseph Beuys planting 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks) Kassel, Germany 1982;

Devon Farmer (courtesy Beaford Photographic Archive)


What is Art? What is the function of Art?

“Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and inform our lives” Joseph Beuys

Whatever conclusions we may have come to, or opinions we have, about the Art of the past, or of the overly-hyped media image of Modern Art, many Contemporary artists are endeavouring to reinstate Art and its potential and function within society, to be recognised as the integral and intrinsic part of cultural and social evolution and understanding from which it originally was formed. Basically, Art is a set of tools and skills that we may learn and develop through our individual aptitude and with which we may communicate, engage, question and evoke a sense of our human potentiality to our fellow beings and the universe as a whole.




Art may be used as part of a cultural strategy to…

•To stimulate the thought process

•To question our perceptions

•To enrich our lives

•To affirm our beliefs

•To celebrate our creativity and sense of community through action


QUADRAT dance/art installation and workshop, Appledore Arts Festival 2010  (photo P.Yeo)saying it with our feet – making circles in the earth, beaford arts workshop 2011

So, how can the function of Art be utilised in the service of the Biosphere Management and Development Objectives?

Rather than write a long descriptive and specific explanation of the way I think Art and artists could be embedded in the infrastructure of positive action for the Biosphere, I will simply give a list of areas where Art may be used and some further questions and areas that would be useful to discuss…

Education; Ecological Art; Events and Event management; Publicity; Signs; Dialogical and Relational Art; Tactile Engagement and Exploration; Celebratory Festivals; Public Engagement; Conferences; Awareness raising…


” Of course, actual experience, not the limited abstractions of science, matters most in the conduct of our lives. It is our entire experience, including our cultural heritage, that links us to the world in which we live, not just the artificially limited aspects of experience that constitute an experiment or a scientific observation. If we are not to live double lives, split between an ‘objective’, impersonal, mechanistic reality and the ‘subjective’ world of personal experience, we need to find a way of bridging these two realms.”

from ‘The Rebirth of Nature – The Greening of Science and God’ by Rupert Sheldrake

  • Collaboration – How can Art & Science work together?
  • What is the importance of grounding action in relevant issues, whatever they might be?
  • How do we intend to implement the Arts Strategy as part of the NDBR Strategy?
  • What is the importance and utilization of community engagement?
  • What can the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and the Arts Strategy offer the (local) Business Community?

 Business/ Personal Pledges of support and financial commitments for all our futures.

Make sustainability, local self-sufficiency attractive and make aware of their essential nature in terms of future prospects.

 Also important to remember that the boundary of the NDBR is an arbitrary and artificial one and that ecology connects us to the rest of the planet, so despite the importance of local resilience in the face of the challenges ahead it is important to maintain our connections and links to the rest of the planet.

a practical monument (pward 2010)


an EVOLVING conclusion

Only within the umbrella of environmental and ecological art can we fully utilize and engage the community of the Biosphere with the holistic principles of ecology and sustainability and thus hopefully make changes that will have a positive affect on the region for many years into the future for the benefit of all its inhabitants and hopefully for those in neighbouring areas also.

© peter ward 2011

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