Ramot Menashe
Hiking in Ramot Menashe, a UNESCO-recognized biosphere reserve. Photo by Abdullah Shema
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Efforts to preserve nature and open spaces in Israel enjoyed yesterday international recognition, with UNESCO affording the area of Ramot Menashe the title of "Biosphere Reserve," adding it to the organization's Man and the Biosphere program.

A biosphere reserve is an area in which the combination of nature preservation and continuous human activity coexist. The recognition was given at a conference in Dresden, Germany, where a total of 18 new biosphere reserves were included in the UNESCO program.

According to the UN organization, Ramot Menashe "encompasses a mosaic of ecological systems that represent the Mediterranean Basin's version of the global evergreen sclerophyllous forests, woodlands and scrub ecosystem types."

The 84,000-dunam (some 20,000 acres ) area southwest of Yokne'am, in the areas of Kibbutz Ein Hashofet and Kibbutz Galed, is managed by the Megiddo Regional Council. The initiative was the cooperative work of the Megiddo Regional Council and the Jewish National Fund, which UNESCO describes as having been "established after an intense, innovative bottom up process, which involved 13 agricultural settlements and 10,000 inhabitants."

This is the second area in Israel which is being awarded the title Biosphere Reserve, the first being Mount Carmel.

A biosphere reserve is an area where nature is combined with human activity. In the planning of such an area, nature is protected and limitations are set for construction. However, communities and infrastructure are allowed, and they may even be expanded so long as this activity does not undermine the natural reserve. According to UNESCO, the Ramot Menashe site "functions as a pilot site for sustainable development practices which could be adopted by other dryland biosphere reserves."

The organization points to the practices of "drip irrigation with mostly recycled treated wastewater" collected by the nearby communities as "sustainable development practices" which maintain the integrity of the ecosystems but also generate "sustainable income derived from a pastoral livelihood."

The Jewish National Fund described the area of Ramot Menashe yesterday as one of the most beautiful parts of Israel because of the combination of natural wild growth, agricultural activity and forests planted by humans. Only 10 percent of the area is developed for housing and infrastructure.

"As proven in different parts of the world," said Shlomo Brand, the JNF's manager of the Menashe area, yesterday, "where UNESCO recognized the existence of such biospheres, this adds value to the place and to the assets in it, and attracts more people to live there."

Brand said that in the past there were initiatives to build more communities, set up a high-power cable and even a waste management site at Ramot Menashe, but all were rejected as part of the planning for the creation of a biosphere reserve, with the support of local residents.

"The residents of the area agreed to do away with construction in the open areas, including construction for agricultural needs," Brand said. "This happened in an area where many construction permits were granted in the past," he adds.