This biosphere is known for its spellbinding natural beauty. Covering 5,268 square kilometres of south-west Scotland, the area centres on the hills and moors of the Merrick, which were originally formed by glaciers. Explore the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere and discover untouched coastlines and deep woodlands and forests, all providing habitats for a rich diversity of plants and wildlife.

All of this beauty has produced a fair share of creative talent throughout the years, from Scotland’s National Bard, Robert Burns, to sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, who created the region’s iconic Striding Arches in celebration of Galloway’s ancient uplands.

Map of Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere
  • This was Scotland’s first UNESCO Biosphere.

Why you should visit

The biosphere is a natural playground full of outdoor adventure and geological wonders, which was once home to Stone Age people, Roman soldiers, Viking settlers, and the earliest Christian community in Scotland.

At the heart of the biosphere, you’ll find rivers flowing out of the Galloway Hills and through the Galloway Forest Park. This spot is world-renowned for its gold-standard dark skies so head out afterhours to see the night sky light up with bright stars and constellations.

Create your own personal biosphere trip filled with outdoor activities, cultural attractions and local food and drink from the recommended routes.

The UNESCO Biosphere designation reflects a just and equitable approach to life where people and the environment are both given equal consideration – for me the ultimate success of the biosphere is when people no longer think about the actions they have to do to achieve this balance but rather do them automatically because they have become societal norms.”
Ed, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an urgent call for action of a global partnership of countries. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations works hand-in-hand with strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality and encourage economic growth, alongside tackling climate change.

All of our UNESCO designations work towards the UN SDGs – this is looking at their work towards three in particular.

Goal 8

Decent work & economic growth

Across villages, towns and rural hamlets, the local community works in farming, food & drink, tourism, arts & crafts, and across the creative sector. The biosphere supports local businesses to be more environmentally sustainable and create new economic opportunities for the people who live and work in south-west Scotland.

Goal 13

Climate action

The biosphere works with partners to raise awareness of climate change and help local communities find new and pioneering ways to live sustainably.

Goal 15

Life on land

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere includes unique environments and a rich diversity of plants and animals. They work with partners to support the restoration of priority habitats and to halt the loss of iconic species such as the black grouse.

Learn more about UNESCO

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire was designated a UNESCO Biosphere in 2012. It joined an international network of over 700 biospheres around the world sharing knowledge, experience and ideas on how to make life better for people and nature.

A bench with book spines as the back panel, sitting outside a bookshop
A bench at Wigtown

When you visit

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere covers 5,268km² of south-west Scotland, so there will always be new places in which to relax and unwind. Life and landscape are shaped by the rivers that flow out of the Galloway Hills; following their winding ways will lead you from wild uplands through the forests of the Galloway Dark Skies Park, along the shores of lochs, across land farmed for countless generations, and into the historic village communities. Explore thousands of acres of forest including ancient broadleaf woodland, a precious habitat for Scotland’s unique plant and animal life. Or follow the coastline, which ranges from towering cliffs with breathtaking views to long sandy beaches where you can wander or just sit for a while.

Support local businesses

Scotland's UNESCO Trail is an opportunity to explore the country in a sustainable and responsible way. Browse our Green Tourism businesses in the area including accommodation, attractions, tours and food & drink. These businesses are assessed in a range of criteria from energy efficiency to biodiversity and awarded bronze, silver or gold accreditation.

Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is also home to a number of certified and proud supporters. These are businesses who are committed to promoting, protecting and supporting the people and environment of the biosphere. Check out the south of Scotland journey below to see some of these businesses.

How to visit

Trains run regularly from Glasgow to Ayr, and onto Barrhill in South Ayrshire. From Ayr, some trains continue along the coast to Girvan and Stranraer.

Trains run in the east of Dumfries & Galloway from Carlisle or Glasgow through Gretna Green, Annan, Dumfries, Sanquhar and Kirkconnell. A direct service to Lockerbie from Glasgow and Edinburgh is also available.

National bus services connect Scotland’s cities with smaller towns around the biosphere, and Glasgow, Edinburgh, Ayr and Dumfries are all good places to begin your journey. You’ll also find a good network of local bus services connecting almost all the region’s villages and towns, making it easy for you to reach biosphere communities and the visitor attractions between – all while enjoying stunning landscapes on the way.

To experience the biosphere on two wheels, try Biosphere Bikes in Girvan. Holder of the Biosphere Certification Mark, this sustainable social enterprise offers regular and e-bikes for hire, including a range of accessible bikes. Check out more of the biosphere’s extensive cycle routes.

Carlisle Lake District airport operates direct flights from London, Belfast and Dublin, providing easy access to south Scotland.

Fly into Edinburgh or Glasgow airports from across the UK and Europe, including Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham, Belfast, Dublin and Amsterdam.

Dumfries & Galloway and Ayrshire have a great network of roads, which makes it easy to get around the region. Most are quiet and peaceful, so you can enjoy stress-free country driving between the towns and villages.

Find out more about travelling to Dumfries & Galloway and Ayrshire & Arran.

Bus arriving in Church Place, Dumfries with the Robert Burns statue and Greyfriars Kirk in the background

Explore South Scotland & Its UNESCO Site

South Scotland is one of Scotland’s most accessible destinations, enjoying proximity to major transport hubs and a superb public transport network. It couldn’t be easier getting around the communities, beauty spots and attractions of Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere. Start planning your journey through South Scotland with our practical advice and tips on what to see and do.

View Journey

Useful Links