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KARACHI, May 31: One of the oldest forests in the country, the juniper forest in Ziarat in Balochistan, has been given the status of biosphere reserve and added to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves by the United Nations, Dawn has learnt. According to sources, the decision was taken by the International Coordinating Council of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), which met in Paris a few days ago.

The council added 12 sites to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, bringing the number of such reserves to 621 located in 117 countries.

Spanning over 247,000 acres, the Ziarat’s juniper forest was the largest such forest in the country.

It was also the second oldest such forest, trailing behind the one in California, the United States, the sources added.

“This is only the second biosphere reserve in Pakistan with the first one being the Lal Suhanra National Park in Bahawalpur district, which is one of the largest national parks in Pakistan, which spread over 153,000 acres and is notable for the diversity of its landscape with desert area, forest and water,” the sources said.

The process to get the Ziarat juniper forest designated as the biosphere reserve was initiated by the IUCN, an non-governmental organisation working for environmental protection, under its UNDP-funded project titled “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Juniper Forest Ecosystem Production” in collaboration with the Balochistan forest and wildlife department with UNESCO Pakistan’s financial support under One UN Programme.

To meet the criteria, a management plan was formulated, which was approved by the Balochistan government. Consultations were also held with all the stakeholders, local communities and other relevant government departments, the sources said.

IUCN Pakistan country representative Akhtar Cheema said that the inclusion of Ziarat juniper forest in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves was yet another step towards recognition of the country’s natural sites of international significance on the global level.

He said that biosphere reserves were areas of terrestrial and coastal/marine ecosystems, or a combination thereof, which were recognised internationally under UNESCO's programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB).