There is a fundamental difference between World Heritage and the biosphere. UNESCO World Heritage Sites are supported by the World Heritage Convention, and biosphere reserves by the UNESCO programme, "Man and the Biosphere" (MAB).

UNESCO World Heritage

UNESCO has set itself the task of preserving those natural and cultural assets of the world that are of outstanding universal value. The international Convention of 23 November 1972 "Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage", the World Heritage Convention for short, is the most important international tool created by the community of nations to protect its cultural and natural heritage.

UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites now comprises 981 properties in 160 countries. Of those, 759 are Cultural World Heritage Properties and 193 are Natural World Heritage Properties. A further 29 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list count as both cultural and natural heritage. There are also a number of cross-border World Heritage properties, such as the Monte San Giorgio, a site shared between Switzerland and Italy.

Cultural heritage

The cultural heritage sites currently on the World Heritage list include buildings of historic importance, town centres, archaeological sites, monuments to engineering history, industrial monuments and important memorial sites from human history.

Natural Heritage

Natural heritage includes important ecosystems, sites bearing witness to evolutionary history, natural paradises and conservation areas for plants and animals threatened with extinction. There are 174 Natural Heritage properties on the UNESCO list.

Serial candidature

A serial candidature is a nomination encompassing two or more non-adjacent areas. A single World Heritage candidature can consist of a series of cultural and/or natural objects in different geographical regions that belong to (i) the same historical or cultural group, (ii) the same type of object typical of a geographical zone; or (iii) the same geological or geomorphological formation, the same bio-geographical region or the same ecosystem. This category includes, among others, the "Prehistoric pile dwellings around the Alps".

UNESCO Biosphere

Biosphere reserves are intended to be model regions for researching and demonstrating successful approaches to protection and sustainable development at a regional level. The concept of biosphere reserves relates to one of the most important questions facing the world today: how can we strike a balance between protecting biological diversity, striving for economic and social development and preserving cultural values?

According to UNESCO's specifications, and Switzerland's criteria, each biosphere reserve must be divided into a core area, buffer zone and transition area, defined by how greatly they are affected by human activity. It must also operate a biosphere management system.

The "Man and Biosphere" programme (MAB)

The MAB programme is an interdisciplinary research and training programme run by UNESCO. Through natural and social sciences, it endeavours to develop a sound base for achieving the sensible use and preservation of the resources of the biosphere, at the same time as improving the global relationship between man and the environment.

You can find more information about World Heritage and biosphere reserves on the website of the Swiss UNESCO Commission Swiss UNESCO Commission  or on UNESCOs own website.