The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization, UNESCO, commenced a multidisciplinary research and training programme (Man and the Biosphere) in 1970. The MAB-programme is implemented through biosphere reserves that function as model areas with important nature and culture values. The principles of sustainable development of the biosphere reserves are put into practice by taking into account the local conditions. There are two biosphere reserves in Finland, one in North Karelia and one in the Archipelago Sea.
Today (2015), there are 651 biosphere reserves in 120 countries. Biosphere reserves are usually not in connection to national legislation and therefore they do not require new restrictions or prohibitions. Activities are based on voluntary collaboration between different stakeholders. The three functions of the biosphere reserves are:
- Conservation of species, ecosystems, landscapes and genetic diversity. Protected areas within the Archipelago Sea biosphere reserve usually are managed by the Metsähallitus.
- The development function should promote an economical and public development which is ecologically and socially sustainable. E.g. the management of cultural landscapes (traditional rural landscapes).
- Logistic support for research, training and information e.g. through information brochures, studies and research in collaboration with regional universities and arranging seminars. In addition, there are several nature- and culture trails on private and state properties, information points, research stations and activities and a nature school. These increase knowledge and spread information about the nature and culture for both resident inhabitants and visitors.