The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation has designated the Entlebuch region in canton Lucerne, a biosphere reserve.
It is Switzerland's first biosphere reserve under UNESCO's new criteria, which call for areas not only to be rich in natural beauty but also to foster sustainable human development.
The reserves are designed to meet one of the most challenging issues of the 21st century - to conserve biodiversity while at the same time meeting the material needs of an expanding population.
"It's confirmation that we have exceptional scenery and also a population which can profit from the decision," said Theo Schnider, spokesman for the project to promote the Entlebuch's candidacy.
Biosphere reserves consist of three parts - core, buffer and transition zones. Nearly a third of the Entlebuch's 395 square kilometres is protected moorland and this, along with the mountainous karst region of Schrattenfluh, forms the core of the nature reserve.
In the transition areas, agriculture, forestry and tourism will be developed in a sustainable fashion.
Schnider said UNESCO's recognition of the area would hopefully help promote tourism, culture and the region's economy. He said land use in the Entlebuch could serve as a model for other areas.
Some 400 regions in about 90 countries are recognised as biosphere reserves. Before the mid 1990s, protected areas with no sustainable development zone for human activity achieved reserve status. This is the case with the Swiss National Park which was designated a biosphere reserve in 1979.
Nomination of the Entlebuch has been a long process with opposition from local people delaying the application for several years. The inhabitants of the eight affected communes finally voted in favour last autumn. In February, the government officially proposed the candidacy.
The federal environment agency welcomed the UNESCO decision and said some inhabitants of the Pays d'Enhaut near Château d'Oex in canton Vaud have also expressed interest in applying for biosphere reserve status.
by Vincent Landon