The Lanzarote Biosphere Reserve is made up of the northernmost island of the Canary Archipelago. It covers 84600 ha including the northern minor islands, and has a population of over 110.000 (2002). The Canary Islands are volcanic and young on a planetary scale. Lanzarote is one of oldest islands, but the last eruptions which occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries are still visible in the island landscape today because of the low plant cover.

Due to the relatively low altitude and gentle relief, the island does not catch the humidity of the trade winds, and rainfall is only some 115 mm/year. As a result, plants are adapted to arid conditions, and water for human consumption comes from the desalinisation of sea water. In spite of this, Lanzarote has a relatively high number of species of which approximately twenty plants are locally endemic.
The harsh volcanic environment has been adapted by human ingenuity to make highly specialised agricultural landscapes and the very special nature of Lanzarote has incited its inhabitants to take conservation measures. For example, one of the core areas, Timanfaya National Park, was established at the request of the local Government (the Cabildo), and a Marine reserve of 70.000 hectares has been created, forming one of the buffer zones. The idea of mass tourism was rejected and, under the influence of the celebrated local artist C├ęsar Manrique, priority has been given to blend tourist infrastructure with the beautiful but inhospitable environment. The Cabildo de Lanzarote regulates land uses by the Island Zonation Plan (PIO, 1991, 1998, 2003), which curbs excessive urban and tourist developments, and in 1994 the Natural Protected Spaces Law was modified, to enable to protect over 40% of the terrestrial area. Lanzarote has thus traced a path over the last thirty years trying to guide its touristic development towards more sustainable practices. The Biosphere Reserve designation corresponds to the social choice of the local communities: the Biosphere Reserve Council, an open-participatory body, has become of high social and political relevance, with more than thirty social and institutional representatives and economic stakeholders.