The Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas

Cultural values of protected areas refer to the values that different cultures place on natural features of the environment that have great meaning and importance for them and on which their survival as cultures depends. Spiritual values of protected areas refer to the transcendent or immanent significance that features of nature have that put people in touch with a deeper reality greater than themselves that gives meaning and vitality to their lives and motivates them to revere and care for the environment. In the case of protect areas that are or include sacred sites, these values are intimately related to the beliefs and practices of indigenous traditions and mainstream religions. But protected areas also have cultural and spiritual significance for people who do not consider themselves religious - as places of inspiration, symbols of identify, etc. The scope of the CSVPA includes all cultural and spiritual values that promote the protection of the environment and the preservation of biological and cultural diversity.

Who we are
The Specialist Group in Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA) is a global network of experts including conservation professionals, heritage practitioners, policy makers, academics, government representatives, community members, custodians, and representatives of religious organisations.

We are concerned with those cultural and spiritual values that support, foster and respect nature and the variety of cultures that the Earth sustains. As a Specialist Group of the WCPA, we have a sharp focus on protected areas. However, protected areas are cultural creations that interact with wider human culture, as well as being set against a background of nature and the sacred dimension of nature as a whole.

What we do
CSVPA advises the IUCN World Commission of Protected Areas on the appropriate recognition, conservation and promotion of the cultural and spiritual significance of protected areas in their policy, planning, management and evaluation. CSVPA is also active in promoting cultural and spiritual values in nature conservation beyond protected areas and develops and supports projects and programmes that are in accordance with its mission.

Mission Statement
The mission of the CSVPA is to promote the appropriate recognition and inclusion of all relevant cultural and spiritual values, knowledge, and meanings into nature conservation theory and practice, and in particular, into protected areas policies, planning, management, and evaluation.

General Members from twenty four (24) countries. All participants in the Specialist Group, including the Co-Chairs, are volunteers. Anyone who is interested is encouraged to participate, especially if you are willing to invest some time to further CSVPA's activities.

Our History
The IUCN WCPA Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas was established in 1998 as the Task Force on Non Material Values of Protected Areas and changed name to Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas in 2003 during the World Park Congress held in Durban, South Africa. CSVPA changed status from a Task Force (four-year mandate) to Specialist Group (permanent mandate) in 2009.


CSVPA’s 4 year work plan for 2013-16 contains areas of work on the following topics:
1. SACRED NATURAL SITES. Build the Delos Initiative and the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative (SNSI) with as key tasks the translation and implementation of the Sacred Natural Sites, Guidelines for Protected Area Managers as well as building up field programmes and promoting sacred natural sites in international and national policy venues.

2. NATIONAL PARKS AND PROTECTED AREAS. Work with protected areas and Parks on interpretation, protected area management, conservation measures, best practices, and implementation of guidelines in order to help protected areas incorporate cultural and spiritual perspectives, improve their relationships with indigenous peoples and local communities, and garner additional, more sustainable support from the general public.

3. WORLD HERITAGE. Develop collaborations with the IUCN World Heritage Programme and ICIMOS to make use of the special skills and expertise of CSVPA membership in evaluating and reviewing cultural and spiritual aspects of natural World Heritage nominations. Most properties nominated as purely natural sites include particular features - such as mountains, springs, and trees - that have cultural and spiritual significance.

4. GUIDELINES AND BEST PRACTICES. Initiate work on developing guidelines on the cultural and spiritual significance of protected areas. Expand sacred natural sites guidelines to include to mainstream faiths. Investigate and advice on the various concepts of nature. Develop chapters and modules on taking cultural and spiritual perspectives into account for the Protected Area Management e-handbook

5. CAPACITY BUILDING: WORKSHOPS AND MODULES. Develop and deliver workshops and modules on implementing the guidelines that CSVPA, the SNSI, and the Delos Initiative have developed on sacred natural sites, cultural and spiritual values of protected areas, and intangible heritage.

6. IUCN WORLD PARKS CONGRESS. Develop sessions on the cultural and spiritual significance of protected areas and sacred natural sites for the World Parks Congress being hosted by Australia in 2014. Collaborate on developing a concept for mountain paths and pilgrimage routes as well as making indigenous peoples a significant part of the World Parks Congress.


8. CULTURAL RIGHTS AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES. Continue work it has been doing promoting FPIC and the development of social safeguards in protected areas. Continue to make appeals to the UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights and to bring matters of insufficient recognition of cultural and spiritual values to the attention of the special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples.

The following initiatives are currently supported through CSVPA:

The Delos Initiative
The Delos Initiative focuses on sacred natural sites found in developed countries throughout the world. Its primary purpose is to help maintain both the sanctity and biodiversity of these sites, through understanding the complex relationship between spiritual and natural values. Strengthening co-operation between custodians of sacred sites and managers of protected areas can provide mutual benefits. As mainstream churches adopt a more environmentally responsible attitude to the management of their lands there exist a great many positive opportunities for collaboration.

Sacred Natural Sites Initiative
The Sacred Natural Site Initiative (SNSI) is an international programme that assists with the protection, conservation and revitalisation of sacred natural sites through the working with their guardians, communities and supporting organisations including other stakeholders such as conservationists, governments, industry and scientists. SNSI is supported by an advisory group, which includes guardians of sacred natural sites as well as other stakeholders and partners especially from the conservation arena. Within this overall aim the Initiative has developed 5 objectives:

  1. To support the long-term protection, conservation and revitalisation of sacred natural sites and their biocultural significance.
  2. To be a guardian guided initiative and to assist bringing their voices to wider audiences, promote dialogue and to play a bridging role with key decision makers.
  3. To collaborate with partners in the nature conservation community and more widely to promote understanding, field-based action, policy development and enhanced resourcing towards the conservation of sacred natural sites;
  4. To engage with stakeholders, sectoral interests (e.g. forestry, mining, tourism, etc.) and the wider public to promote awareness, and respectful relationships with guardians of sacred natural sites.
  5. To work towards and where appropriate support networks of like-minded organisations and custodians active in the sacred natural sites conservation.

Silene Documentation Centre

The Silene Documentation Centre currently contains over 200 documents on the world’s intangible spiritual and cultural heritage and its relevance on a local to international scale to the conservation of natural heritage. The service is provided in the three official languages of IUCN English, Spanish, French. Documents are in their original languages, being accompanied by translations whenever possible.


Drummers in Serengeti Nationa Park, Tanzania, World Heritage Site
  • World Commission on Protected Areas Logo
Edwin Bernbaum
  • Ed Bernbaum

Specialist Group Co Leader

Email: ebernbaum@mountain.org



Bas Verschuuren
  • Bas Verschuuren

Specialist Group Co Leader

Email: basverschuuren@gmail.com



Steering Committee

Josep-Maria Mallarach - Director Silene Association
Thymio Papayannis - Director Med-Ina
Vita de Waal - Director of the Foundation for Gaia
Robert Wild - Coordinator Sacred Natural Sites Initiative
Radhika Borde - PhD Candidate at Wageningen University
Wil Touladar Douglas - University of Aberdeen, ICIMOD


Cultural and Spiritual Values