Sacred Natural Sites are areas of rich and diverse nature that have special spiritual significance to individuals and to communities. They are important locations for supporting threatened human cultures as well as declining plant and animal life. They are considered the world’s oldest form of protected area and some are among the most charismatic places on Earth. At the heart of sacred natural sites are their custodians. These are the individuals, families and communities that protect these sites on a day-to-day basis.
Many of these critical sacred areas have already been lost and many more are under threat. Modernization, industrialization, population pressure and changing values are all contributing to their disappearance. Urgent action is needed to protect those that remain and restore those that have been damaged.
For nearly 14 years WCPA’s volunteer Specialist Group on the Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA: ) and its partner institutions have been working to learn more about sacred natural sites and bring them to the attention of the conservation community. The objective has been to gain recognition, management and support particularly to custodian communities, leading to positive conservation outcomes.
Achievements to date include management and policy support but also over 10 international learning events and several publications. Notably are the Delos Initiative’s three volumes on sacred natural sites focusing on developed countries, the IUCN-UNESCO Best Practice Guidelines 16: Sacred Natural Sites Guidelines for Protected Area Managers – and the the book Sacred Natural Sites: Conserving Nature and Culture.
An initiative dedicated to the protection, conservation and revitalization of sacred natural sites is now in its early stages of development. A preliminary action plan for the conservation of sacred natural sites has been developed based on consultation, experience and collaboration with many custodians and conservationists.
Custodian communities are of central importance to the conservation of the cultural and natural values of sacred natural sites. The initiative is proposed to support site custodians to promote, conserve and restore sacred natural sites protecting both biological and cultural diversity. To this end the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative focuses on:
- Hosting a custodians led initiative to bring their voices to a wider audience and provide practical support for conserving sacred lands;
- Working with partners in the nature conservation community to promote and enabling environment for better support and management of sacred natural lands, landscapes and territories;
- Engaging with stakeholders, sectoral interests and the wider public to promote awareness and respectful relationships.
Are you interested in finding out how you can help or simply want to learn more?
Please visit the website of the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative, sign up for our news updates or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Text: Bas Verschuuren and Robert Wild