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International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): Spiritual Values of Nature

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been working for some time for the protection of sacred natural sites, through its Secretariat offices and its Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA), which is part of the World Commission on Protected Areas.

Sacred natural sites (SNS) are natural areas of special spiritual significance to peoples and communities. They include natural areas recognized as sacred by indigenous and traditional peoples, as well as natural areas recognized by institutionalized religions or faiths as places for worship and remembrance.

Many sacred sites have survived for hundreds of years and act as important biodiversity reservoirs. However, their contribution to conservation has been largely overlooked and undervalued by state and conservation agencies, policies and laws. Many sacred natural sites are areas of great importance for the conservation of biodiversity. In fact, very often the reasons for protecting the spiritual connections between people and the earth, and for conserving biodiversity in their lands, are inseparable.

There are basically two types of problems regarding SNS: (i) many face threats from outside and lack protection and support; (ii) others are within official protected areas, and communities have lost rights on them

Sacred natural sites are also integral parts of ethnic identity and play a key role in traditional cultures and lifestyles. While community controls once helped protect sacred natural sites, rural peoples are increasingly vulnerable to political and economic pressures outside their control. Without security of tenure and active participation in decisions that affect them, it is impossible for such communities to effectively protect their lands and resources.

Until recently little had been done in terms on concrete steps to advance the international agenda on the protection of sacred natural sites but the growing appreciation of the contribution of sacred natural sites to environmental protection has prompted renewed interest in them as tools for biodiversity conservation. IUCN’s Vth World Congress on Protected Areas (Durban, September 2003) paid high attention to the issue and produced relevant outputs and recommendations, which have been followed by several field and policy actions. One of them is The Delos Initiative for the Protection of Sacred Natural Sites in Technologically Developed Countries, carried out by theWCPA Task Force of Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas. At the regional level, actions are also undertaken for conservation of biodiversity in Sacred Natural Sites of indigenous and traditional peoples.

IUCN seeks to achieve improved understanding, recognition, and conservation of SNS worldwide. IUCN aims to:

* Gain knowledge and promote awareness about SNS in the world
* Promote and support development of legal and policy frameworks at the global level
* Mobilize legal, political, financial, and technical support for the long-term protection and effective management of SNS at the national level
* Help build the capacity of those involved in management of SNS