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The Links between Protected Areas, Faiths, and Sacred Natural Sites

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Abstract: 

Most people follow and are influenced by some kind of spiritual faith. We examined two ways in which religious faiths can in turn influence biodiversity conservation in protected areas. First, biodiversity conservation is influenced through the direct and often effective protection afforded to wild species in sacred natural sites and in seminatural habitats around religious buildings. Sacred natural sites are almost certainly the world's oldest form of habitat protection. Although some sacred natural sites exist inside official protected areas, many thousands more form a largely unrecognized “shadow” conservation network in many countries throughout the world, which can be more stringently protected than state-run reserves. Second, faiths have a profound impact on attitudes to protection of the natural world through their philosophy, teachings, investment choices, approaches to land they control, and religious-based management systems. We considered the interactions between faiths and protected areas with respect to all 11 mainstream faiths and to a number of local belief systems. The close links between faiths and habitat protection offer major conservation opportunities, but also pose challenges. Bringing a sacred natural site into a national protected-area system can increase protection for the site, but may compromise some of its spiritual values or even its conservation values. Most protected-area managers are not trained to manage natural sites for religious purposes, but many sacred natural sites are under threat from cultural changes and habitat degradation. Decisions about whether or not to make a sacred natural site an “official” protected area therefore need to be made on a case-by-case basis. Such sites can play an important role in conservation inside and outside official protected areas. More information about the conservation value of sacred lands is needed as is more informed experience in integrating these into wider conservation strategies. In addition, many protected-area staff need training in how to manage sensitive issues relating to faiths where important faith sites occur in protected areas.
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Keywords: conservación; conservation; protected areas; religiones; religions; sacred natural sites; sitios naturales sagrados; áreas protegidas

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Equilibrium, 47 The Quays, Cumberland Road, Bristol BS1 6UQ, United Kingdom, Email: [email protected] 2: WWF International, Avenue du Mont Blanc, CH-1196 Gland, Switzerland 3: 36 Mont d'Eau du Milieu, 1276 Gingins, Switzerland

Publication date: 01 June 2009

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