The people, the land and the spirit

08 October 2008 | News story

New Sacred Natural Sites guidelines for Protected Area Managers were launched today by IUCN  and UNESCO during the biggest environmental meeting of the year, the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.  

Under the beat of Bilma clap sticks the park rangers of Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area in Australia started off the evening event that gathered indigenous people from three different continents, IUCN's and UNESCO's experts and philathropists.

“These Sacred Natural Sites guidelines are breaking ground for the recognition and management of these places by protected area managers, as well as wider recognition of the importance of cultural and spiritual values in nature conservation” said Nik Lopoukhine, Chair of the World Commission of Protected Areas. “The relationship between people and place is critical to ensuring that sacred places are protected, not only today or tomorrow but forever”.

 Using the sacred paintings on the Yidaki, an ancient and symbolic instrument, the Director of Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area, Australia, Djawa Yunupingu, explained how the Yolngu people of North East Arnhem Land belong to the land and how they are connected to sacred sites, in spirit and through nature.


IUCN's  Director General  Julia Marton-Lefèvre received an Yidaki,  widely known as didgeridoo as a gift and potent reminder of the importance of Sacred Natural Sites not only to the Aboriginal people of Australia but to countless indigenous peoples and faith communities of all kinds around the world.

“These guidelines and this work on sacred natural sites, is very important she said, and moves us outside our comfort zone which is what we all need to do”. 

Sheikh Choongmurunova Chachykei Guardian of the Chynar Terek Mazar (Sacred Natural Site) in Kyrgyzstan, expressed that many different cultures feel the same deeply reverential way about protecting their natural lands. She blessed the gathering wishing everyone long life and good fortune.


The  IUCN Protected Area Best Practice Guideline Series No 16 called ‘Sacred Natural Sites: Guidelines for Protected Area Managers’, was developed in conjunction with UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme. The series is produced by the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) is considered the global standard for the management of protected areas. Sacred Natural Sites have been incorporated into many modern protected areas, often without consultation of their custodians. Park managers are often at a loss how to manage them properly. While the guidelines are not aimed at the custodians themselves who have been successfully caring for them for generations, it is anticipated that the guidelines will promote respectful cooperation over Sacred Natural Site recognition and management.

Rogelio Mejia member of the Task Force and an indigenous Tayrona leader from the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, which are a case study site in the guidelines, emphasized that the guidelines are only a start; “Our sacred sites, which we consider ‘the Heart of the World’ are under much pressure and need active support. We are not interested in commercialization but recovering our sacred sites which are threatened by all kinds of major development activities.


The event started with the haunting film images, music and narration produced by the Sacred Land Film Project (SLFP). The Launch was organized as part of the Biocultural Diversity Journey of the Congress Forum. The lead of the journey Gonzalo Oviedo, Senior Social Policy Advisor for IUCN, played a pivotal role not only in the development of the guidelines but also in substantial support to the input of Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, (CSVPA) into the congress.