Promoting and integrating the cultural and spiritual significance of nature in the governance and management of protected and conserved areas

CEESP News - by Dr. Bas Verschuuren, Co-Chair: IUCN Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas

The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas’ Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA) is realizing a programme entitled “Promoting and Integrating the Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in the Governance and Management of Protected and Conserved Areas”.

The objective of the programme is to broaden the scope of protected and conserved area governance and management to include the cultural and spiritual significance that nature has for people of the world’s diverse societies and cultures. 

This is done by engaging and seeking support from all right- and stakeholders, such as local communities, indigenous traditions, mainstream religions, and the general public. Through the recognition and integration of their cultural and spiritual values, protected and conserved areas will be made more effective, sustainable and socially equitable. 

The programme was launched at the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress (Sydney, Australia) and initiated a series of international workshops at different continents.  

The IUCN resolution on ‘Recognizing cultural and spiritual significance of nature in protected and conserved areas’ provides institutional legitimacy and has the potential to influence policies and activities of IUCN members and beyond.

Five complementary and interrelated projects make up the programme: 

  • the development of IUCN Best Practice Guidelines, 
  • a peer reviewed book, 
  • the development of training modules,
  • the collection and dissemination of case studies, 
  • the creation of a network of practitioners. 

Parts of the programme have been funded by the World Commission on Protected Areas, The Christensen Fund and the German Federal Ministry for Nature Conservation.

Sacred natural sites: guidelines for protected area managers Photo: Author(s): McLeod, Christopher; Valentine, Peter; Wild, Robert

The Best Practice Guidelines Series are published by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. The volume on cultural and spiritual significance of nature engaged over 300 experts from a diversity of backgrounds, expertise and geographic regions in drafting and reviewing. The guidelines are primarily meant for protected area managers but also of use to those involved with governance and management of conserved areas at all levels. They consist of general guiding principles followed by some forty elaborate guidelines for engaging rights- and stake holders, creating common ground, dealing with conflict, and integrating cultural and spiritual significance of nature throughout the protected area management cycle. Each guideline is illustrated with an example of its implementation, and a number of case studies demonstrate their potential for application to different management categories and governance types around the world. A complete version of these guidelines is available for review from and will be published by IUCN late 2018.

Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in Protected Areas - book Photo: Edited by Bas Verschuuren, Steve Brown

Peer-reviewed book: “Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature: Implications for the Governance and Management of Protected and Conserved Areas” is edited by Bas Verschuuren and Steve Brown. It consists of 23 illustrated chapters and is published by Routledge in 2018. The book covers explorations of the conceptual and philosophical underpinnings, cutting edge conservation programmes and specific conservation policies as well as practical case studies on the role of cultural and spiritual significance of nature. The book is available for presale from Routledge now and will be published in June. 


Training modules and workshops are being developed for particular target audiences, e.g. protected area managers, conservation practitioners, and students. A variety of formats have been developed and tested in different countries, they can be downloaded from An online training module and university course is under development. 

Case studies from around the globe, representing different ecosystems, cultures and religious backgrounds provide an online reference for the development of the guidelines and training modules. They demonstrate how the cultural and spiritual significance of nature is integrated in protected area designation, governance arrangements, management strategies, conservation approaches, tourism development and visitor interpretation, etc. A recent addition shows the work on greening pilgrimage in India, a collaborative approach between pilgrims, faith leaders and protected area authorities. Together, the case studies allow learning from others and inspire new ideas and approaches elsewhere. 

The network of practitioners extends beyond CSVPA members and includes a variety of people interested in the role of cultural and spiritual values in protected and conserved areas. Its aim is to establish connections with practitioners interested in implementing the Best Practice Guidelines and having workshops or modules as part of their training programs.

Please visit and contact the CSVPA Co-chairs Edwin Bernbaum and Bas Verschuuren if you are interested in online reviewing or field testing of the Best Practice Guidelines, or supporting or financing the development and application of dedicated training modules. You are also welcome to join the projects’ network of practitioners.

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