IUCN has been working for some time for the protection of sacred natural sites, through its Secretariat offices and the Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP)'s Theme on Culture, Spritiuality and Conservation and its Specialist Group 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 several issues faced by SNS, but two major ones are: (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
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