The DELOS Initiative

The overlooked sacred dimension of protected areas – experiences from Northern Europe

The overlooked sacred dimension of protected areas – experiences from Northern Europe

Western culture, including the Finish culture, is generally secularized.  It is difficult to communicate on spiritual matters, especially for natural scientists like biologists or foresters, without losing professional credibility. Biologists and foresters manage the protected areas (PAs) which include natural resources and well-known species. Visitors commonly experience in PAs something spiritually valuable, a feeling of integrity with the nature, maybe with God, hence PAs are more value for the people than the sum of their species, habitats and ecosystems. Therefore, a number of tools and techniques are needed to understand, investigate, manage and communicate the spiritual and cultural values of PAs. Finish examples of Sacred sites in the PA management planning include ancient monuments and sites (protected by the law), areas culturally or spiritually valuable for the Saami people and special natural attractions or landscape formations with earlier significance as sacred sites (according to analysis of the site names, archeological information), or sites commonly considered special places by experts and the public at large due to their placidity, beauty, cultural or landscape values.

There’s a number of challenges in conserving the integrity of sacred sites, including inventory, management and conservation of the integrity of valuable cultural and sacred sites, an on-going process, the traditional Saami faith and the present Saami culture and weather some areas be classified as sacred sites, as well as the fact that many people consider PAs as their personal ’cathedrals’, that is how the experienced holiness, placidity, peace of mind, beauty or other spiritual values should be taken into account in the management. There, is however, a number of opportunities for the managers of PAs, which include the increase of recognition of the spiritual and cultural values of PAs, the integration of spiritual, cultural, social, economic and ecological values in PA management, the enhancement of the living Saami culture, an increase of cooperation with ’new’ customers and building up a wider constituency for conservation, as well as an increase of the benefits for human well-being and mental and physical health.


Rauno Väisänen