Impressions from the Symposium on “Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity: The Role of sacred Natural Sites and Cultural Landscapes”. Tokyo-Japan, 30 May-2 June 2005

Impressions from the Symposium on “Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity: The Role of sacred Natural Sites and Cultural Landscapes”. Tokyo-Japan, 30 May-2 June 2005

It was an interesting and instructive experience. The presentation of the Delos Initiative at the Symposium by Josep Maria Mallarach was very important, and it allowed further contacts, which could result in the inclusion of additional sites and the broadening of the work group. The WCPA Task Force held two long meetings in Tokyo, devoted to the refining of its goals, objectives and strategy, on May 29 and June 2, both of which proved to be very productive.

The subject of the replacement of Allen Putney as the leader of the Task Force, after his intention to resign due to lack of time, was set on the table.

The objectives of the Symposium shifted a little throughout the preparatory process. Instead of concentrating on a limited number of case studies and the discussion on a document of draft guidelines for sacred sites management, the initial scope of the meeting was expanded with inputs from various institutions, such as CBD and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The new, broadened objectives included:

  • Gathering of knowledge on sacred sites and cultural landscapes
  • Exploration of linkages between cultural and biological diversity and between sacredness, nature and people’ s lives
  • Promotion of the preservation and respect of traditional knowledge
  • Publication of proceedings to disseminate knowledge and results
  • Discussion of strategies that could support protection of sacred sites and cultural landscapes.
  • Discussion of new perspectives for international cooperation and action

During the sessions, awareness and sensitivity towards sacred natural sites and cultural landscapes were expressed, related to indigenous and local communities, at the expense of mainstream religions, though, which were treated with some skepticism. Therefore, the contribution of the Delos Initiative is considered significant, taking into account the fact that it deals with both mainstream and indigenous religions.

It has been suggested that the Delos Initiative fieldwork must begin, in order to make possible contributions to the IUCN Guidelines on Sacred Natural Sites. The guidelines are expected later during this year and will include case studies from several countries. Mainstream religions in developed and transitional countries need to be included.

On the other hand, in preparatory meetings it was decided that the agreed products of the Symposium, besides the publication, should be:

  • A declaration with political and symbolic value
  • An agreement on promoting the dissemination of guidelines
  • An agreement on some concrete steps for action, on an international  level, for the protection of sacred sites and cultural landscapes

As far as expectations for additional work among institutions on the issues is concerned, it was made evident that the thematic should be expanded from solely sacred natural sites of indigenous and traditional peoples and those of mainstream religions, to include issues of cultural landscapes, traditional knowledge and agro-biodiversity in cultural landscapes and sacred sites. To sum up, it was clear that a growing number of organizations are including such issues in their programmes, as concrete evidence of their interest in cultural / spiritual values of protected areas.

Both J. M. Mallarach and G. Oviedo will rewrite some introductory paragraphs of their papers, so that the contribution of mainstream religions to sacred natural sites and cultural landscapes to be included in the convention proceedings.

During the convention several projects were presented, among which most relevant to the Task Force’s interests were the WWF International’s study on ‘Sacred natural sites and protected areas’, the ‘Sacred Mountains of the World’ of The Mountains Institute and ‘Planning of Sacred Natural Sites in the Context of Protected Areas’ of The Nature Conservancy.