Nature today | Nature and culture desperately need each other

Nature has a different meaning for everyone. But which worldview is leading? Taking into account the cultural and spiritual significance of nature for indigenous peoples, religious groups and the general public, leads to more support for nature management. It makes protected areas more sustainable, diverse and socially justified.

Different worldviews

A new report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) describes how this can be achieved. “By recognizing that there are different worldviews, by connecting nature and culture and by involving all stakeholders in the design, management and administration of protected areas,” says Bas Verschuuren, lecturer in the Forest and Nature Policy Department at WUR.

Verschuuren is also the lead investigator of the publication and co-chair of the IUCN Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values ​​of Protected Areas (CSVPA). “If you think about the fact that most world languages ​​do not even have a specific word for nature, then you understand how important it is to know what people understand by nature and what value it has for them.”

Six principles

Verschuuren and his team cite six principles that form the basis of 41 guidelines:

  1. Respect diversity
  2. Build different networks
  3. Ensure safety and inclusivity
  4. Be aware of change
  5. Recognize rights and responsibilities
  6. Support the connection between nature and culture

The guidelines are intended for nature managers and administrators. Each guideline is illustrated with a practical example that shows how it is implemented in a nature reserve somewhere in the world.

Western concept

“Nature conservation, as we know it, is a Western concept that has now been exported all over the world,” Verschuuren explains. “The first national parks were established in America, in a spirit of the times where indigenous peoples were to make room for protected nature and progress. This philosophy no longer fits today. Nature remains important for the conservation of biodiversity, but also for our identity and, as we experience in the current pandemic, our mental and spiritual health. In the current nature management, this can no longer be ignored. ”

The new report offers practical tools to use the cultural and spiritual significance of nature to improve nature management. It is based on the relationships that people have with their surroundings. “This does not only apply to indigenous groups, which worldwide protect more biodiversity based on their own culture than all designated natural areas combined. We also see this in the Netherlands, where nature and cultural history are intertwined almost everywhere. The changing society also places demands on nature. For example, almost all trees are a climate hero, which can no longer be ignored in management. ”


The guidelines are an inspiration to everyone involved in the management, policy and management of protected areas. Previously, a scientific book on this subject was published. As a next step, the guidelines are translated into a program with training courses for, for example, area managers. These programs will also be relevant to indigenous peoples, civil society organizations and religious groups who manage land or want to contribute to the management of natural areas.

According to Emma Lee, co-author and Tasmanian Aboriginal, the focus on cultural and spiritual motives for conservation is a crucial development: “We hope to make a huge difference by saying that we can only protect areas of inclusiveness, respect, justice and hospitality. for indigenous peoples and communities. “

More information

Read the full article here.

Text: Wageningen Environmental Research
Photo: Bas Verschuuren (main photo: On the island of Rügen on the Baltic Sea, the Goor nature reserve offers a 4.2 km long ‘leisure and insight trail’, which visitors can follow with different stations. Each station is an invitation to experience nature, as here where visitors meditate with their backs to the majestic beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) learn)

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