Natural habitats and biodiversity form a strong part of people’s culture and values – be that purely as sites for recreation or through a deeper cultural identity.
Just about every faith system in the world, for example, has a link with nature and the conservation of land and water.

Indeed, sacred areas are probably the oldest form of habitat protection on the planet, and still form a large and largely unrecognized network of sanctuaries around the world.

Biodiversity and natural landscapes are also increasingly recognized as an important part of a nation’s unique character or value, comparable with valuable cultural sites.

Protected areas have an important role to play in preserving these less tangible, but nevertheless important, values.
A sacred forest grove saved from destruction to protect the gods living in it, Maharashtra, India.
This is especially the case for the many sacred natural areas and faith-based land management systems currently under threat, due to cultural breakdown, pressures on land and resources, and poor governance. Closely related to this, protection of spiritual sites can sometimes be an effective way of also protecting a people, culture, or ethnic group.

Conversely, sacred areas and other spiritual sites can contribute directly to global conservation efforts because they are often themselves well-conserved, through traditions that sometimes stretch back for thousands of years.

For example, patches of original lowland forest survive as islands in a sea of agriculture and other land uses on Kenya’s coast, due to their protection as sacred Kaya forests by the Mijikenda ethnic groups. These sacred forests have high biodiversity and harbour many endemic species. However, an erosion of traditional cultural values and economic pressure for forest conversion has led to these sacred forests becoming greatly reduced in size over the past 30-40 years. In 1992, a number of Kaya forests were gazetted as National Monuments, providing state protection to bolster the greatly weakened traditional systems.