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Workshop on Integrating Cultural Values into Conservation
1st-3rd November 2010

Background
It is now well recognised that protected areas on their own are insufficient to protect biodiversity, and increasing emphasis is placed on developing models for ensuring the persistence of biodiversity in agricultural and rural landscapes. At the same time, managers of protected areas are increasingly engaging with surrounding rural communities around access to the resources in these areas, which often include their ancestral lands.

One of the major challenges in this context is to reconcile people’s need to use natural resources with biodiversity conservation. The important contribution natural resources make to rural people’s livelihoods and well-being has been widely documented, and it is also widely accepted that for rural people to become involved in conservation projects, they need to derive tangible benefits from such activities. Nevertheless, conservation approaches designed to share benefits with rural communities, for example via ecotourism, payment for ecosystem services or other similar incentives, do not appear to have resonated with many rural resource users, and have often failed. Most conservation projects have endeavoured to convince local communities to conserve biodiversity deemed important by outsiders, and although benefits to rural communities are widely cited as a motivation for conservation, we currently lack a good understanding of the extent to which local people themselves value biodiversity and desire its continued existence. Such knowledge would be essential as a basis on which to develop conservation approaches for rural areas that are aligned with local people’s needs, customs and values.

Our team has researched rural people’s perceptions of biodiversity and the values they attach to nature since 2008, as part of a project entitled “Understanding rural peoples' sense of place and their environment: Implications for bio-cultural diversity conservation”. This work has revealed that rural and peri-urban people living in the Thicket Biome of the Eastern Cape display a profound appreciation for specific natural vegetation and plant species. Access to these places and plants provides a sense of wellbeing, a link to ancestral spirits, a location for religious rituals, plus a wealth of culturally-inspired uses of specific species. Many of the narratives portray an enjoyment of being in nature that highlights qualities such as silence, beauty and tranquillity, the opportunity to observe wild animals and a chance to escape the worries of home. We believe that these hitherto largely unexplored cultural values provide an opportunity for developing alternative, locally relevant approaches to conservation.

The SANPAD funded research team consisting of Michelle Cocks (Institute for Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University), Tony Dold (Botany Department and Schonland Herbarium, Rhodes University), Susi Vetter (Botany Department, Rhodes University), Freerk Wiersum (Forest and Nature Conservation Policy Group, Wageningen University) and several postgraduate students.

This workshop aims to:

Participants
Invited participants will include local and international collaborators of past and ongoing SANPAD projects on cultural values of biodiversity, international experts who will contribute towards placing local experiences in an international scientific and policy context, and key people in conservation policy, planning and management in South Africa.

View the programme here: Programme 

 

Left to right: Dr Freerk Wiersum, Dr Andrew Knight, Dr Birgit Elands, Ms Jamie Alexander, Ms Lydia Mogano, Dr Susi Vetter, Dr Michelle Cocks, Prof Kris van Koppen

Update and Summary from Integrating Cultural Values into Conservation Workshop
1-3rd of November

This is just a brief update on our workshop on “integrating cultural values into conservation” 1-3 November 2010. We felt it provided a really successful platform for us to present our ideas and research findings, for getting perspectives and experiences from the conservation sector and to make linkages with people active in conservation to take our work forward. The response we had form participants was really positive. See www.ru.ac.za view past articles (Tue, 09 Nov 2010 10:47:50 +0200) for a short article on the workshop featured on the Rhodes web page.

A quick summary of the main issues that came out from the workshop:

South Africa has amazingly high biological and cultural diversity. Yet the values of many sectors of our population, some of whom are intimately connected to nature, are not represented in conservation planning and implementation. As a result large parts of the population feel at best indifferent and at worst antagonistic towards conservation initiatives.

Research in the Eastern Cape has revealed that rural and peri-urban Xhosa people living in the Thicket Biome of the Eastern Cape display a profound appreciation for specific natural vegetation and plant species. Access to these places and their biota provides a sense of well-being, a link to ancestral spirits, a location for religious rituals, plus a wealth of culturally-inspired uses of specific species. Many of the narratives portray an enjoyment of being in nature that highlights qualities such as silence, beauty and tranquillity, the opportunity to observe wild animals and a chance to escape the worries of home. Case studies from elsewhere suggest similar feelings about nature when people are afforded the opportunity to explore and express them. We believe that these hitherto largely unexplored cultural values provide an opportunity for developing alternative, locally relevant approaches to conservation.

At the same time there is concern that young and increasingly urbanised people are becoming increasingly alienated from nature, and fear of crime emerged as a factor that prevented children and young women in particular from experiencing nature in rural and urban areas. Conservation relies on people caring for nature, and therefore conservation efforts should not aim to separate people from nature but rather facilitate interaction with nature. In rural and peri-urban areas this involves people using natural resources. This is widely viewed as being counter the objectives of conservation, but is in fact part of the material manifestation of culture and keeps the emotional bond alive by providing the opportunity for meaningful (and often enjoyable) interaction with nature.

To conserve bio-cultural diversity in rural, peri-urban and urban landscapes, we need to recognise that “nature” and “culture” are diverse, and that biological and cultural diversity are found in a mix of more and less “pristine” and “traditional” elements that coexist. While overexploitation of natural resources is a threat to biocultural diversity, we suggest a more critical examination of the view that utilising natural resources always compromises biodiversity and a more open-minded approach to conserving biological and cultural diversity in “living landscapes”. This requires humility and a genuine interest in, and engagement with, the values of the different resource user groups.

What’s the way forward?

Firstly, we would like to keep in touch with all of you and build a stronger network of researchers and practitioners in this area of interest. We hope to be able to meet around these issues every year to exchange ideas and experiences and to strengthen collaborations. We are also planning to take the insights from the workshop to the Biodiversity Planning Forum in March 2011 and possibly have a session on integrating cultural values into conservation. We are planning a number of outputs from peer-reviewed articles to popular media, as well as a policy brief.

We are planning to make the outputs of the workshop, as well as the abstracts and slides of the presentations (in pdf format), available via Tony and Michelle’s Biocultural Diversity website: www.bioculturaldiversity.co.za. Please let us know if you would rather not make your slides available on the web.

We will keep you posted on developments and publications.