Natural Heritage: more than just trees

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November 18 was #AskAConservator day with countless posts and stories around conservation shared online! We’ve talked about the general principles of conservation and preservation as well as how you can take action by listing historic buildings.  But what about the natural landscape?

Natural landscapes such as mountains, forests, national parks, are often listed as protected natural heritage sites. Any alterations on these sites are not allowed; you cannot chop down trees, build new buildings or tear down structures within these areas. A forest on public land, however, is not necessarily a heritage site. Opportunistic individuals often start fires and claim the land for private development, devastating the entire natural and social landscape of an area.

What is natural heritage?

According to the UNESCO 1972 Convention, “the following shall be considered as “natural heritage” :

– natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view;

– geological and physiographical formations and precisely delineated areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation;

– natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty.”

Similar to historic buildings, there is a process for natural landscapes and several types of recognition. The landscape encircling a community is as significant as the buildings within, encompassing a holistic identity and culture. The landscape demonstrates the reasoning behind a human settlement in the area, the everyday activities and lifestyle that informs local tradition and customs.

Take, for example, the reed and sedge industry of the Broads National Park, United Kingdom, was the source of the local economy for generations. In modern-age, the reed cutter profession was fading drastically, the remaining reedcutters with the Broads authority came together to formulate a plan to keep the industry alive as it was a part of the local identity as the park itself.

There are many more ways that communities manage to maintain their cultural practices associated with their territory.  The fundamental aspect is the preservation of both land and customs simultaneously; as the lack of one invalidates the other. A personal example, my grandma owns a logging land, a forested land that can only be used to take a specific number of trees. This is family land owned for a few generations, however this does not allow my grandma to show up in a bulldozer and clear the land as it would disrupt the natural landscape.

Most states have similar mechanisms in place to protect the environment and natural heritage, caring for them should be the responsibility of the locals as they lives are interchangeable with it.

I want to learn more:

Natural heritage by Rodney Harrison and Donal O’ Donnel

IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature)

UNESCO1972 World Heritage Convention


The Burra Charter-The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance

ICOMOS New Zealand Charter for the Conservation of Places of Cultural Heritage Value

The Broads Authority- Trees and hedgerows

The Broads Authority- Reed and sedge industry

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