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Sacred Groves for forest conservation in Ghana's coastal savannas: assessing ecological and social dimensions

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Despite recent interest in sacred (fetish) groves as remnant forests, few studies have investigated their sustainability and conservation role in West Africa. This article employs a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) analysis of time series images (1960-98), comprehensive social surveys and ecological field methods to evaluate four sacred groves and eight unprotected tree stands in the coastal savanna of Ghana and compare these with vegetation in the distant forested hinterland. There were strong similarities and substantial differences in tree species between different sacred groves, and between these and the unprotected stands and proximate deciduous forests. In addition, far fewer tree losses were documented in the sacred groves than in the local unprotected stands. Although these sacred groves were on average only partially representative of deciduous forest vegetation, their stronger sustainability compared with unprotected tree stands may be important to consider in detail for conservation.
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INTRODUCTION
Forest conservation in Africa is an important
historical issue (Cleghorne et al., 1852; Moor,
1937; Neumann, 1995; Kull, 2000; Barton, 2001;
Beinart, 2003; Wardell et al., 2003) that has
attracted strong current interest (Anderson &
Grove, 1987; Amanor, 1994; 2002; Afikorah-
Danquah, 1997; Leach & Fairhead, 2000; 2002;
Brown, 2003; Metzger, 2003). With human
factors blamed for deforestation, conservation
policies have come under heavy scrutiny
(Anderson & Grove, 1987; Colchester, 1996;
Carswell, 2000; Gillson et al., 2003).
Conservation policies have recently started
to include community access policies
(Western, 1994; Sponsel, 1996; Brockington
& Homewood, 2001; Koop & Tole, 2001;
Raynaut, 2001; Brockington, 2002) while
environmental management has integrated
developments in ecology and the social
sciences (Rowe, 1997; Zimmerer, 2000) with
Geographical Information Systems (GIS)
analysis (Canney, 2001; Elliott & Campbell,
2002). Despite such developments and the
increased interest among geographers in the
spatial implications of religious structures at
the global and local scales (Stoddard &
Morinis, 1997; Stump, 2000; de Blij & Murphy,
2002; Park, 2004), there has been little detailed
consideration of the role of local religious
edicts for the establishment and preservation
SACRED GROVES FOR FOREST CONSERVATION IN
GHANA’S COASTAL SAVANNAS: ASSESSING
ECOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL DIMENSIONS
Michael O’Neal Campbell
Department of Geography, University of Sussex, Brighton, Sussex, UK
ABSTRACT
Despite recent interest in sacred (fetish) groves as remnant forests, few studies have investigated
their sustainability and conservation role in West Africa. This article employs a Geographical
Information Systems (GIS) analysis of time series images (1960-98), comprehensive social surveys
and ecological field methods to evaluate four sacred groves and eight unprotected tree stands in
the coastal savanna of Ghana and compare these with vegetation in the distant forested hinterland.
There were strong similarities and substantial differences in tree species between different sacred
groves, and between these and the unprotected stands and proximate deciduous forests. In
addition, far fewer tree losses were documented in the sacred groves than in the local unprotected
stands. Although these sacred groves were on average only partially representative of deciduous
forest vegetation, their stronger sustainability compared with unprotected tree stands may be
important to consider in detail for conservation.
Keywords: remnant forest, sacred grove, tree stand, woodlot, coastal savanna, conservation
Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 26(2), 2005, 151-169
© Copyright 2005 Department of Geography, National University of Singapore and Blackwell Publishers Ltd
of sacred (fetish) groves in relation to
vegetation change and associated socio-
environmental dynamics (Blench, 2000).
Nevertheless, as manifestations of historic
religious practices, sacred groves are globally
evident (Gadgil & Vartak, 1976; 1981; Gadgil &
Chandran, 1992; Fisiy, 1994). Described as
“sacred places where trees and plants were
allowed to grow undisturbed” (Nayar, 1987:
4), and some even as “priceless treasures of
great ecological, biological, cultural and
historical value” (Chandran & Gadgil, 1998:3),
sacred groves have been documented in Indo-
nesia and Senegal (MAB, 1995); Cote d’ Ivoire
(Sanogo, 1983; Koagne, 1986); Cameroon
(Fisiy, 1994); Japan, Turkey, Syria, India and
Nigeria (Tiwari et al., 1998); and Ghana
(Ntimoah-Baidu et al.,1992; Decher, 1997). The
enabling structures of sacred groves, based
on local support from traditional religious
leaders and lawmakers (tribal chiefs, large
landowners and associated groups), derive
strength from common beliefs in a resident
deity or the spirits of war dead in a particular
location (La Anyane, 1956; Ntimoah-Baidu,
1994). Such beliefs with environmental
dimensions within the larger issue of religious
structures have been described as important
manifestations of local cultures and environ-
mental perceptions (Tuan, 1974). Thus,
religious issues may have important historical
and more recent impacts on socioenviron-
mental relations (Deffontaines, 1948; Eliade,
1963; Sheridan, 2000). Implicit in local respect
for sacred groves is the exclusion of land use
as embodied in sacred edicts (Fisiy, 1994).
Based on locally respected structures, such
edicts may cause less tension than externally
developed projects (Anderson & Grove, 1987;
Ntimoah-Baidu, 1994; Campbell et al., 2000).
This points to their possible role in
conservation (Falconer, 1992; 1999; UNESCO,
1996; Laird, 1999; Posey, 1999).
A powerful factor for the perceived value
of sacred groves is their preservation of plant
formations (usually forest) that may predate
those of the surrounding, usually more
modified landscape. For example, Tiwari et al.
(1998) reached such a conclusion after
examining 74 sacred groves in Meghalaya,
India. This position is supported by studies
in other countries (Koppell, 1990; Posey, 1999).
Savanna climates are generally capable of
supporting tree (including some dry,
deciduous, closed canopy forests), shrub and
grass mosaics (Werner, 1990; Hopkins, 1992;
Scholes & Walker, 1993). Hence, protecting
areas from (human) land use may also protect
forest tree species and even produce forest
stands in savanna areas (Rose Innes, 1977).
However, the remnant forest hypothesis is
one of several concerning the dynamics of
vegetation mosaics. Long-term climatic change
has also been foregrounded as a factor for
historical phytogeographical change (Carson,
1985; Dickson & Benneh, 1995; Hawthorne,
1996). Such conclusions were reached by
Maley and Brenac (1998) and Maley (2002) for
the Cameroonian forest, in which long-term
climatic cycles were linked to corresponding
alternating forest/savanna expansions.
Edaphic factors for vegetation distribution
have also been mentioned, due to variation in
plant available moisture and nutrients (Stott,
1990; 1991; 1994). There have also been
hypotheses concerning human enrichment of
landscapes: certain practices such as tree
planting, dumping of organic waste and fire
protection may allow the expansion of forested
vegetation in historically savanna dominated
areas (Swaine, 1992; Fairhead & Leach, 1995;
1996; 1998; Campbell, 1998; Elliott & Campbell,
2002). A broader argument may therefore hold
that, although sacred groves are not the only
factor for forest expansion or survival in
savanna areas which may represent either
older forests or new growths, they neverthe-
less do make a significant contribution to tree
stand presence and, thus, the paucity of
studies examining this role justifies more
detailed research.
The hypothesis of this paper is that an
integrated assessment of a sample of sacred
groves using time series images and ecological
and social surveys, and including a
comparison of these groves with randomly
selected unprotected deciduous forest stands,
would provide important information for the
debates on forest survival and conservation
policy. The aim of the paper is to situate a
limited case study within the larger area and
main debates on this topic in Ghana and West
Africa (Fairhead & Leach, 1995; 1998; Leach
& Fairhead, 2000; 2002; Chouin, 2002). The
addition of GIS analysis offers precision, which
is missing from other such studies (e.g.
Fairhead & Leach, 1995; Parren & Graaf, 1995;
Afikorah-Danquah, 1997; Asare, 2002; Anane;
2003). The rest of this paper is divided into
five sections. The next provides a broad back-
ground on sacred groves of coastal savanna
Ghana including their characteristics and role
in conservation. This is followed by a
presentation of the research methodology. The
results are presented in the third section,
followed by a discussion of the findings within
the literature. The final section assesses the
implications of these results both for local
contexts and wider areas.
SACRED GROVES IN THE
COASTAL SAVANNA IN GHANA
Ghana, formerly (pre-1957) the British colony
of the Gold Coast, has an area of 238,540 km2
and in 2004 a population of approximately 20
million. Historical forest change and local
factors for this dynamic are important issues
(Kay, 1972; Howard, 1978; Benneh &
Agyepong, 1990; Becko, 1992; Schreiber &
Hill, 1994; Amoako-Atta, 1995; Mason &
Danso, 1995; Parren & Graaf, 1995; Palo et al.,
1996; Fairhead & Leach, 1998; Amanor, 2002).
Approximately 1,900 sacred groves have been
counted in forest and savanna areas, ranging
in size from 0.5 to 1,300 hectares (Dorm-
Adzobu et al., 1991; Asare, 2002; Anane, 2003;
NRI, 2003; UNDESA, 2003; UNDP, 2003).
Sacred grove sustainability has been
neglected in the coastal savanna (Ntimoah-
Baidu et al., 1992; Decher, 1997; Decher et al.,
2001; Chouin, 2002). This is unfortunate, as
opposed arguments favour either a dry
deciduous forest/tree savanna origin (Irvine,
1947; Taylor, 1952; Dickson, 1971; Carson,
1985; Lawson, 1986) or parallel forest
expansion and retraction (Campbell, 1998;
Campbell & Palmer-Jones, 1999; Elliott &
Campbell, 2002). Some believe the sacred
groves provide evidence for the remnant forest
hypothesis (Lieberman, 1979; Decher et al.,
2001). For example, Booth (1956:124) reported
that “forest of a very dry type which may
formerly have been typical of the whole area
is found scattered mainly as juju (sacred)
spots”. This argument is strengthened by the
existence of local belief systems emphasising
the protection of forest stands for religious
reasons, chiefly as the abodes of landed
deities, resulting in much denser vegetation
than the surrounding, exploited landscape
(Campbell, 1998; Greene, 2002). In terms of
plant species, the vegetation of such groves
may be almost “pristine”, similar to the
deciduous forests of southern Ghana (Becko,
1992:32). The evidence for a forested origin of
the coastal savanna is based on three main
pillars: (i) controlled experiments which
revealed that undisturbed savanna transposes
into forest (Rose Innes, 1977); (ii) historical
British and Dutch records which document a
more heavily vegetated landscape (Moloney,
1887; Doorman, 1898); and (iii) historic land
use intensification, especially around the
proximate, capital city of Accra (Macdonald,
1898; Irvine, 1947; Taylor, 1952; Booth, 1956;
La Anyane, 1956; Carson, 1985).
Natural climatic change and edaphic factors
have also been cited as factors for vegetation
dynamics in the coastal savanna. For example,
Carson (1985) describes a possible sequence
of cyclical rainfall change over thousands of
years, the result being that the vegetation of
this area underwent interchangeable forest/
savanna expansions on variable soils. This
argument, which rejects a stable, climatic
climax hypothesis, has also been advanced
by Hawthorne (1996). However, human activity
in the coastal savanna may also contribute to
denser vegetation. For example, Campbell
(1998) documents new forest growth in former
savanna, in some cases including introduced
species and/or deliberately planted trees. For
example, neem (Azadirachta indica A.Juss)
was introduced into West African coastal
regions from India in the 1930s, and by the
1990s was one of the commoner tree species
in the coastal savanna (field surveys, 1992;
1995-1996; 2000). Mango (Mangifera indica
L.) was also introduced from India by
Portuguese explorers during the sixteenth
century. These species are exploited for
firewood or fruits (Abbiw, 1990), but have
generally been ignored in the forest change
debate. The socioenvironmental implications
of such forest stand dynamics require more
integrated research.
METHODS, MATERIALS
AND STUDY AREA
The main objectives of the study were to
investigate: (i) the role and effectiveness of
the sacred edicts in the conservation of forest
stands composed of plant species of the
deciduous forest; (ii) the composition and
sustainability of tree stands outside the sacred
areas; (iii) the social sustainability of the
traditional edicts that create sacred groves;
and (iv) the effectiveness of sacred groves
relative to official environmental legislation.
The study area, fairly typical of the coastal
savanna, was randomly selected after a wider
survey covering about 200 km, from the eas-
tern edge to the central meridian 0o (Figure 1),
an area recorded in old British and Dutch
records as containing sparse forests and
strong traditional religious groups (Moloney,
1887; Doorman, 1898; Irvine, 1947). Numerous
forest clumps, some near villages, covered the
mainly shrub-grass-covered landscape.
Although randomly selected, the study area
did contain features necessary to constitute
the case study, namely: (i) villages situated
close sacred groves; (ii) local cultural
institutions, lawmakers and their supporters
which maintained the strength of the sacred
edicts; and (iii) other proximate land use
activities such as woodlot creation, agriculture
and settlement expansion which created a
complex landscape. As described below, the
study of this area involved both social and
ecological methods. A further objective
therefore was to integrate these methods, the
better to evaluate the socioenvironmental
basis for sacred grove dynamics.
The social survey and theoretical
framework
The social survey, conducted from April 1995
to October 1996, involved three main types of
social contacts: semi-structured interviews
and individual discussions; group discus-
sions; and social observation. Five hundred
and seventy people were interviewed in the
villages of Oshiyie, Kokrobite, Bortianor-
Chokomey and proximate areas. Of the equal
numbers of male and female respondents, 225
were aged 40 and below, and 345 were above
40. The framework for the social survey was
based on Giddens’ (1979; 1984) structuration
theory. This framework views actor volition
and cultural structures as a duality, as two
sides of the same coin: whilst people construct,
maintain and reinforce structures, these
structures in turn influence (individual)
people’s behaviour. In the current research,
this approach was justified, as actor dynamics
were integrated with cultural structures (the
sacred edicts, environmental perception,
gender specificity, respect for elders, religion
and education) which were also factors
affecting respect for traditional religious
edicts.
The GIS-ecological survey and
statistical analysis
First, the field survey demarcated two sub-
areas: the Oshiyie-Kokrobite area, and the
Bortainor-Chokomey area. Second, the
vegetation in these areas was divided into tree
stands and shrub-grass mosaics. Third, using
the social survey, tree stands were divided into
protected and unprotected areas. There were
two groves in the Oshiyie-Kokrobite area, and
two others in the Bortianor-Chokomey area.
Fourth, there was the random application of
quadrats in each of the classified areas,
*The coastal savanna transposes into the deciduous forest to the north and in many
areas the border is not easily perceptible but is a mixed mosaic (field survey, 1996).
Figure 1. Vegetation map of Ghana and the study areas.
involving 68 10x10 m quadrats. In the Oshiyie-
Kokrobite area, 15 quadrats were taken of
sacred vegetation stands and 16 of non-sacred
woodlots. In the Bortianor-Chokomey area, 19
quadrats were taken of sacred vegetation
stands and 18 of non-sacred woodlots. A total
walkthrough of the tree stands, assisted by
aerial photographs, documented several
parameters: (i) plant species richness,
including native forest and introduced trees,
shrubs and grasses in sacred and non-sacred
stands; (ii) the percentage of deciduous forest
species within each quadrat in sacred and non-
sacred stands; and (iii) the structure (height
and stem diameter) of the trees in the sacred
and non-sacred stands. These variables were
also compared with those of the southern
deciduous forest (Table 1), where 17 10 x 10 m
quadrats were taken in April-September 1995
in order to assess the similarities for the basis
of the remnant forest hypothesis. These
datasets were then analysed using the Mann-
Whitney U test.
The justification for the use of GIS was that
(based on feature identification and
supporting fieldwork) it allows quantification
of the social impacts on the landscape. The
black and white aerial photographs, scaled at
1:10,000 and dated September (the rainy
season) 1960 and 1986, were scanned and
saved in Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) and
registered to a common grid. Digitised feature
maps were created on these using GIS software
(IDRISI). With the support of a SPOT satellite
image dated September 1998 and the field
survey, a map of the study area for 1996 was
created. Changes between 1960, 1986 and 1996
were quantified (Tables 2 and 3) for vegetation
assessment.
RESULTS
The GIS-ecological analysis: the
contrast between sacred groves and
unprotected woodlots
There was a slight to moderate decline in the
sacred groves between 1960 and 1996 (Table
2); the two groves in Bortianor were 86.9 and
80.2 per cent of their respective areas in 1960.
Slight increases occurred in the Oshiyie-
Kokrobite grove areas, composed largely of
neem but also some deciduous forest species,
mango and coconut (Cocos nucifera L.). The
unprotected tree stands (Table 3) lost more
trees than the sacred groves, due to firewood
harvesting (branch, bole and/or root removal),
farming (both cutting and burning for
TABLE 1. VEGETATION OF SACRED GROVES AND DECIDUOUS FOREST
VARIABLES
(per 100 m2 quadrat)
SACRED GROVES DECIDUOUS FOREST
Dominants Trees dominate; shrubs and grasses
around the edges.
Trees dominate; shrubs and grasses in
small patches. Fewer grass patches.
Canopy structure Continuous, with local fragmenta-
tion. Stunted trees around edges.
Continuous and similar, but more tall
trees. Fewer stunted trees.
Tree species Average of 23 per quadrat, e.g.
baobab Adansonia digita L.;
coconut Cocus nucifera L.; raintree
Samanea saman (Jacq.) Merr.; silk
cotton Ceiba pentandra Mill.; neem
Azadirachta indica; A.Juss; and
mango Mangifera indica L.
Average of 25 per quadrat, e.g. raintree
Samanea saman (Jacq.) Merr.; and silk
cotton Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.
More forest species, e.g. mahogany
Khaya ivorensis; K. anthoheca A.Juss;
and sapele Entandrophragma
cylindricum CEC Fish. Neem
Azadirachta indica rare; some mango
Mangifera indica L.
TABLE 2. AREAL CHANGE IN THE SACRED GROVES, 1960-96 (m2)
clearance), and settlement expansion, which
was documented in the social survey. The
woodlots in the Oshiyie-Kokrobite area
comprised on average 49.2 per cent forest
species and were smaller and more fragmented
than in those in the Bortianor-Chokomey area.
The two unprotected woodlots in the environs
of Oshiyie both showed multidirectional
change, with the overall change being a slight
decline in forest species and increased stands
of neem and mango. The two unprotected
areas in the environs of Kokrobite showed
slightly greater tree losses and extensive
expansion of shrub-sized neem trees. In some
quadrats neem comprised 100 per cent of the
plant species, while in others neem and mango
comprised more than 50 per cent.
The four unprotected woodlots surveyed
around Bortianor showed marked declines
after 1960, and comprised only about 51.9 per
cent forest species. In some areas (especially
south of the village) new young trees were
recorded, and there was a balance between
tree losses and gains. The first woodlot, to
the east, was replaced by farmland by 1986.
Analysis of the aerial photographs, based on
canopy size and stereoscopic appraisal of
canopy elevation, together with supporting
social consultation, allowed the identification
TABLE 3. AREAL CHANGE IN UNPROTECTED AREAS, 1960-96 (m2)
SITES 1960 1986 1996 NEW GROWTH
(1960-96)
Bortianor East 64,803 Negligible Negligible Negligible
Bortianor South 57,072 35,670 36,109 2,699
Bortianor North 47,560 4,161 4,085 303
Bortianor North East 42,507 15,457 14,888 233
Kokrobite North 1,213 267 288 45
Kokrobite West 644 Negligible Negligible Negligible
Oshiyie East 1,098 367 290 112
Oshiyie West 556 238 211 68
Total 215,453 56,160 55,871 3,460
SITES 1960 1986 1996 NEW GROWTH
(1960-96)
Bortianor Sacred Grove 1 185,781 161,406 160,123 11,056
Bortianor Sacred Grove 2 5,945 4,756 4,769 94
Kokrobite Sacred Grove 805 995 968 186
Oshiyie Sacred Grove 635 755 772 157
Total Area 193,166 167,912 166,632 11,493
of the tree species as large forest emergents
such as silk cotton (Ceiba pentandra Mill.).
The area to the northeast of Bortianor showed
a loss of deciduous forest trees and slight
gains of mango trees. The third area, to the
north of Bortianor, showed a replacement of
scattered fragmented tree stands with a farm-
grass shrub mosaic dominated by neem, native
species such as Cassia, Fagara and Ceiba
spp. and some herbs such as Securinega
virosa (Roxb. ex Willd) Baill. In this area the
field survey documented the vegetation as
long (a year or more) and short fallow with
some tree and shrub species (Table 4). South
of Bortianor there was also a decline in tree
species, largely due to settlement expansion.
While some trees (e.g. mango and coconut)
were tolerated for fruit and shade, many others
(forest species, neem, as well as coconut) were
harvested for roofing materials and house
pillars.
In terms of tree species composition, the
differences in the four sacred groves affected
their structure. The two larger sacred groves
(Bortianor-Chokomey) had higher proportions
of deciduous forest trees (81.1 per cent) than
the Oshiyie-Kokrobite sacred groves (76.2 per
cent). The larger number of forest species in
the sacred groves, over the unprotected areas
was significant in both areas (Oshiyie-
Kokrobite: U=53, p <0.05; Bortianor-Chokomey
U=79, p <0.05). In terms of canopy height, there
was no significant difference between the
sacred groves in the Oshiyie-Kokrobite area
and the unprotected areas (U=83, p >0.05), but
a significantly higher canopy in the Bortianor-
Chokomey groves than in the unprotected
areas (U=86, p <0.05). This was due to the larger
number of large forest trees such as Ceiba
pentandra. In both sacred grove areas, the
average tree stem diameters were significantly
larger than in the unprotected areas (Oshiyie-
Kokrobite U=18, p <0.05; Bortianor-Chokomey
U=20, p <0.05). The comparison with the
deciduous forest vegetation of the hinterland,
revealed the species composition of the
Oshiyie-Kokrobite groves to be significantly
different (U=58, p >0.05) largely due to the
higher occurrence of neem and mango. In
contrast, the Bortianor groves showed no
significant difference in species composition
with the deciduous forest (U=139, p >0.05).
The social survey: the role of socio-
cultural structures and actor volition
The origins of the four sacred groves were
similar. According to interviewee testimony,
idols brought to the villages several decades
ago – around 1920-25 in Oshiyie-Kokrobite,
TABLE 4. DIFFERENCES BETWEEN LONG FALLOW AND SHORT FALLOW
VEGETATION, BORTIANOR NORTH
VARIABLE LONG FALLOW* SHORT FALLOW
Species diversity Moderate biodiversity: 8-10 species per
100 m2 quadrat.
Low biodiversity: 1-5 species per 100 m2
quadrat.
Dominants Shrubs generally dominant: grasses in
patches. Large numbers of neem.
Grass and shrubs, succession favouring
shrubs.
Canopy structure Most shrub areas form a continuous
canopy.
Fragmented shrub canopies. Grasses
usually scattered.
Canopy height Shrub canopy 160-200 cm. Some trees
sprout up to 4 m. Grasses up to 120 cm.
Shrub canopy averages 120-170 cm.
Grasses average 20-60 cm in height.
Number of tree species 10-70% of growing plants may be
stunted tree species. Most trees are
neem (dominant) or mango.
Less than 10% of growing plants may be
tree species. Neem grows more slowly
than grasses.
*Vegetation representing a year or more of fallow.
and 1900-05 in Bortianor-Chokomey – were
blamed for certain “bad” occurrences,
including poor harvests, sicknesses and odd
behaviours amongst the people. The idols had
then been placed in the surrounding shrub
mosaics in the four propitious locations
described in the ecological survey to protect
the settlements. Traditional religious leaders
and village elders thus had decreed areas
around the idols as permanently off-limits to
farmers and woodcutters. If situated properly
and left untouched, the fetish-idols were seen
as protectors of the villagers and their activities
(especially births and harvesting).
The actual operation of the religious edicts
as constraining regulations appeared simple
but was in fact rather complex. The simple part
concerned the pronouncement by a traditional
priest that the area was off-limits to
exploitation, and the detailed demarcation of
the area was done with the assistance of
collaborating elders and kin. The more complex
issue concerned the maintenance of these
edicts. Religious leaders had passed the
details on to their successors (either kin or
named) through the decades. Edicts were also
supported by the administrative and spiritual
power of the chiefs, who as principal
landowners wielded considerable influence
with the village elders and, hence, in village
life. Finally, there were the supporting
statements of older sympathisers, which
tended to blame varying social misfortunes
(e.g. deaths, drought, poor harvests, debts and
the like) on violations of the local sacred
edicts.
This complex system was argued by all
interviewees to be more effective than official
government legislation, such as those
restricting bush fires (Provisional National
Defence Council Law 46) and hunting-habitat
destruction (Legislation Instrument 685 of
1971), which lacked respected local guardians
and participation. The evidence supporting
this view was the greater sustainability of
sacred groves, as revealed in the ecological
survey results. Therefore, in addition to a fear
of supernatural forces shared by the vast
majority (92 per cent), participation was also
recognised as an important factor for local
cooperation with conservation policy. This
view was substantiated by the success of a
government supported woodlot-planting
project involving four 50 m2 plots of Cassia
simea L. financed by the United Nations Food
and Agricultural Organisation, which was
observed during the field survey in 1996 in
the Oshiyie-Kokrobite area. The participation
of respected local stakeholders – in this case
local fishsmokers – and local awareness of the
need for tree planting (all interviewed believed
that tree losses reduced rainfall and agreed
that several species should have been planted)
ensured greater success than would otherwise
have been possible. There were very few
violators of these stands (there was evidence
of a few branches cut, though none would
admit to such activity).
The results of the social survey (Table 5)
generally correlated with the GIS analysis in
terms of tree stand change. This showed a
moderate decline in the sacred grove area, a
fact that the majority of interviewees attributed
to the work of a few malcontents and non-
conformists (98 and 97 per cent of males aged
40 and above and below 40 respectively; and
94 and 97 per cent of females aged 40 and
above and below 40 respectively). All 570
interviewees said they would not exploit
groves, but slightly more elders than younger
people said they would teach the edicts to
their children as a law or as a conservation
measure, and more males than females said
they would do so. All the interviewees argued
that cultural challenges to gender and age
respect were due to new influences, typically
urban influences and education. More young
people had private doubts about the power of
the sacred groves, but few would make these
doubts public. Concerning a question on the
current and future status of the sacred groves,
the majority of the interviewees believed the
edicts were strong and would be stronger in
the future. Fewer people thought it was getting
weaker and a few, mostly urban focused young
men, were unsure. This was despite the
opinion among elders that younger people had
slightly less respect for sacred groves.
Responding to a question on the most
important factor for the possible decline of the
sacred groves, the interviewees cited youth
assertiveness, western culture, education,
local urbanisation and “new” religions
(Christianity and Islam) – factors which were
also noted as influencing age and gender norm
changes and greater individual volition. Some
interviewees, mostly elders, mentioned all
these factors as important. Answering a
question on factors which could sustain the
sacred edits, interviewees mentioned out-
migration to urban areas, as this could reduce
land use pressure (55 and 68 per cent of males
aged 40 and above and below 40 respectively;
and 47 and 53 per cent of females aged 40 and
above and below 40 respectively). Another
factor mentioned as affecting support for
edicts was traditional cultural power (39 and
32 per cent of males aged 40 and above and
below 40 respectively; and 50 and 43 per cent
of females aged 40 and above and below 40
respectively).
The social survey results generally paralle-
led the GIS documentation of tree losses in
unprotected areas. People acknowledged
higher tree losses in the unprotected areas,
but argued for slightly less tree loss than in
the GIS evidence, giving reasons for their
opinions. Intensive farming (due to building
encroachment and increased farmer numbers)
and tractor ploughing frequently required the
removal of trees. Most farmers generally
tolerated shade and fruit trees in farm margins,
non-cultivated areas, cattle watering points,
stream valleys and hillsides (66 and 58 per cent
of males aged 40 and above and below 40
respectively; and 74 and 63 per cent of females
aged 40 and above and below 40 respectively).
Firewood was the main fuel source in the area,
but in most cases branch removal was
TABLE 5. RESULTS OF SURVEY OF LOCAL OPINIONS ON SACRED EDICTS
MALES (%) FEMALES (%) QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
40 < 40 40 < 40
What shows sacred grove respect?
Teach as law to children 45 34 44 39
Teach as conservation measure to children 43 39 43 40
Expressed private doubt of sacred edict power 7 19 9 18
Expressed public doubt of sacred edict power 5 8 4 3
What is the current and future grove status?
Edicts are currently strong 59 49 60 61
Edicts will be stronger in future 11 12 12 10
Edicts will be weaker in future 19 19 20 19
Unsure of future strength of edicts 11 20 8 10
What is the primary factor for grove decline?
New youth assertiveness 16 14 18 17
Western culture 20 19 21 23
Education 16 21 14 15
Local urbanisation 11 27 12 24
New religions (Christianity and Islam) 12 12 14 13
All such factors important 25 7 21 8
What factors may encourage grove sustainability?
More rural to urban migration 55 68 47 53
Traditional cultural power 39 32 50 43
favoured over stem and root extraction to
ensure sustainability and new saplings were
often preserved (82 and 78 per cent of males
aged 40 and above and below 40 respectively;
84 and 91 per cent of females aged 40 and
above and below 40 respectively). This also
relieved possible pressure from the sacred
groves. The higher proportion of mango and
coconut trees in unprotected areas
documented in the ecological survey was also
explained: some trees were planted (mostly
mango) and these were not cut. None of the
elders were aware of the planting of larger
forest trees, but they did point out that
saplings of these trees were often tolerated.
There was a general consensus that fewer
trees meant less rain, and among those aged
40 and above a general perception existed of
reduced rainfall after 1960 (males 95 per cent;
and females 94 per cent). A comparison of the
local opinions and the meteorological records
for the area did reveal some common features:
despite evidence of very high rainfall variation,
the records do show a slight decline in rainfall
from 1960 to 1995 (Figure 2). If not for these
perceptions, people argued, tree losses would
be much higher. The social history of non-
sacred areas was thus based on parallel
protective and exploitative action, which
according to interviewees’ testimony contri-
buted to small local expansion and larger tree
losses, as was documented in the GIS-
ecological survey (Tables 3 and 4).
DISCUSSION
The results provide evidence of substantial
variation in the species content of the sacred
groves, but by relating this to species content
in the unprotected areas, this study goes
further than some other recent literature (e.g.
Campbell & Palmer-Jones, 1999; Chouin, 2002;
Elliott & Campbell, 2002; Sarfo-Mensah 2002).
The statistical and GIS-based quantification
gave precision to a topic generally discussed
in descriptive or qualitative narratives
(Fairhead & Leach, 1995; Chouin, 2002). This
calculation allowed the classification of tree
stands according to forest species and
measured the presence of less documented
introduced species, aspects which have been
neglected in studies on the coastal savanna
including some newer works (see Irvine, 1947;
Taylor, 1952; Booth, 1956; La Anyane, 1956;
Lane, 1962; Dickson & Benneh, 1995; Chouin,
2002).
Figure 2. Rainfall in the coastal savanna region of Ghana, 1960-95.
Source: Ghana Meteorological Office.
The rapid expansion of the introduced tree
species (Campbell, 1998), which was apparent
in both sacred and unprotected stands,
introduced an important counterpoint to the
remnant forest argument. It also demonstrated
the relationship between human action and
tree species distribution in sacred and
unprotected areas. By distinguishing between
stands, not just according to their structure
(tree dominance) but also their species
content, social action could be seen as a factor
for tree stand expansion, both within and
outside the sacred groves. The composition
of sacred groves varied in proportions of neem
and mango trees, although most stands
dominated by these species were in the
unprotected areas. In these latter areas,
economic land use was dominant: trees that
were tolerated and exploited for shade, wood
and fruits could be termed flexibly managed
woodlots. A link between the protecting role
of sacred edicts, economic land use and tree
species distribution was found, in that wood
harvesting in unprotected areas took pressure
off the sacred groves. This issue has not been
fully examined in the literature (Chouin, 2002;
Sarfo-Mensah 2002). The evidence of slight
to moderate declines in sacred stands, argued
to be sporadic occurrences rather than a
general trend, indicated more losses between
1960 and 1986 than 1986 and 1996, which could
be related to variations in land use intensity
and perhaps edict respect over time.
After establishing the role of sacred groves
as protectors of forest tree species and possi-
bly remnant forests, or new expanding stands,
the next issue for a conservation role for sacred
groves concerned the social sustainability of
the traditional edicts, which formed the main
social structure enabling the survival of the
sacred groves. Giddens’ (1979; 1984) structura-
tion theory was clearly a suitable analytical
tool, especially when supported by quantified
data, as individual actors were constrained by
social structures (notably the sacred edicts
and associated social implementation process,
gender and age perceptions), but they were
also creating and reinforcing these structures.
In terms of the sacred edicts, these were
structures created and maintained by the
historical traditional religious agents. The
edicts had been reinforced and maintained by
the beliefs of the local population, which
ensured a high status for the agents of the
traditional religious agents and their
guardianship over the groves. Consequently,
a duality was apparent: the sacred edict
structures were enabled by the continual social
support through agents, and the edicts
enabled respectful behaviour which, in turn,
further sustained the edicts. However, despite
the strength of the edicts, individual volition
was also apparent. These included isolated
incidents of edict violation resulting in a
decline of sacred grove areas and slight to
moderate age and gender related differences
in edict respect.
These age and gender structures also
exhibited a duality with actor volition as, while
structures maintained by persistent social
support were obeyed, individual volition was
apparent. Urban attractions, for example,
affected individual young men slightly more
than others, as they were less constrained by
cultural norms on livelihood choices than
either their female contemporaries or their
elders. The traditional cultural dominance of
males over females in household and livelihood
decision making also influenced older men to
exhibit individual volition to a greater degree
than their female counterparts. More older men
would teach children to uphold edicts; more
believed in a combination of factors for edict
decline; and fewer expressed private doubts
on sacred edicts. However, the results showed
that these structures were not universally
apparent. Individual volition was revealed by
the fact that there were usually less than 10
percentage points in gender and age related
opinions on traditional cultural sustainability,
sacred edict strength and passing such edicts
to the next generation.
Although traditional edicts were acknow-
ledged as more powerful than government
legislation, secular conservation awareness,
which was evident across age and gender
groups, had restrained arguably destructive
behaviours. In this too there was evidence for
a social preference for conservation policy
supported by respected local agents, as
participation was a strong structure supported
by people who were enabled in such
behaviour by cultural norms they supported.
The evidence for this was the successful
Cassia simea L. woodlots planted by local
fishsmokers in a government supported
programme. The consensus that emerged from
this analysis was that sacred groves could
contribute to conservation policy by assisting
in the protection of some forest stands and,
although possibly affected by long-term
declines in edict respect, that they could also
gain support from both religious and secular
structures – reinforced by individual initiative.
This is an important topic, which has not been
addressed in such detail in some other studies
of the coastal savanna (Becko, 1992; Chion,
2002).
CONCLUSIONS
This paper has used time series images,
ecological and social analysis to document
social and some ecological factors for
vegetation mosaic change in the coastal
savanna of Ghana. The hypothesis was that a
comprehensive integrated survey of selected
sacred groves, surrounding vegetation and
deciduous forest, in addition to social
behaviour and knowledge, would contribute
to the debates concerning sacred groves,
remnant forests, local protective schemes and
conservation possibilities. This hypothesis
was justified by the existence of certain gaps
in the literature concerning detailed, integrated,
socioculturally and ecologically sensitive
methodologies. The results supported this
hypothesis and provided important
information that questions generalisations on
the remnant forest hypothesis and
demonstrates important gaps in the literature,
particularly in terms of methodological detail,
meta-theory and integrated survey techniques
(Fairhead & Leach, 1995; Afikorah-Danquah,
1997; Asare, 2002; Anane, 2003) and linking
religious and secular practices in landscapes
(Chandran & Gagil, 1998; Choin, 2002; Sarfo-
Mensah, 2002). There is evidence that an
assessment of sacred groves must examine
certain ecological (forest tree species as
distinguished from introduced species and
quantified tree stand change) and social
(gender- and age-related opinions, individual
engagement with structures) details. In these
there must also be a comparison between
sacred and secular policies for more complete
assessments.
Despite the limited study area, the
environmental relationships were fairly typical
of those of the coastal savanna of Ghana as
documented in the wider field survey and the
historical literature (Carson, 1985; Benneh &
Agypepong, 1990; Dickson & Benneh, 1995;
Campbell, 1998; Elliott & Campbell, 2002). This
allowed the emergence of some generic
possibilities, scaled at local and national levels.
In terms of the assessment of conservation
possibilities for sacred groves, there must be
greater clarification of the form of conservation
envisaged. The protection of indigenous forest
species, expansion of tree stands regardless
of species and/or soil protection are topics
relevant to such appraisals. This is linked to
the evidence that different sacred groves vary
in species content, which limits the generalised
approach of some studies (Ntimoa-Baidu et
al., 1992; Decher, 1997; Choin, 2002). Social
contexts must also be studied for generational,
gendered and religious/secular dynamics, and
the relation of these to environmental
perceptions and socioenvironmental issues.
For conservation project participation, there
may be options of broad stakeholder
involvement, or the more selective involvement
of respected local leaders or perhaps religious
groups. These practical issues, which are
situated within the larger development and
environment debates, must also be seen as
related to the important theoretical and social
issues concerning science-society engage-
ments (Elliott & Campbell, 2002), global
religions versus localised belief structures (as
pointed out by Tuan, 1974, and Stump, 2000)
and the issues of regional contextualisation
(Colchester, 1996; Barton, 2001). The critical
awareness of these issues, enabling the
scaling of studies to wider contexts, may enable
another step forward in socioenvironmental
understanding.
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... The area is typified by prolonged drought, monomodal rainfall pattern, high sunshine intensity with temperatures often exceeding 45 °C, commonly manifested as part of guinea savannah and Sahel savannah local prevailing conditions UNESCO 2006). The regions in NG are popular for its unique savannah grasslands that stretch far and wide with baobab trees standing strong atop the grasslands (Campbell, 2005). In this review, the potential ecotourism sites and the resources within them by specific references to sacred groves and their locations in NG, suitably positioned for promotion of ecotourism value chains were tracked and discussed (Oduro & Okae-Kissiedu, 2006;Amoako-Atta, 1998, Tiimub et al., 2000. ...
... They sought to grow non-native crops, which often destroyed the ecology of the local region and necessitated the use of fertilizers. Ghana's vast forests were harvested for whole timber export without much value addition under sustainable yields concept (Campbell, 2005). Perceivably, the Church Missionaries tried to replace the worship of multiple gods that were manifest in natural phenomena like trees and streams within sacred groves with the worship of a True Messianic Christian God in their newly discovered environments (Anane, 1997). ...
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... But whether the "sacred" status and associated human behavior restrictions (e.g., taboos) are the cause or effect of a landscape's biodiversity remain a matter of debate (Bhagwat and Rutte, 2006;Gaoue et al., 2017;Zannini et al., 2021). Studies have investigated the conservation implications of sacred landscapes from various socio-religious contexts and geographic regions, including in Europe (Frascaroli, 2013;Frascaroli et al., 2016), East Africa (Metcalfe et al., 2010;Mgumia and Oba, 2003), West Africa (Campbell, 2005), the Middle East (Dafni, 2006), South Asia (Mohanty et al., 2012;Ragupathy et al., 2008;Singh et al., 2019), and East Asia (Geng et al., 2017;Hakkenberg, 2008;Liu, 2017;Ren and Yan, 2019). The sacred landscapes and traditional practices of diverse Tibeto-Burman people groups living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and its foothills are increasingly attracting attention from this particular field of scholarship (Geng et al., 2017;Hakkenberg, 2008;Liu, 2017;Luo et al., 2009;Salick et al., 2007;. ...
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... They can be viewed as forming a shadow network of unofficial PAs which conserves biodiversity, provides ecosystem services, and potentially strengthens the "official" protected network (Avtzis et al., 2018;Dudley et al., 2009;Frascaroli et al., 2019;Zannini et al., 2021). SNS are often found in association with ancient forest remnants (see e.g., Cardelús et al., 2013;Shakeri et al., 2021) and have been shown to locally halt or reduce deforestation (Campbell, 2004(Campbell, , 2005. However, large-scale studies accounting for both the effects of PAs and SNS in controlling forest area changes are currently lacking. ...
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... The Bible has references to more than 36 trees (Coder, 2011;Evans, 2014) Islam, similar to Christianity, is another religion that believes in a single God and considers Nature to be opposite to God. There were many incidences in history where sacred groves were not protected by the Muslims (Campbell, 2005;Dafni, 2006). Many scholars also preached that trees can never be sacred (Dafni, 2011). ...
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Chapter
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Sacred natural sites (SNS) have gained recognition from conservationists, and are regarded as the oldest form of habitat protection in human history. Many case studies and literature reviews have been published on the subject. However, an updated and global-level synthesis on the effect of SNS on biodiversity conservation is still lacking. Here, we provide the first systematic review on SNS and biodiversity conservation, aiming to evaluate the effect of SNS across different: (i) continents; (ii) taxa; (iii) metrics. We checked 2750 papers and by applying inclusion criteria we selected 27 relevant papers. From these, we extracted descriptive data and 131 comparisons between SNS and Reference Sites. We applied vote-counting, multinomial and binomial post-hoc tests to the 131 comparisons. We found strong evidence that SNS have a positive effect on biodiversity, but also strong geographical and taxonomical biases, with most research focusing on Asia and Africa and on plants. We found that SNS have mainly positive effects on taxonomical diversity, vegetation structure and cultural uses of biodiversity. Our results strongly support the view that SNS have positive effects on biodiversity across continents and geographical settings, as found in a number of local studies and earlier overviews. These effects should be given official recognition in appropriate conservation frameworks, together with the specific forms of governance and management that characterize SNS. At the same time, further efforts are also required to fill the geographical and taxonomical gaps here highlighted, and to advancing our knowledge of SNS through more systematic research.
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This Bulletin attempts to link two sets of pressing contemporary concerns. On the one hand, it addresses changing relationships between science, policy and society in the context of internationalisation and public challenges to formal expertise; concerns currently under hot debate in European settings as much as in developing countries. On the other hand, it engages with issues around rural landscape and livelihoods in low‑income countries, particularly in West Africa and the Caribbean. Tropical forests provide a linking focus, strongly implicated as they are both in local livelihoods and struggles for resource control, and in scientific and policy debates extending from local settings to highly charged global arenas – not least in the lead-up to the ‘Rio Plus 10’ Conference on Environment and Development in Johannesburg, 2002. The Bulletin reviews important advances in the science of forest dynamics, which in turn suggest ways that forest policies could become more ‘pro-poor’. At the same time, it analyses the science/policy processes and power/knowledge relations, which must be addressed if such changes are to come about. We hope that this Bulletin will be of interest not only to researchers, policy-makers and practitioners working in the forestry, environment and development fields, but also to those interested in science and policy more broadly, illustrating how issues often examined in ‘northern’, hi-tech industrial settings, could work out in very different contexts in the ‘south’.