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Sacred Forests of India: A Strong Tradition Of Community-Based Natural Resource Management


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Sacred forests represent an important long-held tradition of conserving specific land areas that have cultural, and often religious, significance. India, with its diversity of cultures and traditions, has over 100 000 sacred forests. Many of these groves are forest fragments in agricultural landscapes. In most cases, community members are at least aware of these fragments, if not actively involved in their protection and management. This review focuses on the Western Ghats in southern India and Meghalaya state in northeastern India, both international biodiversity hotspots. In addition to the cultural significance of sacred forests, a number of studies have suggested that they are important refuges for conservation of biological diversity, including medicinal plants, within highly anthropogenic landscapes. Whilst sacred groves have been successful conservation areas, current threats to these forests are numerous, ranging from pressures for use of timber and other forest products to clearing for agriculture or general changes in cultural traditions. A variety of arrangements exist for ownership and management of sacred forests, making it necessary to identify solutions on a case-by-case basis. Support for the continued practice of the tradition of sacred forest protection is needed in order to provide a culturally sensitive model for community-based natural resource management.
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Environmental Conservation 37 (3): 320–326 C
Foundation for Environmental Conservation 2010 doi:10.1017/S0376892910000561
Community-based natural
resource management
(CBNRM): designing the
next generation (Part 2)
Sacred forests of India: a strong tradition of
community-based natural resource management
1Department of Environmental Studies, Eckerd College, 4200 54th Avenue S, St Petersburg, FL 33711, USA, and
2School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
Date submitted: 13 August 2009; Date accepted: 21 April 2010; First published online:
12 August 2010
Sacred forests represent an important long-held
tradition of conserving specific land areas that have
cultural, and often religious, significance. India, with
its diversity of cultures and traditions, has over 100 000
sacred forests. Many of these groves are forest
fragments in agricultural landscapes. In most cases,
community members are at least aware of these
fragments, if not actively involved in their protection
and management. This review focuses on the Western
Ghats in southern India and Meghalaya state in north-
eastern India, both international biodiversity hotspots.
In addition to the cultural significance of sacred
forests, a number of studies have suggested that they
are important refuges for conservation of biological
diversity, including medicinal plants, within highly
anthropogenic landscapes. Whilst sacred groves have
been successful conservation areas, current threats to
these forests are numerous, ranging from pressures for
use of timber and other forest products to clearing for
agriculture or general changes in cultural traditions.
A variety of arrangements exist for ownership and
management of sacred forests, making it necessary to
identify solutions on a case-by-case basis. Support for
the continued practice of the tradition of sacred forest
protection is needed in order to provide a culturally
sensitive model for community-based natural resource
Keywords: community-based conservation, customary
conservation, ecosystem services, protected areas, sacred
groves, traditional conservation practices
Sacred forests around the world represent a traditional form
of community-based conservation. Sacred forests, also some-
times referred to as sacred groves, are sites that have cultural
or spiritual significance to the people who live around them.
There is a wide variation in the size of sacred forests. Some
of them are small fragments of forest less than one hectare,
and others are more extensive, spanning several hundred
Correspondence: Dr Alison Ormsby Tel: +1 727 864 8379 Fax:
+1 727 864 7967 e-mail:
hectares (Ntiamoa-Baidu 1995; Malhotra et al. 2007). Sacred
forests have been protected around the world for a variety
of reasons, including for religious practices or ceremonies,
as burial grounds and for their watershed value (Lebbie &
Freudenberger 1996; Chandran & Hughes 1997; Greene 2002;
Blench 2004; Malhotra et al. 2007). These areas are known
to provide ecosystem services, such as erosion control and
maintenance of high water quality (Tiwari et al. 1998).
India has the highest concentration of sacred forests in the
world. Estimates suggest that there might be between 100 000
and 150 000 sacred forests around the country (Malhotra
et al. 2007). These community-protected forests are often
associated with or believed to house a god or gods, and
are typically named after deities (Chandrakanth et al. 2004).
Globally, sacred forests often have associated myths and
taboos on the use of specific plants and hunting of certain
species of animals within the area. These traditions can
serve a conservation role because some of the sacred forest
fragments represent the sole remaining forests and the last
remaining locations with potential for conservation of flora
and fauna. For example, church forests in Ethiopia protect
some of the last remaining fragments of tropical afromontane
forests (Aerts et al. 2006), while sacred forests on the south-
east coast of India are the only remnants of dry evergreen
forest habitat (Ramanujam & Kadamban 2001; Ramanujam &
Praveen Kumar Cyril 2003; Mani & Parthasarathy 2005).
One region in India, the Western Ghats (Fig. 1), not
only has a very high number of sacred forests (Kushalappa
& Bhagwat 2001), it is also recognized globally as a
‘biodiversity hotspot,’ meaning that it simultaneously has a
high concentration of unique species and is under extreme
resource use pressure (Myers et al. 2000). The Kodagu district
of the Western Ghats alone contains over 1200 sacred groves
(Boraiah et al. 2003). Yet, in the Western Ghats region, it
is estimated that only 7% of the original vegetation now
remains (Myers et al. 2000). Although sacred forests are often
small fragments, they may be the only remaining reservoirs
of biological diversity outside protected areas (PAs). They
may also represent important traditions that are being lost as
new generations do not continue oral histories and cultural
practices. In addition, sacred forests conserve habitats that
are not represented within the current PA system (Bhagwat
& Rutte 2006) and may serve as refugia for endemic species
(Jamir & Pandey 2003). These are reported to be relict forests
and may be the only remaining climax vegetation of an area,
Sacred forests of India 321
Figure 1 Map of India, showing the location of the Western Ghats.
although many are now disturbed as a result of human actions
(Khiewtam & Ramakrishnan 1989; Tiwari et al. 1998).
Globally, conservation biologists and resource managers
are starting to take note of sacred forests as potential
storehouses of biodiversity (for example Castro 1990; Lebbie
& Freudenberger 1996; Ramakrishnan 2003; Bhagwat & Rutte
2006; Sheridan & Nyamweru 2007). For example, many
threatened plants in Meghalaya, a state in north-eastern India,
are known to be confined to sacred forests which are remnants
of climax vegetation (Khan et al. 1997). Yet these sites typically
have no legal protection; they are managed and protected by
local residents. For instance, in the Western Ghats of India,
there is confusion over the ownership of sacred forests with
a history of three separate government departments claiming
their ownership (Garcia & Pascal 2006).
This paper provides a review of sacred forests as a form of
community-based natural resource management (CBNRM),
with a particular focus on the sacred forests of India. We give
specific attention to the Western Ghats region of southern
India and Meghalaya state in north-eastern India. Both
these regions have a high concentration of sacred forests,
and have also been identified as key areas for biodiversity
conservation owing to their high species diversity and high
levels of endemism (Khan et al. 1997). Based on an extensive
review of published studies on sacred forests, we suggest
that these forests can serve a valuable function in protection
of both biological and cultural resources whilst providing a
tangible model for CBNRM. A large number of studies on
sacred forests have been published over the last decade; by
synthesizing the research to date on the sacred forests of India,
this review aims to help the conservation community and
policy-makers to (1) acknowledge the value of sacred forests
and (2) consider the needs for future study and action to avoid
the loss of these important community-conserved areas.
Recently, the international conservation community has taken
interest in both the conservation value of sacred forests (see for
example Wild & McLeod 2008; and the International Union
for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Commission
on Protected Areas (WCPA) Specialist Group on Cultural
and Spiritual Values URL and the
historical and future roles of communities in the conservation
of sacred forests (for example Berkes 2009). The potential role
of faith communities in conservation is also receiving attention
(for example Dudley et al. 2009).
Sacred forests across the world are conserved primarily for
spiritual reasons. Harming the forest is forbidden by tradition
and it is typically believed that any alteration of the forest, such
as cutting wood for construction or firewood, hunting animals
or other forms of resource extraction, will result in negative
consequences to the person taking the resources (Gadgil &
Vartak 1976; Chandrakanth et al. 1990; Barre et al. 2009).
According to Chandrakanth et al. (2004, p. 105), resource ex-
traction from a sacred forest in India was perceived as a serious
offence and ‘traditional people believed that the punishment
for such crimes would be to be reborn as urchins for thousands
of years’. At Mawphlang sacred grove in Meghalaya, several
residents recalled events when outsiders tried to harvest
trees from the sacred grove but then fell ill (A. A. Ormsby,
unpublished data). Thus, belief in the negative consequences
of actions that harm sacred groves serves as a method of
maintaining the grove and keeping it intact and preserved.
CBNRM has been suggested as a way to ensure that
conservation projects are effective (Western et al. 1994).
Subsequently, CBNRM has been criticized for not truly
and authentically involving communities, or by still having
expatriate control of projects (for example see Leach
et al. 1999). The participation continuum developed by
Pretty et al. (1995) offers a useful method of measuring
how authentically communities are involved in a project,
ranging from manipulative participation to self-mobilization.
Applying the model of sacred forests in India to this
continuum, it is evident that these are a true example
of self-initiated community participation. As Berkes (2004,
p. 625) pointed out, ‘If local common property institutions
are consistent with conservation objectives, as in the case of
traditional sacred areas, that is an ideal situation’.
It is believed that the sacred grove conservation tradition
in India began around the same time as the start of settled
322 A.A. Ormsby and S.A. Bhagwat
Table 1 Examples of terminology for sacred forests in different regions of India.
Location Name for sacred groves Reference
Bihar Sarnas Chandrashekara and Sankar (1998)
Himachal Pradesh Dev van Khumbongmayum et al. (2004)
Karnataka Devarakadu Kalam (1996); Chandran and Hughes (1997);
Chandrashekara and Sankar (1998);
Chandrakanth et al. (2004)
Kerala Kavu Chandran and Hughes (1997);
Chandrashekara and Sankar (1998)
Madhya Pradesh Dev van Chandrashekara and Sankar (1998)
Maharashtra Devrai, Devrahati or Dev van Chandrashekara and Sankar (1998); Chandran
(1998); Khumbongmayum et al. (2004)
Manipur Lai Umang Khumbongmayum et al. (2004)
Meghalaya Khasi terms are Law Kyntang or Law Lyngdoh.
Jaintia terms are Khlaw U Blei or Khloo
Blai. Garo term is Asong Khosi.
Jamir et al. (2006); B. K.Tiwari (personal
communication 2009)
Rajasthan Oran Chandrashekara and Sankar (1998)
Tamil Nadu and Kerala Sarpa Kavu or Kavu Chandrashekara and Sankar (1998)
Uttara Kannada (northern Karnataka) Kans Chandran and Hughes (1997); Gokhale (2004)
agriculture (Hughes & Chandran 1998). The motivation
behind keeping patches of forest may have been the ecological
services that such patches provide. These include soil
conservation, maintaining watersheds and provision of forest
products. The communities may have protected groves in
honour of pagan gods, animistic deities or ancestral spirits
(Kosambi 1962). In India, many of these original gods, deities
and spirits underwent transformation over the years into
mainstream gods and goddesses, although the tradition of
conserving patches of forest has been maintained until today
(Chandrakanth et al. 2004). Traditional forest conservation
practices are seen in current society in various forms. For
example in Udaipur district (Rajasthan, north-west India),
the sprinkling of saffron water around a piece of land is a
common practice (Gandhi 1997). The attempts of the local
forest department to conserve an area of forest at a site
near Udaipur were largely unsuccessful because of persistent
transgressions by local people. Frustrated, the forest officers
decided to sprinkle saffron water around the site, in accordance
with the local tradition. This was greeted with enthusiasm
by the local people and, since then, they have respected the
boundaries of the conservation area (Gandhi 1997).
Today, there are a variety of arrangements for sacred
forest ownership and management. Chandrashekara and
Sankar (1998) noted that management of sacred groves in
Kerala (India), was undertaken by individual families, groups
of families or statutory agencies for temple management.
Chandrakanth et al. (2004) studied sacred groves in
Kodagu (India) and noted two types of management
systems, either family-owned or community-managed.
Tiwari et al. (1998) observed that the sacred groves in
Meghalaya (India) were managed by a committee from
the community which was chaired by a community priest
who performed the ceremonies associated with the forest.
The local names for sacred forests vary by region in India
(Table 1).
As a result of the long-term conservation of forest patches by
communities who consider them to be sacred, relict patches
of once extensive forest have been preserved (Gadgil &
Vartak 1976). Sacred forests have consistently been found
to have higher species diversity than surrounding areas and,
in some cases, even more than government-protected areas in
similar regions. Sacred forests also contain a high diversity of
medicinally important plants. In a study of five sacred groves
in Kodagu (Karnataka,India), Boraiah et al. (2003) found that
60% of the regenerating species (136 of 241 species) were
medicinally important.
Sacred forests cover a wide variety of habitats and protect
many species in landscapes outside PAs (Bhagwat & Rutte
2006). For example, sacred forests in coastal parts of Karnataka
(India) protect swamps inhabited by a species of nutmeg,
Myristica fatua. Surveys suggest that this species is exclusively
found in coastal swamps and is outside the boundaries of PAs
in the region, all of which cover mountain habitat (Chandran
& Mesta 2001). In addition, the species Myristica magnifica
and Pinanga dicksoni are now mainly confined to a Myristica
swamp in a sacred grove (kan) of Uttara Kannada in northern
Karnataka (Chandran 1998). In southern Karnataka, in the
Kodagu district of the Western Ghats, sacred forests were
found to protect threatened tree species such as Actinodaphne
lawsonii,Hopea ponga,Madhuca neriifolia and Syzygium
zeylanicum, which are not found within PAs (Bhagwat et al.
Ecological theory states that patches of forest that are
fragmented lose species and have low biodiversity, suggesting
that such patches have limited value for biodiversity
conservation (Hill & Curran 2001). However, a network
of patches is known to support higher biodiversity than a
single patch alone (Tabarelli & Gascon 2005). Furthermore,
if the patches are connected by corridors, they can potentially
Sacred forests of India 323
support an even higher number of species (Wadley & Colfer
2004). In the Kodagu district in the southern part of Karnataka
state, more than 1200 sacred forests form an informal network
of reserves with one forest grove for every 300 hectares
of land (Bhagwat et al. 2005b). Interspersed between these
patches are coffee plantations which support trees kept in
plantations for shade. The conservation of sacred groves is
integrated within the surrounding landscape matrix because
the presence of trees in coffee agroforestry in Kodagu has
been helpful in protecting forest-dwelling biodiversity within
groves. The tree-covered nature of the landscape matrix
means that ecological boundaries between the patches and
surrounding plantations are indistinct and thus the patches
are not as fragmented (Bhagwat et al. 2005b). Protection and
active management of trees (for example, replanting of native
species when old shade trees die out) requires support from
local communities, particularly coffee planters. Whilst the
local communities respect the ‘spiritual fence’ around sacred
forests, it is necessary that they also realize the importance
of keeping native trees in their own plantations near sacred
forests, rather than replacing native trees with fast-growing
exotics such as Grevillea robusta (Garcia et al. 2010).
Many sacred forests in India have been studied, primarily
to measure their species richness, with a general focus on
plant species. Jamir and Pandey (2003) measured plant species
diversity of three sacred forests in Meghalaya and found a
total of 395 species, 14% of which were endemic. Tiwari et al.
(1998) studied 79 sacred forests in Meghalaya, ranging from
0.01 to 900 hectares in size, and found that the species diversity
was much higher than in disturbed forests. Upadhaya et al.
(2003) studied two sacred forests in Meghalaya and found that
the groves had high species richness and represented high
diversity forest. Khan et al. (1997) surveyed the botanical
literature for Meghalaya and realized that 4% of species (133
species) were found only in sacred groves. They advocate for
systematic botanical surveys, predicting that this would lead
to the discovery of new species, as well as an inventory of the
number, size and distribution of sacred groves. In addition,
Khan et al. (1997) recommend that sacred groves should be
included within the legal PA network.
Also in the north-east of India, the sacred groves of Manipur
have been found to contain abundant medicinal plants
(Khumbongmayum et al. 2005a, 2006). Khumbongmayum
et al. (2004, 2005b) inventoried 166 sacred groves in Manipur,
ranging in size from a few trees to 40 hectares, and identified
a number of species of sacred plants that were found within
forest groves. Most groves, as in other areas of India, did not
have demarcated boundaries. Dash (2005) and Arora (2006)
studied the Kabi sacred grove in North Sikkim. This grove,
measuring 3 km2, was found to have 241 species of plants
(Dash 2005). Dash (2005), however, observed that the size
of the grove was decreasing due to anthropogenic pressures
and recommended that the state government collaborate with
the local community to strengthen the management of the
grove. Conversely, Arora (2006) noted that the groves rely on
socioreligious fencing for their continued conservation, which
is rejuvenated by regular rituals that are required to maintain
the practices of social fencing. Therefore, a combination of
approaches may be necessary to maintain the integrity of
sacred groves.
There are several key threats that have led to the reduction
in size or lack of protection of sacred forests in India
(Chandrakanth et al. 2004; Khan et al. 2008; Wild & McLeod
2008). Historic forest policy in many cases took away local
rights to the forests (Gokhale 2004) and in some cases gave
forest concessions to companies. In many cases, the process of
the Indian Government nationalizing forests has taken away
community land rights to sacred forests (Chandrakanth et al.
There is a great demand to use the natural resources
within the sacred forests. Coffee from the Kodagu area is a
major export from the state of Karnataka. There has been
encroachment on numerous sacred groves to grow coffee
(Chandrakanth et al. 2004). Furthermore, the legal ownership
of many sacred groves is also uncertain (Chandrakanth et al.
2004). In Kodagu, for example, the sacred groves are owned
by the forest department and managed by village temple
committees. However, historically, ownership of sacred
groves has been ambiguous, with forest department and
revenue department being entrusted with management at
different periods. As a result, management has not been
consistent and this has led to confusion about the groves’ status
among local stakeholders. Chandrakanth et al. (2004) argued
that sacred groves should not be allowed to be classified as
State Reserve Forests. This would take management control
away from community members. Furthermore, people are
not motivated to conserve land that does not belong to them
(Hardin 1968); government ownership can cause alienation of
local people from their groves.
Cultural change over time has led to weakening of sacred
forest protection and traditions. Sacred forests in the Kodagu
region of South India are disappearing due to commercial
agriculture, changing beliefs and weak property rights systems
(Chandrakanth et al. 2004). Younger generations are losing
interest in the sacred grove traditions. Agricultural labourers
and timber harvesters from outside the region do not share
local beliefs. Changes in religious traditions and belief systems
have also led to a weakening of the protection and conservation
of sacred forests. In some cases, Hinduism has subsumed the
sacred forests that were established for older folk deities,
yet the groves are still maintained while Hindu gods are
worshipped. This may involve Hindu temples being built
within the sacred forests (Bhagwat & Rutte 2006). The
removal or use of wood from the forests for religious purposes
is allowed (Kalam 1996; Tiwari et al. 1998). According to
Chandran and Hughes (1997, p. 416), ‘In Uttara Kannada,
324 A.A. Ormsby and S.A. Bhagwat
the deities of the groves were not, and in many cases still
are not, the characteristic gods of Hindu devotion such
as Shiva, Vishnu, Parvati, Lakshmi, Ganapati, etc., but
pre-Brahmin deities, mostly indistinct beings that may be
represented aniconically’. Furthermore, ‘The local deities to
whom the sacred groves were dedicated have been in many
cases identified with, or absorbed into, the great gods of the
pantheon...’ (Chandran & Hughes 1997, p. 420). Chandran
and Hughes (1997) further contended that ‘These have often
resulted in the erection of temple buildings and the diminution
of the groves. There is also a tendency to relax the rules
protecting the groves as the center of ritual moves away
from the trees and toward the temple building’ (p. 420).
Sanskritization,a term used to refer to the replacement of local
folk deities with Hindu deities in sacred forests, often results
in temples being built within forests (Bhagwat & Rutte 2006).
Changes in the society’s structure and composition, as
well as economic status and religious values, pose another
challenge. In Meghalaya, tribal religion and culture has been
replaced by Christianity. Tiwari et al. (1998) interviewed
residents near 79 sacred groves, and 95% of respondents
attributed degradation of the grove to this change in religious
beliefs. In Kodagu, increasing urbanization has caused
dilution of religious and cultural values, often leading to
desecration of sacred groves (Kalam 1996). In some cases,
the neighbouring landowners have encroached upon groves
to expand their plantations. Urbanization has also led to
movement of rural dwellers to cities. At the same time,
immigrant plantation workers have settled in the district as
permanent residents. The immigrants often do not share
the same cultural and spiritual values that local people have
concerning sacred groves. In some cases, this has led to
further desecration of sacred groves owing to forest clearance
for immigrant settlements (Bon 2000). Whilst it may not be
possible to reverse the immigration pattern, it may be possible
to establish certain safeguards against desecration of sacred
groves. This is where the local communities and government
representatives need to operate together.
Although currently under threat, sacred forests represent a
strong tradition of CBNRM that has existed for hundreds
of years. There is no one answer for a specific approach
to sacred forest management globally due to the challenges
posed by a wide variety of land rights and management
systems. These include family-owned and managed forests,
community-owned and/or managed forests, as well as those
owned and/or managed by the government, meaning that ‘one
size fits all’ management solutions are unlikely to succeed.
Government and international conservation policy should
support traditional institutions of sacred forest management,
whether at the family, community or even regional level.
Given that each sacred site has its own history of protection
and formation, the form that this support should take is
unclear. However, what is clear is that one general policy, such
as designating sacred forests as formal government-managed
protected areas, will not work for all sacred forests. As Dudley
et al. (2009, p. 568) noted, ‘Bringing a sacred natural site into
a national protected-area system can increase protection for
the site, but may compromise some of its spiritual values or
even its conservation values’.
In some cases, outside support for sacred forest
conservation is needed. For example, in the case of the
sacred groves of Meghalaya, Tiwari et al. (1998) called for
external intervention. There are cases in other countries
where such external intervention has been successful. For
instance, at Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary, a sacred forest in
Ghana, community members elicited the support of an Accra-
based non-governmental organization to develop ecotourism
to the site and support sacred grove conservation traditions
(Ormsby & Edelman 2010). When the sacred monkeys at the
Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary (Ghana) were threatened
by religious leaders who supported monkey hunting to
undermine traditional belief systems, the community asked for
government support for a hunting ban, which was successful
(Fargey 1992; Saj et al. 2006; Ormsby 2011).
In order to counter the current threats posed to sacred
forests due to religious and cultural changes as well as by
natural resource pressures, a renewal of community traditions
is needed. Local residents must continue to be involved in
forest management (Bhagwat et al. 2005a). This may come
through revival of past ceremonies related to a grove, or
through awareness campaigns and education programmes
highlighting the ecological and spiritual benefits of the forests
(Chandrashekara & Sankar 1998). The community tradition
of protecting sacred forests provides an example of a way to
achieve landscape-level conservation that is implemented and
maintained at a local level.
For effective conservation of sacred forests, it is important
to consider and respect community values behind such
conservation. This approach to conservation is very different
to that of maintaining formal PA networks. Whilst formal
protection is bound by legal framework, informal conservation
traditions are governed by customs and taboos (Colding &
Folke 2001; Barre et al. 2009). An approach that is sensitive to
local peoples’ traditions, such as sacred forest conservation, is
likely to work better than an approach that alienates local
people. Recognizing and incorporating such traditions is
important for successful conservation programmes.
Sacred forests present an alternative view of conservation
that is led by norms and taboos rather than formal legal
frameworks. They protect a wide variety of habitats and hold
considerable potential for biodiversity conservation. Such
sites offer protection to habitats and species that are excluded
from formal PAs, and this approach to conservation has greater
acceptance among local people. However, sacred forests face
a number of challenges that need to be addressed. Greater
sensitivity towards these conservation traditions is necessary.
Sacred forests of India 325
For effective conservation management of sacred forests, their
importance must be established in international fora in order
to attract conservation funding. Sacred forests are not just
cultural monuments, they are conservation areas that can
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... Sacred forests are cultural landscapes that are protected primarily because of their cultural values, religious functions, traditional importance and symbolic identity (Irakiza et al., 2016;Ormsby & Bhagwat, 2010). About 15% of global forestlands have sacred connotations (Alliance of religion and conservation, 2011). ...
The need to recognise plural values and integrate these into policy design has long been of interest in nature conservation. However, we also need to understand whether and how different values are prioritised among diverse stakeholders. This is particularly important when indigenous and traditional cultures play a role in how land is managed and protected. Working in the sacred forests of Nigeria, we applied the principles of biocultural conservation and sociocultural valuation to understand the values that underpin people's relationship with nature and with other users of nature. We operationalised this by employing participatory workshop methods to identify multiple values of sacred forests, and conjoint analysis to elicit local people's value priorities and preferences for conserving sacred forests. We identified multiple values attributed to sacred forests, but the strongest preferences were for improved provision of medicinal values. However, preference heterogeneity analysis showed that sacred forests are valued differently among clusters of people with distinct sociodemographic profiles. Our findings also showed that the current management strategy for the conservation of sacred forests is inadequate to galvanise shared and collective responsibility from diverse stakeholders. Using a value-based approach, more robust management strategies that will yield high utility to the public were determined and recommended for implementation. Policy implications. Overall, our study demonstrates that sacred forests are valued in multiple ways above and beyond their role in a cultural belief system. New strategies are therefore needed to effectively manage and conserve them. We recommend a plural approach to the conservation of sacred forests that will incorporate multiple values. This can be achieved by integrating biocultural conservation and sociocultural valuation.
... Traditional examples of culturally sensitive community-based natural resource management include sacred groves, which are small patches of forests devoted to gods and ancestral spirits 29 . Sacred groves have cultural and spiritual significance for the indigenous communities that care for them, exhibit rich biodiversity, and provide ecosystem services to the local communities that have protected them over the centuries throughout the world. ...
... Small patches of forests known as Sacred groves are classic examples of community-based, culturally sensitive management of natural resources (Ormsby and Bhagwat 2010;Rath and Ormsby 2020). The Western Ghats' biodiversity-rich regions are recognised for the presence of many sacred forests (Bhagwat et al. 2005b;Chandrakanth et al. 2004;Chandrakanth and Nagaraja 1997;Chandran and Hughes 1997;Chandrashekhara and Sankar 1998;Kalam 1996;Kushalappa and Bhagwat 2001;Ormsby and Ismail 2015;Ormsby 2013). ...
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The chapter deals with Evolution of the Western Ghats, its biodiversity, ecosystem services, conservation actions etc. Different conservation actions which are required for Western ghats mountain system explained in detail. The chapter is much needed to researchers to understand the geographical importance and restore ecosystems as per the mandate of UN declaration of this decade(2021-2030) on Ecosystem Restoration.
... Sacred groves have great importance for their spiritual values along with the rich biodiversity they harbour [3]. These traditions can play an important role in conservation because some of the sacred forest fragments represent the sole remaining forests and the last remaining locations with potential for conservation of flora and fauna [4]. For thousands of years, sacred groves have supported local biodiversity and served an ecological purpose. ...
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India has an ancient tradition of conserving nature. Sacred groves are the patches of forests dedicated to a local deity. Sacred groves play an important role of supporting local biodiversity along with the cultural togetherness of local people. Sacred groves are threatened due to number of anthropogenic activities and lack of conservation priority. There are hardly any faunal studies done for sacred groves in Pune District. Faunal studies can provide baseline data for conservation planning. Present study attempts to record and analyze faunal elements such as birds, mammals, butterflies and frogs from sacred groves situated in different geographical settings of Pune District. Field visits to ten sacred grove sites from Pune District and semi-structured interviews with local people were conducted for data collection. Every sacred grove is a distinct ecosystem that exhibits a unique biodiversity profile. Sacred groves are rich in faunal diversity. A number of endemic and IUCN red listed faunal species were recorded from all of the sacred grove sites under this study. Due to their crucial function in maintaining both cultural and environmental well-being, sacred groves need to be protected.
... ing where local communities are predominantly inhabiting that area and they might play a crucial role in the conservation of this threatened species. In this context, community-level efforts in the form of long-held tradition of conserving specific land areas that have cultural as well as religious significance are in vogue (Wadley and Colfer 2004;Ormsby and Bhagwat. 2010). Furthermore, nature-culture relationships have been emphasized to promote traditional ecological knowledge as well as indigenous well-being for the preservation of biocultural diversity (Phatthanaphraiwan et al. 2022). ...
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Elucidating the relative importance of landscape composition including habitat structure, landscape features, and environmental factors can help prioritize management action for developing effective conservation measures. The present study aims to investigate the habitat characteristics, relative influence of key habitat environmental factors on the abundance of Gymnosphaera gigantea and to propose suitable habitats for conservation implications in the study area. Statistical modelling, habitat suitability analyses, and micro-level land use planning were done through the generalized linear models (GLMs), geostatistic interpolation based on Entropy Weighted Habitat Index (EWHI) and synthetic indicator (SI), and Strength- Weakness-Opportunity-Threat (SWOT) analysis, respectively, using significant habitat environmental factors derived from principal component analysis (PCA). A total of 57 (28 juvenile and 29 adults) individuals of G. gigantea was recorded from 19 populations with altitude varying from 59–747 m asl. GLMs analysis revealed that the vegetation and water occurrence as well as their combination significantly affects the abundance of G. gigantea. Suitability analysis and micro-level land use planning resulted in two priority areas (priority area I and II) in Tripura having greater potential for future conservation planning and reintroduction of this threatened fern. Overall, considering the fragmented populations and smaller patch size, the conservation of study species will require an integrated landscape as well as local-scale geospatial habitat management strategies to protect the natural populations and enhance the distributional range.
... Colding and Folke (1997;2001) emphasized on the role of the social taboos on conserving sacred forest resources and discussed how they bind the members of society for smooth functioning. Such bans reduced the human impact in terms of harvesting pressures and permitted the complex array of ecological processes to continue uninterruptedly (Berkes, 2008;2012).Thus, sacred sites play a pivotal role in biodiversity conservation and act as a refuge for threatened, endangered and keystone species (Bhagwat and Rutte, 2006), reduces risk of extinction of vulnerable species that may have great potential of diverse uses (Ormsby and Bhagwat, 2010). Moreover, many sacred areas are connected with other natural ecosystems through ecological corridors creating biological connectivity and spatial linkage. ...
This study was conducted in Choyta Kaashsha Sacred Forest in Kucha Woreda, Gamo Zone, Ethiopia to determine floristic composition, plant community types and to identify traditional conservation practices that have maintained the area. Thirty-two (20m X 20m) quadrates were used to collect data. Height and diameter at breast height (DBH ≥2.5cm) of woody species were recorded including altitude, aspect, slop and UTM. In-depth interviews and group discussion were conducted with local people to identify conservation status and threats. Vegetation structure was analyzed using descriptive statistical tools. Vegetation classification was performed using PC-ORD version 5.0. Species diversity and evenness were computedusing Shannon diversity indices. Forty eight woody species belonging to 44 genera and 32 families were recorded. Four community types Euphorbia ampliphylla-Celtis Africana, Podocarpus falcatus-Millettia ferruginea, Ficus thonningiiPodocarpus falcatus and Syzygium guineense- Bersama abyssinica were identified. The total density and basal area of sacred forest are 1314.84 stems/ha and 102.63 m2/ha, respectively. The density of woody species was decreasing with increasing height and DBH classes. The findings revealed the sacred forest has exclusively been conserved for socioreligious purpose in relation with Eeqa - Gaca ritual ceremony. Nevertheless, the long maintained sacred forest is exposed to threat due to anthropogenic pressure. Disrespecting social taboos, Gome, and religious prohibitions, argument on ownership issues are worth mentioning threats. Proper recognition of customary rule of ritual leader and local resource use norm confined with social taboo, Gome, reinforced by contemporary conservation measures were recommended to maintain the sustainability of the sacred forest.
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Amidst anthropogenic pressures, certain forest relics in the urban and rural landscapes have been traditionally protected for centuries as sacred forest groves in the Asian regions, despite lying outside the protected area network. In the current context of climate change and ensuing disasters, these forest groves and similar kind of vegetative landscapes within urban and rural could potentially increase the resilience and buffering capacity of the surrounding environs, besides providing ecosystem services. This study attempted to evaluate 50 Sacred Groves Stands (SGS) and 50 Prosopis juliflora Stands (PJS) comprehensively for the floral diversity, carbon stock and dynamics, carbon-fixing traits, dendrochronology of trees, soil nutrient profiles, and soil erosion - deemed to be regulating ecosystem services. Structural Equation Model (SEM) was applied to derive the photosynthetic efficiency of eight dominant trees species using vital input parameters including eco-physiological, morphological, and biochemical characterization. Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE) model in conjunction with ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS 10.3 was adopted to map soil loss. Among the 8 selected tree species, Wrightia tinctoria (SEM Estimated Coefficient: 1.28) > Prosopis juliflora (1.22) > Acacia nilotica (1.21) > Albizia lebbeck (0.97) > Azadirachta indica (0.74) showed comparatively high carbon sequestering efficacy. SEM revealed species specific carbon sequestering functional traits (stomatal density, nitrogen fixing ability, RuBisCO and chlorophyll content) are evidently attributed to high carbon sequestration potential. Carbon source/sink determinations inferred through Net Ecosystem Productivity (NEP) assessments showed that mature SGS (0.06 ± 0.01 g C/m2/day) potentially acted as carbon sink, while matured PJS (-0.34 ± 0.12 g C/m2/day) as source. Soil erosion rates were significantly greater (29.5 ± 13.4 ton/ha/year) in SGS compared to PJS (7.52 ± 2.55 ton/ha/year).
In India, in the post-1990s, fresh and renewed attention has been given to promoting participatory decentralised governance of natural resources (DGNR). The current paper reviews research on the DGNR in India. The paper observes that DGNR has failed in implementing its several objectives, such as ensuring meaningful and effective local participation, incorporation of local knowledge and conservation of natural resources. The paper goes further to claim failure of DGNR in India is beyond procedural. The reasons for failure are deep-rooted in the conceptual assumption underlying policy design. The paper finds that some of the problematic conceptualisations predominantly resulted from policy designing from an objectivist strandpoint. The paper reviews the available literature on the decentralised governance in India and the state’s decentalised resource governance policies. The current paper claims that the current designing of decentralised governance of natural resources (DGNR) is restrictive in nature and limits effective participation of local community in natural resources governance. As an improvement to the current design, the paper argues for a reflexive understanding of human–nature relation to be incorporated into DGNR designing.
Environmental stewardship is not a contemporary practice but a human obligation, which has been explained through significant poetic works, mythological epics, folklore, and the framework of ecological-spiritual feelings as the duty of humans toward nature for centuries. Ancient sages have exquisitely classified the empirical knowledge of making harmony with life by caring for flora, fauna, and Prakriti (Mother Nature) in their treatises and ethnic methodologies and have preserved the wisdom of moral practices toward maintaining the Earth’s sustainability through the cultural rituals, folktales, songs, poems, festivals, and devotional observances. This work is to identify the classical facts of environmental stewardship and sustainable living and asserts the feasibility of Indigenous techniques as well as their applicability for saving nature in the diversely changing modern era. It also gives an implication of noble approaches of the seers or intellectuals as ecologists through the ideology of reviewing the old concepts. Moreover, it advances an attitude of reverence for nature-oriented cultural reforms, epic endeavors, and narrative endowments.KeywordsCultural reformsEcologyFlora and FaunaPanchagavyaPoetryPrakritiReverenceStewardshipThe CowYajna
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The Western Ghats are globally recognized as a hotspot of rich, endemic, and threatened biodiversity. Within this hotspot of biological diversity, there are islands of natural landscapes that can be termed as ‘hot specks’. These hot specks require careful prioritization and specific management strategies as they vary in objectives and ownership. Conserving hot specks of biodiversity is of great relevance because creating new protected areas with wildlife corridors between them has become relatively impossible in the present context of intensive land-use change in this rapidly developing region. Management strategies, however, must be based on scientific assessment and using a set of prioritization criteria for selecting the most appropriate forms of management. The conservation action plan for the Western Ghats has become a controversial issue based on the findings in the report submitted by the Western Ghats Expert Ecological Panel and the High Level Work Group on Western Ghats. In the present context of rapidly changing land-use patterns, economic development, forest fragmentation, isolation of habitats, linear intrusion, neo-urbanization and industrial growth are threats to the pristine nature of the ghats. Thus, there is an urgent need to identify, prioritize and manage the smaller fragments of biological importance within the larger ecologically sensitive landscape. A prioritization model for different types of hot specks is essential so that it can be easily replicated by training frontline forest staff, community-based organizations, Biodiversity Management Committees, and non-government organizations for implementing a strategy and action plans for the sites by using the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. Support of the local Biodiversity Management Committees and the State Biodiversity Board is essential for the conservation management of these biodiversity-rich sites. This study presents an innovative approach to prioritize areas outside the formally notified boundaries of the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries to assess the conservation value of hot specks of diversity through a rapid biodiversity assessment tool. This can lead to a rational conservation strategy that conservation planners and practitioners can use.
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Traditional systems of forest management have often been ignored or summarily dismissed as forest departments in most states are keen to implement more recent joint forest management (JFM) schemes. This study of two districts located in the Western Ghats in Karnataka reveals that JFM schemes seeking to place degraded lands under plantations have neglected the dependence of the local people on 'kans' - sacred groves - present in both districts. Local people till recently retained management rights over these evergreen tracts. In the interests of conservation and to obtain a sustained revenue from NTFP products, it is necessary for the government to involve the local people in the management of the kans.