Categories Blog, Historical and cultural roots of ICCAs, ICCA on the international level, Resources, World

New guidelines published on cultural and spiritual significance of nature

Among the co-editors of the newest edition of the IUCN Best Practice Guidelines are six Honorary members of the ICCA Consortium

By Dr. Emma Lee (trawlwulwuy woman from tebrakunna country and ICCA Consortium Honorary member)

The cultural and spiritual significance that nature holds to Indigenous peoples, spiritual and religious traditions, and the public can help make protected and conserved areas more diverse, sustainable, and socially equitable. Thus, the release of the IUCN Best Practice Guidelines “Cultural and spiritual significance of nature: Guidance for protected and conserved area governance and management” is an important step forward in how we understand and manage those values.

Six Honorary members of the ICCA Consortium are among the editors on these Guidelines, including Dr. Emma Lee, a trawlwulwuy woman from tebrakunna country, Australia. “It is an exceptional honor to be an Indigenous editor on this series, as there has only been a handful of Indigenous peoples who have previously been invited to participate in Best Practice Guidelines,” says Dr. Lee.

These Guidelines show that protected areas are more than just the things of biodiverse nature: they are the reason for why we have relationships with each other and to the more-than-human connections that guide our cultural and spiritual lives. The Guidelines help the celebration of the cultural and spiritual connections – the love for the place and life that is reciprocal, careful, and sacred – through an emphasis and focus on relationships and governance. Protected and conserved areas cannot be governed and managed without our wisdom, experience, connections, and communities that thrive and center nature as the most important part of relationships between people and place. 

The Guidelines can be downloaded from the IUCN Library.

Dr. Lee says that “We care for the country because we belong to it. The governance framework of good relationships that are built on vitality and contentment in its relationships to nature, since management objectives, begins to make protected areas more equitable to Indigenous and other peoples while celebrating the range of influences that guide their care.”

Far from Indigenous peoples being devalued and discriminated against, an unsettling part of the historical legacy of protected areas, these Guidelines are repairing governance and management harms and centering Indigenous practices as enduring, complex, and desirable characteristics of our protected and conserved areas. Dr. Lee also recognizes the broad range of concepts and values of nature across different cultures: “The focus on Indigenous peoples within the Guidelines and ways of conserving and generating cultural and spiritual values is especially important and far-reaching for IUCN’s and the UN’s future positive directions in protected areas. By being inclusive, respectful, equitable, and welcoming to Indigenous peoples and local communities in the Guidelines, we hope to have demonstrated the immense change in conservation trajectories.” 

The Co-Chair of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA), Bas Verschuuren (Honorary member) explains that the “cultural and spiritual values are conceptualized and mobilized in different ways in the fields of nature conservation and cultural heritage. Applying ‘significance’ as a key concept to the guidelines helps IUCN and its partners, such as ICOMOS and ICCROM, to strengthen nature-culture linkages and cultivate more sustainable and integrated approaches to conservation.” The ICCA Consortium now has another resource to promote appropriate recognition of territories of life through protected and conserved areas.

The Guidelines can be downloaded from the IUCN Library.


Verschuuren B., Mallarach J-M., Bernbaum, E., Spoon J., Brown S., Borde R., Brown J., Calamia M., Mitchell N., Infield M and Lee E. (2021). Cultural and spiritual significance of nature. Guidance for protected and conserved area governance and management. Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No. 32, Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. XVI + 88pp.

Featured image: Graphics from the cover of the original publication.