Cultural and spiritual values of European forests

Our Social and Economic Research Group (SERG) was asked to prepare a data collection protocol, and to analyse and report on ‘Cultural and spiritual values’ for an overall assessment of the State of Europe’s Forests 2011

News from Forest Research: October 2011

Ancient Forester 2. Sculpture by David Kemp 1995 GrizedaleA full report was launched this summer at the FOREST EUROPE Ministerial Conference in Oslo, Norway, which provided a comprehensive, up-to-date description of the status and trends of forests and forest management in Europe as a means to support policy decisions relating to forestry.

Our work focused on recording the cultural and spiritual values of forests, which is one of a number of indicators being investigated through the assessment. A rich diversity of cultural and spiritual values is known to be associated with forests, although many are intangible and difficult to define or quantify. This work recorded the number of sites within forests and other wooded land that are officially recognised for their cultural or spiritual values.

Following an examination of the data and comments provided by each country for previous reports on the State of Europe’s Forests, and after consultation with cultural heritage experts, the categories and definitions previously used for this indicator were modified to reflect important distinctions in types of sites and features.

Four categories were used:

  • Cultural heritage: archaeological or historical sites and features
  • Forested landscapes: areas that manifest the interaction between humans and our natural environment
  • Trees: veteran or champion trees; trees associated with religious and spiritual practices and beliefs
  • Other sites: sites of contemporary cultural and spiritual importance, e.g. venues for cultural performances, ceremonies or gatherings, or installation art.

In total, around one million sites were reported, of which around three-quarters were classed as being ‘Cultural heritage’. There was considerable variation in the figures provided by different countries and the data must be treated with caution. Nevertheless, we argue that inclusion of this indicator is important because it helps to ensure that cultural and spiritual values are recognised in the definition of sustainable forest management, and places a duty on national governments across Europe to establish mechanisms to monitor them alongside the more tangible services that forests provide.

Further information and the report

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This and other news stories can be found in the Autumn 2011 issue of FR News, our online newsletter.