Friday, August 05, 2011

The World Sacred Forests to be Mapped Out in an Effort to Protect Natural Heritage

The World Sacred Forests to be Mapped Out in an Effort to Protect Natural Heritage

From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published August 1, 2011 07:50 AM
World Sacred Forests Mapped Out

A team of scientists from the University of Oxford are working on a world
map which shows all the land owned or revered by various world religions.
This "holy map" will display all the sacred sites from Jerusalem's Western
Wall, to Masjid al-Haram in Mecca, to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.
Just as interesting, the map will also show the great forests held sacred
by various religions. Within these protected lands dwell a wide variety of
life and high numbers of threatened species.

The sacred land mapped out by the Oxford researchers is not necessarily
owned by a certain religious community, but rather contains sacred
connotations. They estimate that about fifteen percent of all land on Earth
is "sacred land", and eight percent of all land is owned by a religious
community. Much of the land held sacred is forest.

The Oxford researchers are focused on determining this land's value in
terms of biodiversity. They are from the Biodiversity Institute in the
Oxford Martin School. A lot of the sacred forests managed by the local
community, but receive no formal protection. The researchers hope that
their scientific study will help guarantee official protection from
regional and national governments.

Initially, efforts were only made to map out land controlled by the large
mainstream religious groups. Teaming up with the Alliance of Religions and
Conservation (ARC), the Oxford team decided to investigate religious land
controlled by all groups. The new initiative is in effect, as the team has
already planned visits to areas in India, Ghana, Japan, and elsewhere.
The first step in their research is to delineate where the sacred land is
by investigating where boundary lines. The status of the land and its
borders must be known before a biodiversity assessment can take place. The
researchers will also assess the land's value in carbon dioxide absorption,
its abundance of medicinal plants, as well as the value to the local

According to Dr. Kathy Willis, one of the researchers at Osford's
Biodiversity Institute, "One of the key research themes of the Biodiversity
Institute is conservation beyond protected areas. With the help of emerging
technologies, the Biodiversity Institute researchers are developing tools
that can help evidence-based research."

"We urgently need to map this vast network of religious forests, sacred
sites and other community-conserved areas to understand their role in
biodiversity conservation," added Dr. Shonil Bhagwat, also on the research
team. "Such mapping can also allow the custodian communities, who have
protected these sites for generations, to secure their legal status."
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