Progress and News


Workshop on “Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in the Governance and Management of Protected and Conserved Areas”

[June 19, 2017]

Spiritual values are of major importance in protected areas, and even though a large proportion of visitors shows special interest in them,they are often neglected when it comes to the identification, assessment and effective ways of adequately integrating them into protected area planning and management. Approaches to the management and governance of protected and conserved areas need to be grounded not only in solid scientific research and practice, but also in deeply held cultural, spiritual and aesthetic values and ideas capable of inspiring conservation of nature and culture. Otherwise, they risk failing to win the broad support of key stakeholders, ranging from Indigenous Peoples and local communities to followers of mainstream religions and members of the general public.

The workshop “Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in the Governance and Management of Protected and Conserved Areas” organised by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA) in collaboration with the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, took place in the International Academy for Nature Conservation on the Isle of Vilm, Germany on the 12th – 16th June 2017. Irini Lyratzaki from MedINA, Secretary of the DELOS Initiative on Sacred Natural Sites in technologically developed countries was invited to participate and contribute to the development of IUCN Best Practice Guidelines (BPG) on Promoting the Cultural and Spiritual Significance of Nature in Protected Area Management and Governance. Josep-Maria Mallarach, joint coordinator of the Delos Initiative, was among the organisers of the meeting. The workshop, which was attended by approx. 25 participants from around the world, was the second one to be organised on the island of Vilm - a nature reserve, - on the same topic. Read more


An International photography contest invites you to photograph sacred natural sites

[July 8, 2016]

The Hiite Maja Foundation, the union of the followers of the Estonian indigenous religion Maavalla koda, and the University of Tartu Centre of Sacred Natural Sites organise the 9th international photography contest on sacred natural sites. The purpose of the contest is to celebrate and promote the cultural and natural heritages of sacred natural sites, to record their current state, and to encourage people to visit and care for the sacred sites.

The theme of the contest is historical, natural (not built) sacred sites: sacred groves and hills, water bodies, trees, stones and other natural objects where Estonian ancestors used to pray, heal, sacrifice, commune and perform other rituals, but images of sacred natural sites taken in other parts of the world are welcome, too.

The contest’s grand prize is 1,000 euros. There is also a youth prize of 200 euros for contestants up to, and including the age of 16, as well as a special ‘Ural Peoples’ prize of 300 euros. A number of thematic prizes will be handed out in the following categories: grove, sacred tree, stone, water body, offering, pain of the sacred grove, story, nature conservation and more.

You may submit your photos by 31 October 2016 to Winners will be honoured at an award ceremony in Tartu, Estonia, at the end of 2016.

The contest is sponsored by the Kindred Peoples Programme, the Estonian Folklore Archives, Wiedemanni Translation Bureau and many other organisations and enterprises. More information can be found here:

Photo: 2015 winner photo, the Oak of Tamme-Lauri in Urvaste, by Martin Mark.


Saami lands grabbed by Finish government: concern and potential implications

[April7, 2016]

On March 21, 2016 the Saami Council in Lapland, Finland circulated an appeal to those concerned,about the intention of the Finnish government to seize total control of Saamiindigenous, key old growth forests for economic uses.With the threat of global warming and rapid climate change in the Arctic it is imperative that these northern ecosystems are preserved in pristine condition.

Both the environment, that is over 5.4 million acres of water systems and almost 900,000 acres of unique Europe pristine forests, as well as the traditional knowledge and spirituality of the Saami people are under direct threat by a wide range of economic activities including fishing, logging, and mining on state-managed waters and lands. Despite the fact that 130,000 people have petitioned the parliament to stop this Forestry Act in its current form, and numerous international organisations have supported this position, the Act passed on 30 March 2016 in the Finnish parliament.

Dr Tero Mustonen, a passionate defender of traditional worldview and cosmology of his people from the Snowchange Cooperative, and one of the Lead Authors of the governmental Arctic Biodiversity Assessment (ABA) of the Arctic Council, quotes the report on Indigenous knowledge: “Arctic peoples have thrived in a harsh environment for millennia, in no small part because they have acquired a great depth of knowledge about the land and waters of their homelands and the species that live there, which provide food, clothing and meaning to Arctic cultures. This traditional ecological knowledge is increasingly recognized as an important source of information for, among other things, understanding Arctic biodiversity and developing effective strategies to conserve that biodiversity, including indigenous ways of life.”

The Sami Council is now planning their next steps and seeks ways to try to stop the so called largest land grab in recent Europe’s history.


Pope Francis urges action on climate change

[19 June 2015]

Pope Francis, the leader to more than 1 billion Catholics around the world, with an historical encyclical, the first of its kind dedicated to the environment, calls for more renewable energy development, blaming the development model based on fossil fuels for the global warming. This is a major step towards the planet’s march toward a global climate change agreement in Paris this December.

Pope Francis promotes a holistic approach for this sensitive issue, urging for efforts that take into account both the environmental and the social dimension of the problem. He supports the view that modern development, largely based on fossil fuels, has led to the degradation of the environment and at the same time has affected the poor, who suffer the most consequences. He also states that there are disproportionate effects of climate change on the poor populations, whose ‘livelihoods depend heavily on nature reserves’.

Although many countries have already submitted proposals for major reductions in carbon emissions, the International Energy Agency has suggested this week that these actions alone are not enough to halt climate change. In line with these facts, Pope Francis concludes: "Today we can’t avoid stating that a true ecological approach must always become a social approach, integrating justice in the debate around environment, so that we listen to the cry of Earth as much as we listen to the one of the poor."


Article: Biodiversity priority areas and religions - a global analysis of spatial overlap

[8 January 2015]

Three renowned ecologists from Sweden and Australia (Grzegorz Mikusinskia, Hugh P. Possinghama and Malgorzata Blicharska) have writen an article on the vital role of great religions could play in helping to save the world's declining wildlife and wilderness.

The scientists report a strong connection between areas with high conservation needs and the world's great religions and suggest that religious communities should be more involved in the conservation agenda. The inclusion of conservation issues in religious ethics could prove beneficial for biodiversity.

Grzegorz Mikusinski from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences states that the analysis suggests that most of the focal areas are found in countries where Christianity dominates and specifically Roman Catholicism. Further, there is an overlap of biodiversity significance with Buddhism (Southeast Asia), Hinduism (Indian subcontinent) and Islam (Asia Minor, parts of North and Central Africa).

According to the authors, the methods used so far by administrations and conservationists have not yet halted biodiversity loss, and people have not successfully incorporated biodiversity conservation issues in their everyday practices. Religions could have a catalytic role in influencing people’s attitudes towards nature if they included environmental concerns in their agendas, therefore, they should be considered more seriously in biodiversity discourse.

You may access the article abstract here.


BBC News Magazine article on Britain’s extraordinary sacred sites

[15 January 2014]

BBC News Magazine hosts an extremely interesting article on 10 extraordinary sacred sites in Britain. The nature of the sacred sites is rather diverse: caves, cliffs, stone circles, glens, islands (among which Delos’ case-study Iona), as well as churches. These unique sites have been in use since prehistoric times and people keep paying visits, drawn by the belief and ritual associated with them. You may the read the article followint this link, and also watch the related BBC 2 series ‘Sacred Wonders of Britain’ following this link.


[posted on 11 November 2013]

New book release: How the world's religions are responding to climate change: social scientific investigations

A new book, has just been published on how the world's religions are responding to climate change through social scientific investigations. The book breaks new ground in looking at climate change with stories and analysis of how different religions are responding to climate change, both positively and negatively. According to the publishers, a great number of voices propose that while those governing the world do not do what is needed to avert the climatic crisis, the world’s religions may play an important role in this field.

There are already faiths addressing the consequences of climate change for humanity and especially for the poor. The writers, sociologists, anthropologists, geographers and other social scientists, use social sciences to explore how religious institutions, groups and individuals contribute to public awareness on climate change. The effect religions are having, the obstacles they run into or create and the significance of their contribution for the struggle against climate change is assessed.

The book is available from Routledge (




[posted on 31 October 2013]

Workshop on Mt Athos

On 29-30 August 2013 an important meeting on Mt Athos was held in the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki. Its purpose was to finalise the framework for the integrated management and conservation of the cultural and natural heritage of the Athonite Peninsula in Northern Greece, a mixed World Heritage Site and Natura2000 area.

High-level delegations from the Holy Community of Mt Athos (including the Abbots of Xiropotamou and Simonopetra Monasteries), the Greek Ministries of Culture and Sports (headed by Secretary General Lina Mendoni) / Environment, Energy and Climate Change / Foreign Affairs, other state institutions, and UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre (led by Anna Sidorenko) took part in this working meeting, which was held in an atmosphere of friendly cooperation and consensus. more


[posted on 29 July 2013]

All mining activities banned in the pristine wilderness area of Sacred Headwaters-British Columbia


The Sacred Headwaters, a breathtaking alpine basin in a remote corner of the British Columbia, has been the apple of discord for a number of companies seeking to take advantage of its rich resources. It is the birthplace of the Rivers Skeena, Nass and Stikine, and the homeland of the Tahltan Nation, who consider its lands and waters sacred. The mining industry, however, has put the Tahltan Territory at the epicenter of economic development in the Province.

The Royal Dutch Shell intended to drill 1,500-10,000 coal bed methane gas wells in the area, jeopardizing Canada’s greatest wild salmon rivers. Although the Tahltan people do not oppose sound economic development of their land, however they were not willing to sacrifice the values, interests and places they hold sacred in the name of short-term profit. After almost a decade of fights, local communities and their leaders, hand in hand with local residents, managed to safeguard their land. The government of British Columbia announced that it will not issue oil and gas tenures in the area in the future, in a zone covering more than million acres of pristine wilderness.

This was achieved with the help of a great number of local stakeholders. On the front line stood the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, the Tahltan leadership and the Elders, along with downstream communities and many conservation groups, mayors, councils, band councils and regional districts. Together, they’ve managed to turn into reality what initially looked like futile attempts opposing a giant of the energy industry. Their example is an inspiration for the entire conservation community.

(Photographer: Brian Huntington, Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition)

[posted on 12 May 2013]

Delos Initiative member Zakia Zouanat passed away

The Delos Initiative coordinators only recently heard of the sad news of Zakia Zouanat’s passing last September, at the age of 55, following a long illness. A Delos Initiative member, Zakia Zouanat was an Anthropologist, specialist on Moroccan Sufism and author of an important work on the extensions of this heritage in the world.

She was a researcher at the Institute of African Studies of the Mohammed V University in Rabat, and was particularly known for her work on the Sufi heritage aspects of Morocco and its influence around the world. She was the author of the book 'The Kingdom of the Saints' (le Royaume des Saints). Prof. Zouanat had participated in the 2nd workshop of the Delos Initiative, organised in Ouranoupolis, Greece in 2007 and was the author of the chapter ‘Abd al-Salam ibn Mashish and Jabal La‘lam Site’, included in the proceedings of the workshop.


[posted on 11 May 2013]

Sacred Natural Sites book

Since the book "Sacred Natural Sites: Conserving Nature and Culture" has been published by Earth Scan (now Routledge) around 900 soft back and 120 hardback copies have been sold to date. The book is a welcome addition to the literature on the relationship between people and nature. It underlines the inextricable links between cultural diversity and biodiversity existing between Indigenous and traditional communities and their landscapes.

The book consists of 27 chapters with a non-Eurocentric/North American perspective. The chapters cover a vast array of iconic and less well-known sacred natural sites.

Delos Initiative coordinators Josep-Maria Mallarach and Thymio Papayannis have written one of the book’s chapters ‘Sacred Natural Sites in Technologically Developed Countries: Reflections from the Experience of the Delos Initiative’. You may download the chapter from here. Also available for downloading are the Introduction and the Conclusions. You can buy your copy here or learn more about the book here.


[posted on 11 May 2013]

New films on Sacred Natural Sites released

A 60-minute film on Estonian sacred groves and a 45-minute film on the Sacred Natural Sites of Estonia have been recently released by Gavia films.

The first film is titled ‘Charm of Sacred Groves’, and tells the history of the groves that have been protected by the religious traditions of the people of Estonia. These traditions have allowed nature to evolve undisturbed. The viewers are invited to take a journey across the country' s sacred groves and explore nature-related and the traditional culture of the people of Estonia.

The second film is called ‘Natural Sacred Sites in Estonia’ and offer viewers the opportunity to get familiar with the sacred trees, groves, sacrificial stones, curative springs and other natural objects of worship of the country. It investigates how much people know about these objects, what is the attitude of the population towards them, and their significance for modern people.


[posted on 01 May 2013]

International Conference ‘Protecting the sacred: Recognition of Sacred Sites of Indigenous Peoples for Sustaining Nature and Culture in Northern and Arctic Region’

The international conference that will be held in Rovaniemi and Pyhätunturi, Finland on 11- 13 September 2013 is co-organised by the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland, the Université de Montréal and the University of the Arctic.

About 30 participants from Indigenous Peoples Organisations in Finland, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Canada and Alaska have already confirmed their attendance. The organisers are also happy to welcome two key note speakers confirmed: Birgitta Fossum, head of South Sami Museum and Cultural Centre in Snåsa, Norway, and Piers Vitebsky, vice director of research, Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.

The conference gathers for the first time in Finland sacred sites custodians, scientists, indigenous people's organisations, policy makers and other interested individuals, to talk and better recognise, legally protect, conserve and manage Sacred Sites and Sanctuaries of Indigenous Peoples in Northern and Arctic regions. Participants will address issues related to the entire circumpolar area. Besides academic and practitioner discussions, the conference also aims to produce recommendations for policy-making related to Sacred Sites and Sanctuaries in the Arctic as well as start a participatory educational research project to advance the transmission of spiritually relevant culturally embedded knowledge and practices related to sacred sites to younger generations. The aim is to make also a publication on the protection of the SNS in Northern and Arctic regions. Download congress flyer.

[posted on 01 May 2013]

2nd Congress of Protected Areas Network in the Carpathians: ‘Challenges and Opportunities in the Carpathians Protected Areas’, Tatranská Javo?ina, Slovakia, 23-26 April 2013

The Second Congress of the Protected Areas Network Carpathian was held from 23 to 26 April in Tatrasnká Javo?ina, within the National Park High Tatras (Slovakia). The conference explored the challenges and opportunities for protected areas in terms of sustainable finance, sustainable development, ecological connectivity and continuity planning and management with a focus on cross-border cooperation. Major international events were organised, such as lectures, workshops and various excursions.

The presentations and discussions incorporated examples of good practices with innovative approaches spanning across Europe, focusing on the Carpathians. On the 25th, the programme featured a side event on the importance of spiritual values in protected areas, coordinated by Josep-Maria Mallarach, The joint coordinator of the Delos Initiative of WCPA, presented an overview of the subject with inputs from the international community to the European perspective, focusing on the Carpathian region. Selected examples to be applied in protected areas in the Carpathians were discussed, including the opportunities for expanding the social support for protected areas.

More information: >>First Conference of the Network of Protected Areas of the Carpathian Mountains


[posted on 03 January 2013]

New book on the spiritual values of protected natural areas in Europe- Island of Vilm (Germany), November 2012

The German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation has published the book "Spiritual Values of Protected Areas of Europe" edited by Josep-Maria Mallarach. The 170-page book contains an exhaustive compilation of the results of the international workshop that was held on this topic from 2 to 6 November 2011, in the International Academy for Nature Conservation in the Baltic island of Vilm (Germany).

The participants from fourteen European countries (Bosnia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, FYR of Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Spain, the Netherlands, Ukraine, United Kingdom) presented a series of case studies demonstrating the diversity of spiritual values that can be found in protected areas. In addition, the authors developed a set of guiding principles and guidelines on how to best incorporate spiritual values into the planning and management of protected areas. Silene Association, the Delos Initiative and IUCN collaborated in this project. You can download the publication here.


[posted on 14 November 2012]

IUCN General Assembly approves SNS-related motions - Jeju, South Korea, September 2012

The General Assembly of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), held in the World Conservation Congress at the island of Jeju, South Korea, approved two significant motions in relation with the spiritual dimension of nature: the first encouraging cooperation with faith organisations and networks, and the second on Sacred Natural Sites, supporting custodian protocols and customary laws in the face of global threats and challenges.

Motion M-009 requests the Director General of IUCN to encourage cooperation with faith-based organisations and networks that share IUCN’s spirit and objectives in order to establish partnerships in conservation, sustainability, equitable sharing and use of resources and appropriate responses to climate change threats.

Motion M-054 calls all IUCN State Members to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples to practise their cultural traditions and customs, to engage indigenous peoples, local communities, faith groups and custodians of sacred natural sites and territories, to recognise their customary laws and cultural protocols for the management of sacred natural sites and territories, and to develop programmes that respect and endorse these customary laws and associated institutions. The Motion also urges State Members of IUCN and other national governments to develop appropriate policies, laws and programmes that allow custodians to continue to maintain and protect their sacred natural sites using their traditional practices and protocols and recommends that all governments develop national legislation that will make these goals possible.

The last motion follows and develops a similar motion on the Recognition and Conservation of Sacred Natural Sites in Protected Areas, which was approved at the last General Assembly held in the WCC of Barcelona, Spain, in 2008.


[posted on 03 April 2012]


Europe’s Sacred Natural Sites Need Recognition

Sacred natural sites hold spiritual and intangible values that are often hidden to the modern world. The book ‘The Diversity of Sacred Lands in Europe’ describes the many sacred natural sites in the protected areas of Europe. Some are well-known sacred places of mainstream religions, some with limited access on monastic lands, and some again of particular significance to indigenous people.

The book is good reading for anyone interested in the intangible values of natural sites. It is especially valuable to the managers of the many protected areas of Europe. Special emphasis is given to the sacred places of Europe’s only indigenous people, the Sámi, living in northern Finland, Sweden, Norway and North-West Russia.

The book discusses the threats to the sacred natural sites faced in many parts of Europe, such as a poor acknowledgement of the intangible values, visitor pressures, expanding urbanisation and insensitive development initiatives, but also ways to solve the issues raised.

A collection of articles by authors, who participated in the third workshop of the Delos Initiative in Inari/Aanaar in Finland in 2010, from more than a dozen countries, the book describes sacred natural sites in Albania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, North-West Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. more



[posted on 16 December 2011]


Greening the management of the protected areas in SRB-BiH cross-border region” 24 - 26 November 2011, Sremska Mitrovica

The Mid Term Workshop, organised within the frame of the project “Greening the management of the protected areas in SRB-BiH cross-border region”, took place on 24 - 26 November, 2011 in the Special Nature Reserve «Zasavica», near Sremska Mitrovica, with the purpose of introducing participants to the drafted Guidelines on protected areas management and eco tourism development as well as the drafting of the action plan for the eco-tourism development in the Serbia-BiH cross – border region. In total 46 representatives of NGOs, local government, managers of protected areas from the Serbian part of the Serb-BiH Cross border region participated in the workshop. more

[posted on 19 September 2011]



Concerning the Role of Art in Communicating the Intangible Values of Nature

Excerpts from a SG Cultural & Spiritual Values of PAs discussion - August 2010

Elizabeth Reichel-Dolmatoff - 4.08.2010

Though I too wonder, as you say, why IUCN hasn't a critical mass of people involved in the issue of Art and Conservation. I also wonder why the rare 'events' on the matter are so fragmented or token, or to say the least, folkloric. I have always been amused when, for example, at formal events related to IUCN or other large international organizations, sometimes there are presentations by a group of so-called indigenous persons who do some dance before a public, and people take photos etc, etc. and after the show everything goes on as usual and not much has been achieved in relation to linking artistic expressions to conserving nature.

The indigenous performances and 'dances' and songs are almost usually some hybrid concoction of what is supposed to be an indigenous ritual expressed 'artistically'. But as anyone who has lived with traditional indigenous cultures, each performance and related art and artefacts are situated always within a particular season and activities and are expressed to debate and indicate the condition of particular ecosystems and species related for example to harvest, herds, fishing, hunting, gathering and the different types of social organization required for that particular period, which in turn is also associated to particular dynamics including climate, meteorology, astronomy, and other environmental conditions. Those performances and related artwork are related to the recreation -and commentary- of concrete forms of using or conserving 'biodiversity' and the community that participates in these rituals are interacting with/within the ritual and legitimising a particular ethos and eidos to do so. Out of context and in other cultures such performances become token folklore. Because in industrial societies there is a loss of such socio-environmental awareness and concomitant rituals and art, and because modern and conceptual art allow for such a large array of expressions, it is interesting to see what Eco-Art is doing, and trying to achieve, in industrial and post-industrial societies. more


[posted on 15 September 2011] 

The Inari/Aanaar Delos Proceedings under way

The past few months the proceedings of the third workshop of the Delos Initiative that was organised in July 2010 in Inari, Finland are being prepared. Thymio Papayannis, Josep-Maria Mallarach and Rauno Vaissanen are the members of the peer review team that is currently editing the papers. The effort is co-ordinated by the Metsähallitus, Natural Heritage Services of Finland and is funded by the Finnish Ministry of Environment. The publication is expected to be launched before the end of 2011.


[posted on 15 September 2011] 

Positive developments in the case of the San Fransisco Peaks, Arizona

There are some positive developments in the case of the San Fransisco Peaks, in Arizona, USA. Professor Anaya, a United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has filed a Special Rapporteur report regarding the San Francisco Peaks the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission. His recommendations include the following important points:

26. On the basis of the foregoing, the Special Rapporteur respectfully recommends that the United States Government engage in a comprehensive review of its relevant policies and actions to ensure that they are in compliance with international standards in relation to the San Francisco Peaks and other Native American sacred sites, and that it take appropriate remedial action.

27. In this connection, the Government should reinitiate or continue consultations with the tribes whose religions practices are affected by the ski operations on the San Francisco Peaks and endeavor to reach agreement with them on the development of the ski area. The Government should give serious consideration to suspending the permit for the modifications of Snowbowl until such agreement can be achieved or until, in the absence of such an agreement, a written determination is made by a competent government authority that the final decision about the ski area modifications is in accordance with the United States’ international human rights obligations.

28. The Special Rapporteur wishes to stress the need to ensure that actions or decisions by Government agencies are in accordance with, not just domestic law, but also international standards that protect the right of Native American to practice and maintain their religious traditions. The Special Rapporteur is aware of existing government programs and policies to consult with indigenous peoples and take account their religious traditions in government decision-making with respect to sacred sites. The Special Rapporteur urges the Government to build on these programs and policies to conform to international standards and by doing so to establish a good practice and become a world leader that it can in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples.


[posted on 31 August 2010] 

Message of His All Holiness, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew on the Day of the Protection of Environment.

As initiated by the late Patriarch Dimitrios in 1989, every September 1st has been designated as a day of prayer for the protection of the environment by the Christian Orthodox Church. In this year’s message, HAH the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew referred to the constant degradation of the environment and to the current economic crisis that concerns the entire world. He stressed the importance of sustainable development as the only viable solution to secure both environmental and financial prosperity. For more information please visit follow the following link:




[posted on 14 July 2010] 

Workshop on sacred natural sites in Eastern Himalayas

WWF and it’s Living Himalayas, Initiative in collaboration with the government of Bhutan, orginised a workshop aiming in bringing together religious leaders, government officials and conservationists in an attempt to explore the best ways to protect the sacred natural sites in the region.

The workshop, entitled “Sacred Natural Sites, Bio-cultural Diversity & Climate Change in the Eastern Himalayas”, was held in Bhutan on 17-19 May 2010. The main aims of this event were:

- to document the sacred natural sites in the Eastern Himalayan region (Bhutan, India and Nepal) and confirm their importance to the conservation of the region's bio-cultural diversity;

- to engage faith groups further in practical conservation and

- to explore the increasing threats and adaptation needs of faith communities in the face of rapidly changing climatic conditions.

"In the Himalayas the whole place is sacred, but there are many more specific places that have an even more special status for the different traditions that are prominent here" said Liza Higgins Zogib (Manager, People and Conservation, WWF International).


[posted on 12 July 2010] 

Diversity of Sacred Lands in Europe 
Third Workshop of the Delos Initiative – Inari, Finland, 01-03 July 2010

The third workshop of the Delos Initiative took place from 1 to 3 July In Inari, Lapland, Finland. It was organised jointly by the Delos Initiative and Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services that was the local organiser and host. Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services manages Finland’s state owned protected areas, including 35 national parks. The Ministry of the Environment and the IUCN National Committee of Finland also supported the event. The Sámi Museum and Nature Centre Siida at Inari, Finland was the venue of the workshop.

The indigenous Sámi people participated in the Delos 3 Workshop as keynote speakers and observers. The President of the Finnish Sámi Parliament Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi and Sámi Museum Director Tarmo Jomppanen welcomed the sacred natural site experts to Finnish Sámi homeland. Researchers from Norway and Finland shed also light on Sámi culture.

The workshop was attended by 30 participants from 14 countries. The theme of the meeting was ‘Diversity of Sacred Lands in Europe’. Interconnectiveness between human beings and the natural world, as well as the respect of indigenous people for nature emerged as key issues during the workshop. The participants were particularly impressed by the Sámi traditions and profound relation to nature, as well as the close co-operation between their Parliament and the Metsähallitus Natural Heritage Services.

In addition, the diversity of SNS in Europe and that of the minority faiths in the broader continent were examined during workshop sessions. Moreover, the management of lands of mainstream religions and of monastic communities was also addressed, and an evaluation of the IUCN-UNESCO Guidelines for Managers of Protected Areas on SNS was made.
The workshop programme included a visit to a Sámi sacred site the Ukonsaari Island on Lake Inari and a hike to Pielpajärvi Wilderness Church. Ukonsaari is recognised under the Delos Initiative.
The workshop proceedings will be published in book form in 2011 and will include texts of the contributions presented during the meeting.


[posted on 31 May 2010]

6th International Contact Forum on Habitat Conservation in the Barents Region, Arkhangelsk, Russia

From May 31st to June 5th, the Government of the Arkhangelsk Region is organising the 6th International Contact Forum on Habitat Conservation in the Barents Region in Arkhangelsk, Russia.  

One of the sessions of the Forum, led by Dr. Davydov, will be devoted to  exploring 'Synergies between the natural and spiritual heritage'.  Alexander Davydov is the Head of the Laboratory of Nature Protected Areas and Ecology of Culture, of the Institute of Ecological Problems of the North, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, member of the The Delos Initiative and co-author of a case study on the Solovetsky Archipelago WHS, a sacred natural site that became a Gulag for dissidents during the communist era.

Dr. Davydov kindly invited Josep-Maria Mallarach, Delos Initiative joint co-ordinator,  to make the opening speech of this session discussing the purpose, goals, work done and perspectives of The Delos Initiative. Other participants of this session include Irjö Norokorpi from Finland, author of a Delos case study in Lapland, Mr. Sune Sohlberg, one of the leaders of CAFF project concerning to the Sacred Places in the Arctic, and several representatives from Norway, Sweden and Russia, including participants from the Murmansk Region, Komi Republic and the Karelian Republic.

This meeting will be a significant step towards the 3rd Workshop of The Delos Initiative, to take place in Inari, Lapland, Finland, 30 June-04 July (for more information see


[posted on 25 March 2010]


Jordi Falgarona’s Farewell


Dear colleagues


Jordi Falgarona, an old friend of mine, an active and enthusiast member of the Delos Initiative and the SG on CSVPA since 2003, peacefully passed away last night.


Jordi was a WCPA member, working in management of protected areas for over twenty years, representing the Ministry of the Environment of Catalonia, Spain, in numerous national and international events.


Among many other things, Jordi was instrumental in getting the cultural and spiritual values in the agenda of both the Europarc Federation and the Spanish Section of the Europarc Federation. He was also the key organiser of the first workshop of the Delos Initiative in Montserrat (2006) and prepared the case studies for Doñana National and Natural Parks and for Montsant Natural Park, both in Spain.


He  was also the founder and president of the Silene Association, a small NGO aimed at the study, dissemination and promotion of the spiritual and intangible cultural heritage, especially in relation to nature conservation.


He will be remembered by his gentleness and generosity and will be missed by all who had the privilege to work with him. His funeral will be tomorrow in Argelaguer, a small village where he was born, near the Garrotxa Volcanic Area Natural Park, where he was working for more than twenty years.


He died at home, in full coherence with his life. May he rest in peace


J.M. Mallarach




[posted on 04 March 2010]

      Proceedings of the Second Workshop of the Delos Initiative



We are pleased to announce the release of the book ‘The Sacred Dimension of Protected Areas, Proceedings of the Second Workshop of the Delos Initiative’.
The workshop was organised on 24-27 October 2007 in Ouranoupolis, Greece and hosted by Med-INA, in the framework of the IUCN/WCPA Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas.


The Ouranoupolis meeting was attended by 22 participants from 11 countries. During the first part of the meeting case studies regarding indigenous peoples and mainstream faiths were presented, which included  Dhimurru in Northern Australia, the San Francisco Peaks of California,  Foreste Casentinesi of Italy,  Jabal Lâ’lam in Morocco, Mani San Mount in South Korea and  Solovetsky Islands of Russia. During the second part of the workshop, the management of monastic lands and facilities was explored, with examples from Mount Athos in Greece,  Buila Vinturarita in Romania, Chryssopigi Monastery in Crete, Greece, Poblet Monastery and Sakya Tashi Ling in Catalonia, Spain and Rila Monastery in Bulgaria. Finally, in the third part of the meeting, the way to achieve synergy between spiritual and conservation concerns was investigated.    The participants explored ways of strengthening the conservation of the natural and spiritual heritage in these and other similar sites, as well as the role the conservation community could play.


The publication is available in both paperback and electronic format. If you wish to acquire a copy, please contact the Publications Service of IUCN at  (website: or the Med-INA Secretariat at







[posted on 02 February 2010]


The Delos3 Workshop


First announcement


Conserving the integrity of sacred natural sites in technologically developed countries


Inari (Lapland), Finland, 30 June-4 July 2010




The Delos Initiative on ‘sacred natural sites in technologically developed countries’ was launched in 2004, in the framework of the Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas of IUCN/WCPA. The Initiative is co-ordinated jointly by Thymio Papayannis (Med-INA) and Josep-Maria Mallarach (Silene).


Two workshops have been organised up to now. Delos1 in Montserrat (Catalonia), Spain on 23-26 November 2006 and Delos2 in Ouranoupolis (Mt Athos), Greece on 24-28 November 2007. Their proceedings were published in 2007 and 2009.


Delos3 theme:

‘Conserving the integrity of sacred natural sites in technologically developed countries’



The following objectives have been agreed for this third Delos working meeting:

  • Respecting sacred natural sites related to indigenous and minority faiths in technologically developed countries (based on the Sámi people in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia).

  • Guidance for sustainable management of mainstream holy / sacred lands. more


[posted on 23 December 2009]


Religion, Science and the Environment Symposium VIII: Restoring Balance: The great Mississippi River (New Orleans, 18-25 October 2009)



The eighth RSE Symposium Restoring Balance: The great Mississippi River´ took place on 18-25 October 2009 in New Orleans, convened by HAH the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew.


The main target of this eight-day symposium was to raise awareness among the local population, in an attempt to protect the environment. The organization’s core of action is based on the simple belief that science and religion must work in collaboration to secure earth’s welfare. This event brought together environmentalists and religious leaders and provided them with the opportunity to discuss the future of the sensitive water resources and the effect of the climate change on them.


The symposium started with the Patriarch blessing the waters of the Mississippi River in the presence of the people that experienced the devastating hurricane Katrina in 2006. Earlier that day a memorial service was held for the victims and their families.


 For more information please visit the following webpage 


[posted on 23 April 2009]


Communicating the spiritual values of European protected areas, International Academy for Nature Conservation, Island of Vilm, Germany



From 14 to 18 April 2009, the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation in cooperation with the Europarc Federation and  organised a workshop on ‘Communicating values and benefits of protected areas in Europe’ at the International Academy for Nature Conservation at the Island of Vilm, Baltic Sea. The workshop was attended by some twenty participants from ten European countries.  A wide range of values were discussed, among them the cultural and spiritual values.


The organisation invited the WCPA Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas and the Delos Initiative to discuss the spiritual values. Josep-Maria Mallarach made two presentations based on the experience gained by the Delos Initiative during these last few years: one about the spiritual values of protected areas in Europe, and another about the experience of communicating spiritual values in a subset of protected areas, which include Christian monastic communities, focusing on the case of Montserrat, Spain. 


The last session of the workshop was devoted to the preparation of the conclusions, which include a set of recommendations to Europarc, the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, WCPA, and the participants. Several recommendations focused on the need to take into consideration the full range of values and benefits, overcoming the trend to focus on natural heritage or economic values. Two recommendations dealt directly with spiritual values:


- To Europarc: Develop and disseminate guidance to protected area managers, of issues relating to management and visitor interpretation and communication of spiritual values of protected areas, working with the Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values to relate globally developed guidance to the European context.


- To the participants of the workshop: Work with the Delos Initiative so as to find representative case studies on outstanding areas where natural, cultural and spiritual values are effectively linked with the management of  protected areas.


[posted on 28 January 2009]

 Motions 53 and 121 approved by the IUCN plenary during World Conservation Congress

During the World Conservation Congress in Barcelona last October, The World Commission on the Protected Areas prepared motions 53 and 121, which were later approved by the IUCN plenary, thus became IUCN resolutions.

Motion 53, now Resolution 4.038, concerns the Recognition and Conservation of Sacred Natural sites in Protected Areas, acknowledging the importance of these sites to the protection of nature, being the oldest form of culture-based conservation, both by indigenous and mainstream faiths. It urges Governmental, Non-Governmental Organisations, Agencies and managers to recognise the rights, skills and the knowledge that both indigenous and mainstream custodians and communities have to manage the relevant resources and ecosystems and to confront threats affecting these sites. The Resolution encourages and promotes scientific research, investment in public education and advises resolution of conflicts were they exist. Furthermore, it requests implementation and field-testing of the new Sacred Natural Site guidelines in all categories of IUCN protected areas. See full text in English, French and Spanish.

Motion 121, now Resolution 4.099 regards the Recognition of the diversity of concepts and values of nature. The notion of nature is perceived quite differently in the vast variety of the world’s cultures. Western cultures hold a rather materialistic view of the concept of ‘natura’, especially after the 17th century and the Cartesian distinction between material and spiritual elements. Other communities, on the other hand, believe that the spiritual realities permeate everything and that humans, nature and the universe share the same material and spiritual dimensions. Seeking the maximum support for nature conservation worldwide, among societies with different worldviews, the Resolution requests the adoption of an inclusive definition of nature in all the IUCN’s future documents and the development of appropriate guidance to recognise fully the diversity of the many concepts of nature in all activities related to conservation and sustainable development. See full text in English, French and Spanish.



[posted on 15 January 2009]

Seminar in al Hoceima National Park, Morocco

 The 20 and 21 of December a seminar was organised by the Spanish NGO Ecodesarrollo and her Moroccan counterpart, the Azir Association, at Al-Hoceima National Park, Morocco, a stronghold of the Amazig (berber) culture of North Africa.


Josep-Maria Mallarach, of the joint co-ordination of the Delos Initiative, was invited by the organisation to speak about recent international developments on cultural and spiritual values of protected areas, especially about the experience of the Task Force of Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, and the Delos Initiative. Mr. Mohamed Al-Andalousi made a presentation on the ‘sites maraboutiques’ of the National Park, its main features and values.


The seminar was attended by some fifty people, including the managers of the National Park, and representatives of the main local authorities and NGOs of the region. Most of the lively debate focused on the significance and threats of the numerous mourabits / amrabd (sacred natural sites) included in Al-Hoceima National Park and around it. These SNS are outstanding on several respects: ecologically they protect the best relicts of the original vegetal communities, which have been severely deteriorated elsewhere. Culturally, they are high sites of history,  memory and identity for the local population over the ages. Most important decisions have been taken around them. Spiritually, they always include tombs of holy people, often in small shrines and some times together with small mosques. A variety of rituals and ceremonies, some still alive are enacted there. The origin of these SNS seems very ancient, pre-Christian in many cases, although all of them have been Islamised.


The field trip on the 21 allowed the participants to visit about a dozen of  these SNS, discussing the challenges, strategies and opportunities that exist to foster its conservation and restoration. It was made clear that the strength of the beliefs that supported the conservation of these outstanding SNS for centuries, perhaps millennia, has proven to be more effective than laws or physical walls.


The 22, Mr. Soussan Fikrt, regional delegate of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Habous invited Mr. Mohammed Al-Andalousi, President of the Azir Association, Ms. Miriam Zaitegui, of Ecodesarrollo,  and Josep-Maria Mallarach to discuss the conclusions of the seminar. Since the land of most SNS is property of this Ministry, its active involvement is crucial to their safeguard and restoration.




[posted on 16 October 2008]



IUCN’s World Conservation Congress in Barcelona ended its works


In the midst of the international Market crisis, 8,000 f the world’s leading decision makers in sustainable development - governments, NGOs, business, the UN and academia- described how important the stop of biodiversity loss is and which are the necessary steps to reduce its impacts, during the World Conservation Congress, 04-15 October, in Barcelona. “We have made substantial decisions here in Barcelona; we’re showing how saving nature must be an integral part of the solution for any world crisis,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 


The new IUCN’s president Ashok Khosla stated that with the Union’s scientific knowledge and the governmental willpower, solutions can be put to place and the future can be faced with confidence. Among the Union’s agenda for 2009-2012, a few major and controversial issues were included and will be carefully addressed, such as biofuels, the IUCN’s involvement with the private sector and improvements in governance of the high seas.


Most importantly, the Congress gave high priority to vulnerable and indigenous communities’ rights and IUCN’s members requested governments to respect human rights implications during all conservation-related activities.  


Moreover, the Congress sent a clear message to the UN’s Climate Change Summit that will take place in Poland in December, demanding for a 50-85% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 and keeping rises in temperature below 2° C, in line with the Bali Plan of Action. More information about the WCC in IUCN’s webpage.




[posted on 02 October 2008]


Workshop of The Delos Initiative at the Europarc Federation Congress in Transylvania, Romania


Ms. Erika Stanciou, president of the Europarc Federation, invited the co-ordinators of the Delos Initiative to lead a workshop in the Congress of the Europarc Federation, held in Poinana Brasov, Transylvania, Romania.


The workshop was held the on the 27th of September. Its main goal was to present the methodology proposed by the Delos Initiative to foster cooperation and positive synergies among the stakeholders of the natural, cultural and spiritual heritage of protected areas that include outstanding cultural and spiritual values. This was followed by a presentation of a selected number of European case studies of The Delos Initiative, which led to the discussion for potential applications in other European protected areas, and discussions on how to move forward, based on the positive outputs of the 1st Conference of the Carpathian Network of Protected Areas (see relevant news article bellow).


Based on the suggestions of the participants of Romania, the possibility to prepare an INTERREG project was discussed, focussing on management plans for sacred natural sites located in protected areas of Europe, in which eight European countries could be involved. The Finnish representatives showed great interest, and suggested holding a meeting to prepare this proposal in Finland, during spring 2009.  



[posted on 02 October 2008]


Volume on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Landscapes


Volume II of the Series Values of Protected Landscapes and Seascapes will be officially launched on the 10th of October at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, Barcelona. The series explores and documents the various environmental, economic, social and cultural values that Category V protected areas can provide.  


The 170 pages volume focuses on the cultural and spiritual values of protected landscapes and Seascapes, and has been edited by Josep-Maria Mallarach. It includes sixteen case studies from all over the world, of which four come from the Delos Initiative network: Simonopetra (Athos, Greece), Vanatori-Neamt (Romania), Poblet Catalonia, Spain) and Jabal La’lâm (Riff, Morocco). Seven authors of chapters are members of the Delos working group.


Three of the four Editorial Advisory team members of this volume are members of the Task Force of Cultural and Spiritual Values of protected Areas: Rob Wild, Thymio Papayannis and Fausto Sarmiento.


[Posted on 29 September 2008]


Including the intangible cultural heritage in the First Conference of Carpathian Network of Protected Areas


Following our colleague Sebastian Catanoiu’s suggestion, the organisation of the First Conference of Carpathian Network of Protected Areas and the Europarc Congress, held in Poiana Brasov, Transylvania, Romania, 23-24 October, invited the co-ordinators of the Delos Initiative to lead a workshop on cultural heritage. The Carpathian Framework Convention was ratified by seven parties: Check Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Ukraine (


Two workshops devoted to cultural heritage and local communities of protected areas were led by Josep-Maria Mallarach, assisted by Sebastian Catanoiu (Romania), and Martin Pavlik (Check Republic), member of Alpark, who acted as a rapporteur. During the first workshop, the Delos Initiative was presented as a framework for discussion. The conclusions of both workshops included a synthetic diagnose and a number of proposals to be included in the Draft Work Programme of the Carpathian Network of Protected Areas that was discussed by the 90 participants during the Conference. more


[Posted on 15 September 2008]

International Conference on Indigenous Sacred and Cultural Sites, 5 - 11 April 09, Cusco, Peru


Yachay Wasi, a Non-Governmental Organization in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, is organising an International Conference on Indigenous Sacred and Cultural Sites, in Cusco, Peru aiming at bringing attention to the importance of Indigenous Sacred Sites and the need for their protection by UN member states and the International Community. Among the Conference's major issues will be the protection of diodiversity, the desecration of indigenous remains and their exploitation, sustainable tourism as part of the 7th Millennium Development Goal: Ensuring Environmental Sustainability and the protection of natural resources.

Invited speakers will include representatives of local High Andes Indigenous communities, of international Indigenous communities, of UN agencies such as UNESCO, Secretariat of Convention on Biodiversity and some universities. Cusco, 'Qosqo'  is the ancient capital of the Inka empire 'Tawantinsuyo'. Cusco is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 1983.

More information can be obtained from this link.

[Posted on 15 September 2008]


Sacred natural sites Guidelines by IUCN and UNESCO

Part of the Best Practices Series, this publication aims at improving protection of sacred natural sites within Protected Areas. Thousands of sacred natural sites are in jeopardy around the world, despite the fact that many lie within formal ‘Protected Areas’. The new guidelines are entitled ‘Sacred Natural Sites – Guidelines for Protected Area Managers’ and will be used to share experience with protected area managers and their colleagues around the world who are concerned about and interested in protecting sacred natural sites. The volume will be launched at the upcoming World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain and it can be also downloaded from this link:

 In spite of the interest of this publication, the Co-ordinators of the Delos Initiative feel that it does not address sufficiently the issues related to mainstream faiths and that further work in that direction is needed.




[Posted on 15 September 2008] 

The IUCN World Conservation Congress, Barcelona, 5-14 October 2008

During 5-14 October 2008, more than 8,000 of the world’s leading decision makers in sustainable development gather in Barcelona, Spain: from governments, NGOs, business, the UN and academia. Together in one place for 10 days they will debate, share, network, learn, commit, vote and will make important decisions. Their objective will be to come up with ideas, action and solutions for a diverse and sustainable world.

Three major issues are in the spotlight:

• How we deal with climate change, globalization, and energy demand
• How healthy environments contribute to healthy communities and   economies
• How we safeguard the unique diversity of life in all its forms.

During the Congress, the Delos Initiative was present in one Knowledge Cafe, several Alliance Workshops, the Sacred Natural Sites Custodians Dialogue -organised by the Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Protected Areas- as well as other activities arranged by other Themes and Task Forces. It also exhibited a poster portraying the accomplishments attained during the past three years.  




[posted on 24 June 2008]

Assessment and technical assistance for management of the site of Moulay ‘Abd al-Salâm ibn Mashîsh and other natural sites with religious values


On the kind initiative from CVSPA member Dr Zakia Zouanat, Gonzalo Oviedo and Josep M. Mallarach were invited by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs of Morocco to visit the site of Moulay ‘Abd al-Salâm ibn Mashîsh, in Jabal La’lâm, Site of Biological and Ecological Interest of Jbel Bouhachem,  to assess the management conditions and provide recommendations for improvement, as well as to more broadly discuss the relevance and opportunities of the protection of sacred natural sites in the context of updating protected area legislation and policies.


The team made two field visits to the Jabal La’lâm area, the 9 and 12 of June, and had meetings in Rabat with various government officials, namely the Minister of Habous and Islamic Affairs, the Haut Commissaire des Eaux, Forêts et Lutte contre la Désertification, and the Director of Operations of the Agence pour la Promotion et le Développement Économique et Social des Préfectures et Provinces du Nord. We also met with the Président-Délégué of the Fondation Mohammed VI pour la Protection de l'Environnement –a Foundation presided by HRH The Princess Lalla Hasnaa. more








[posted on 04 June 2008]

Initiatives on sacred natural sites in Romania – The Vanatori-Neamt Natural Park

On the 22nd of May, during a national meeting in Bucharest, in the context of the European Day of Parks, Razvan Deju, member of management team of Vanatory-Neamt Natural Park made a presentation about the Sacred Natural Site concept in general, The Delos Initiative, and the particular application of the SNS concept to Vanatori-Neamt. The Management Plan of the Vanatori-Neamt Natural Park had already adopted the Sacred Natural Site concept in 2007, and the Buila Vanturarita Natural Park, who's Management Plan is currently being finalised, could be the second Romanian site following its example. Both Natural Parks are case studies of The Delos Initiative.








[posted on 04 June 2008]

A holistic approach for the Carpathian Protected Areas

During a Europarc Consulting training course about the elaboration of PA management plans held in Poiana Brasov, Romania, on 22-24 May, the necessity of a holistic approach for natural, cultural and spiritual heritages was presented by Sebastian Catanoiu to representatives of the Carpathian Protected Areas from Poland, Slovakia, and Romania. All of them, as well as the trainers, agreed that the Carpathian Ecoregion, due to the significance of the existing traditions, faiths, and living in sacred places, is a very suitable Ecoregion for implementing this holistic approach.









[posted on 02 May 2008]


The Delos Initiative at the International workshop of the Task Force on Protected Landscape, North York Moors National Park, England, April-May 2008

The IUCN-International Task Force on Protected Landscapes, met in Scarborough, North York Moors National Park, England, UK, from 27th April to 1st May 2008, hosted by the National Park. Members of the Task Force come from North America, South America and The Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Asia.


Four people from the Task Force on CSVPA were invited to participate by Jessica Brown, TF leader: Rob Wild, leader, Guillermo Rodrígez-Navarro, deputy-chair; Josep-Maria Mallarach, for the joint co-ordination of The Delos Initiative, and Gloria Pungetti, difector of the Cambridge Centre for Landscape. 


Themes of common interest and positives synergies between both Task Forces and the Theme on Indigenous and Local Communities, Equity and protected Areas were present since the beginning of the workshop until the Symposium of the last day, which gathered a good representation of managers from several national parks of England and Scotland. more



[posted on 21 April 2008]



18 April 2008 – The International Day for Monuments and Sites on “Religious heritage and sacred places”.

The International Day for Monuments and Sites was established on 18th April 1982, by ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) and later approved at the 22nd UNESCO General Conference in 1983.
This year, to mark the 18th April, ICOMOS has organised activities with regards to the theme “Religious heritage and sacred places”. These activities offer an opportunity to raise public awareness about the protection of the cultural and spiritual heritage.

The web site of the ICOMOS is:
(English and French version)




[posted on 29 February 2008]


Serra de Montsant Natural Park approves Recommendations


On the 13th February 2008 the Board of the Natural Park of Serra de Montsant, Catalonia, Spain, decided to unanimously approve the recommendations of the case-study prepared by Jordi Falgarona, Jaume Estarellas and Josep-Maria Mallarach. The approved recommendations include an expansion of the protected area, and 13 significant planning, public use, education and management measures, aiming to improve the effective integration of natural, cultural and spiritual values within the Natural Park.

This positive outcome has been largely the result of Mr. Ricard Pasanau’s (president of the Board) and Ms. Neus’s Miró (management director of the Park) -to whom grateful appreciation is due- recognition of the goals of the Delos Initiative, and the support of the Silene Association. The Natural Park of Serra de Montsant will be one of the three case-studies of The Delos Initiative proposed as field trips to the participants of the Barcelona WCC.

The web site of the Park is:

(English and Spanish version).




[posted on 20 December 2007]


Proceedings of the first workshop of the Delos Initiative


The Proceedings of the first workshop of the Delos Initiative are now released. The workshop was organised on 23-26 November 2006 in Montserrat Monastery, in Catalonia, Spain and was attended by participants from around the globe. During the workshop 10 case-studies were presented, describing the situation in sacred sites located in Finland, Greece, Japan, Romania, Spain, United Kingdom, and the USA. The Proceedings title is Protected Areas and Spirituality and were co-edited by Josep-Maria Mallarach and Thymio Papayannis. The publication is available in both paperback and Cd format. If you wish to acquire a copy, please contact the Publications Service of IUCN"  at



[posted on 28 November 2007]



The second workshop of the Delos Initiative


The second workshop of the Delos Initiative was held on 24-28 October, in Ouranoupolis, a town next to the Holy Mountain of Athos, in Halkidiki, Greece. Thus the Delos Initiative, in the framework of the Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas of IUCN/WCPA, continued its activities after the first successful workshop that was held in November 2006, in the Monastery of Montserrat, Spain.


 The Ouranoupolis meeting was hosted by Med-INA and was attended by 22 participants from 11 countries. Among them there were representatives of the Holy Community of Mount Athos, the Halkidiki Prefecture, the Greek Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works, as well as members of the conservation and religious communities. The meeting was honoured by a message of blessings and guidance of HAH The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople and New Rome (click here to read text). more 



[posted on 05 October 2007]


Cambridge Centre for Landscape and People - The 3S Conference


The Cambridge Centre for Landscape and People organised in 24-26 September in Cambridge, England, the 3S Conference on Sacred Species and Sites.  The aims of the Conference were:

  • to report and discuss on recent research findings related to spiritual values of species and sites

  • to improve recognition, understanding and dissemination of the spiritual values of species and sites connected with cultures and traditions

  • to promote the integration of these values into policy, planning and management

  • to facilitate cross-organisational and interdisciplinary dialogue on these values

  • to assist the link between cultural and ecological diversity in landscape and nature conservation

  • to demonstrate ways in which sacred species and sites can contribute to conservation biology

  • to support cooperation between academics and conservationists working in this area


Over 30 experts, from four continents participated in the Conference. Rob Wild,  leader of  Task Force CSVPA and two members of the Delos Initiative, Gonzalo Oviedo and Josep-Maria Mallarach were actively engaged in the discussions. The latter made a presentation about The Delos Initiative. It was decided that the proceedings of the 3C Conference, including a paper about the Delos Initiative, will be published in 2008, by the University of Cambridge.




[posted on 21 June 2007]


Vanatori-Neamt Natural Park, Romania - Poster with verses from the Genesis


Recently, the Vanatori-Neamt Natural Park in Romania has posted one large panel at the entrance of Secu Valley, including verses from the Book of Genesis, as can be seen in the picture. The idea came from the USA Smoky Mountains National Park experience of displaying panels with Native American beliefs developed by the Sacred Mountains Program, as it was presented in the first workshop of The Delos Initiative, held in Montserrat, in 2006.


The panel has been funded as part of the GEF-Small Grant Program project called 'Bison Land - a model of biodiversity conservation' developed by an NGO, and it is the first to include verses from a sacred text to connect the values of nature with the inner beliefs of the visitors. The verses were chosen by the Park Administration.


Next year, the Park intends to develop another GEF-SGP project, in which the monasteries and convents located inside the Natural Park are deeper involved as partners with the Park Administration, environmental NGOs and local authorities. As part of this effort, more panels with sacred texts will be posted if funds are available.





[posted on 13 June 2007]


Poblet Monastery - Catalonia, Spain


During the last months the work at the Poblet case study (Catalonia, Spain) has been progressing smoothly, not only regarding the diagnose and recommendations, but for the implementation of some agreed actions.  Successive meetings with the Board authorities, the managers of the Protected Area, and the responsible for the environmental education facilities, have opened new fields for cooperation with the Abbey of Poblet. An agreement between the monastery and the Diputació de Tarragona (provincial government) has been drafted for preparing an environmental audit for the Monastery, which will combine the local agenda 21 methodology with the Cistercian principles. In addition, it has been agreed that a proposal for improving the integration of the spiritual, cultural and natural values of Poblet will be prepared by Silene Association.  It will include a draft plan for a new interpretation centre at the entrance of the Monastery, which is receiving over 150.000 visitors per year.





[posted on 09 May 2007]






The Delos2 Workshop



The second Delos workshop will be held in Ouranoupolis, in Northern Greece, close to Mt. Athos on 24-28 October 2007. The first announcement of this workshop has just been published.





[posted on 13 April 2007]



Mission to Sakya Tashi Ling. Inclusion of Tibetan Buddhist Perspective in the Management of the Property of the Monastery and presentation of a new management plan, Garraf Natural Park, Catalonia, Spain  


At the Montserrat workshop, a Buddhist monk (Jamyang Richen / Jordi Gómez) asked The Delos Initiative for guidance so as to improve the inclusion of spiritual and cultural values from their interpretation of Tibetan Buddhist traditions into the management plan of the property of Sakya Tashi Ling monastery.  The management plan itself is being prepared by a consulting firm, sponsored by the Fundació Territori i Paisatge. The monastery is located in the center of El Garraf Natural Park, near Barcelona, and is a case study of The Delos initiative. 


Isabel Soria volunteered to undertake this task, after her experience on the Holy island of Arran, Scotland (managed by another Buddhist community) with the support of Josep Maria Mallarach. They were invited to stay in the monastery from the 20th to the 27th of January 2007, in order to understand the link between nature and Tibetan Buddhist spiritual values. They had the chance to experience daily life in the monastery, to study plans and documentation and to interview the leader and members of the community, as well as other key actors, such as the mayor of the municipality and a number of visitors. more




[posted on 27 March 2007]

 Development, nature and religion conference


A conference on the incorporation of sustainable development in the research agendas of religious studies and theology is organised on 28 September 2007, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, by the Centre for Sustainable Management and Resources.


Lately, sustainable development has gained momentum and the role, intentions and motivation of world religions towards the environment is currently under scrutiny. Although all faiths and life philosophies nurture worldviews on the essence of life, humankind and nature, the positive or negative impact of those worldviews on the environment is by no means clear. In order to promote debate on these issues, it is necessary to examine ways to incorporate  sustainable development in theology and religious studies and explore how they can support the conclusions of new evidence of the rapid climate change, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report and media presentations, such as Al Gore’s move An Inconvenient Truth. For more information please visit:






[updated on 23 March 2007]



Working paper on Sacred Sites and Protected Areas to the next IUCN Summit



On behalf of the IUCN WCPA Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas and The Delos Initiative, B. Verschuuren, J.M. Mallarach and G. Oviedo, members of the Delos working group, will submit a working paper on Sacred Sites and Protected Areas to the next Summit of IUCN Categories of protected areas, to be held in Almería, Spain, from 7-11 May 2007. For more information please visit:


The working paper proposes that sacred sites (including also sacred natural sites), which fit into national and international definitions of protected areas can, where appropriate, be recognised as legitimate components of protected area systems and can be attributed to any of the six IUCN protected area categories. At the same time, the paper suggests that cultural and spiritual values of protected areas should be better reflected in the whole range of categories, where at the moment are absent from or insufficiently recognised.





[posted on 13 December 2006]



Proceedings of the UNESCO International Symposium on Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity: the Role of Sacred Natural Sites and Cultural Landscapes



The proceedings of the International Symposium on Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity: the Role of Sacred Natural Sites and Cultural Landscapes, held in Aichi, Japan, in 2005, have recently been published by UNESCO. It is a beautiful book, edited by Thomas Schaaf and Cathy Lee, with 341 pages and many coloured illustrations.   Pages 242-245 include the article about The Delos Initiative: sacred natural sites in technologically developed countries, by Thymio Papayannis and Josep M. Mallarach.


The pdf version can be downloaded from the UNESCO web site at:






[posted on 12 July 2006]

Mission to the Holy Island of Arran

In June 2006, Isabel Soria Garcia, member of the Delos Initiative, visited the Holy Island of Arran in Scotland. There she stayed in the Centre for World Peace and Health, one of the two centres of the Island, which is the place for interfaith work and retreat.

She interviewed a series of people of several backgrounds; various stakeholders –such as representatives of the Scottish Natural Heritage and the Council of Arran–, religious leaders, persons in charge of the management of the Island, environmentalists, landscapers, volunteers, visitors etc. In addition, she interviewed the participants of the various activities she had the chance to get involved with (such as an initiation to meditation activity, gardening and forestry). This enabled her to gain a deeper view to the relation of sacred issues with the environment. The sharing of firsthand experience and the exchange of knowledge became easier for her. more





[posted on 12 April 2006]

Mission to Doñana-El Rocío

From the 23 to 26 of March Jesús García-Varela and Jordi Falgarona-Bosch, members of the Delos Initiative working group, visited the Doñana area, in southwestern Spain, invited by the Dirección General de la Red de Espacios Naturales Protegidos y Servicios Ambientales (RENPSA) of the regional government of Andalusia.

The aim of the mission was to conduct a series of interviews with key stakeholders of the Doñana-El Rocío case study, following the questionnaire of the Pilot Plan. With the help of Águeda Villa, a local geographer who acted as a facilitator on behalf of RENPSA, the mission was able to contact with local authorities (Almonte town Council Major); officers from Doñana National Park and Doñana Natural Park; representatives of the “Hermandad Matriz de Almonte”  y “Hermandad de Villamanrique”, main brotherhoods having different responsibilities on the pilgrimage organization and El Rocío shrine custodianship; heads of research centers, both natural (Estación Biológica de Doñana) and cultural (Centro de Estudios Rocieros, Museo de El Rocío, Universidad de Huelva). more





[posted on 27 February 2006]


Mission to Mt. Athos


The Athos peninsula in Northern Greece has been declared a World Heritage Site in 1982 both for its nature and rich biodiversity and its culture enshrined in the 20 Monasteries that have been established there starting in the 10th century AD. In addition, the Sacred Mountain maintains a living monastic tradition exceeding a millennium.


At the end of January 2006, a UNESCO mission visited Mt. Athos to ascertain the status of the site both from the environmental and the cultural point of view. Christian Manhart represented the World Heritage Centre and professor Herb Stovel the International Council for Monuments and Sites. Med-INA director Thymio Papayannis represented IUCN - The World Conservation Union.


The first impressions from this mission were that Mt. Athos faces a number of threats (such as fires, opening of new roads, excessive exploitation of forests and ineffective management of wastes). Serious measures, however, are taken by the Greek state and the Monastic community to resolve these problems and thus to maintain its unique ecological and cultural / spiritual character. 





[posted on 24 November 2005]

 Meteora Visit - questionnaire test



Within the framework of the Delos Initiative, it has been decided to test the questionnaire that was already reviewed by the Task Force members. The central attempt took place in the area of Meteora, which lies at the Thessaly plain, in Greece. On 18-20 November 2005, we paid our first visit to this distinctive UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site that hosts one of the oldest Monastic communities of the country.  


The feeling of owe that the breathtaking landscape creates to the visitor can not be described, nor can it be conveyed by photos. Extremely large monoliths rise in the middle of a valley, fringed by rich and colourful vegetation. The site is also a designated NATURA 2000 area, due its exceptional fauna and flora species. On the inaccessible summits of the stone pillars, the Monasteries were built at the beginning of the 2nd millennium A.D. They are unique examples of architecture and remote places of contemplation. more






[posted on 21 June 2005]




Impressions from the Symposium on "Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity: The Role of sacred Natural Sites and Cultural Landscapes". Tokyo-Japan, 30 May-2 June 2005

It was an interesting and instructive experience. The presentation of the Delos Initiative at the Symposium by Josep Maria Mallarach was very important, and it allowed further contacts, which could result in the inclusion of additional sites and the broadening of the work group. The WCPA Task Force held two long meetings in Tokyo, devoted to the refining of its goals, objectives and strategy, on May 29 and June 2, both of which proved to be very productive.

The subject of the replacement of Allen Putney as the leader of the Task Force, after his intention to resign due to lack of time, was set on the table.

The objectives of the Symposium shifted a little throughout the preparatory process. Instead of concentrating on a limited number of case studies and the discussion on a document of draft guidelines for sacred sites management, the initial scope of the meeting was expanded with inputs from various institutions, such as CBD and the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. more





[posted on 20 May 2005]

Delos at a major Tokyo Conference

The Delos Initiative has been included in the programme of the International Symposium on "Conserving Cultural and Biological Diversity: The Role of sacred Natural Sites and Cultural Landscapes". This important event, organised by UNESCO and the United Nations University, in collaboration with IUCN and other international organisations, will be held in Tokyo (Japan) on 30 May to 2 June 2005, as part of the World EXPO 2005.


The presentation of the Delos Initiative will be made by Josep M. Mallarach, who assists with the co-ordination of the corresponding work group, in the framework of IUCN/WCPA Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas.




[posted on 5 November 2004]


The Delos Initiative website was first posted on the Internet (hosted by Med-INA at