Integrating Cultural and Spiritual Values in Spain’s Protected Areas

In Spain, similarly to other Western countries, the first national parks created at the beginning of the 20th century were based on cultural and spiritual values. Seventy years later however, the approach and rationale used to establish protected areas was very different. Only natural values were considered and the techno-scientific approach to understanding and valuing natural heritage had become prevalent. The following sections discuss the key steps of the process that developed from the start of the 21st century to integrate cultural and spiritual values into protected areas of Spain.

A turning point at the 2003 World Parks Congress

Since the creation of IUCN in 1948, nature was understood through western science, despite the fact most of the world’s cultures had no words in their language to describe this scientific way of knowing nature (Mallarach, 2008). Although a number of significant international developments prepared the ground for a broader informed basis for conservation, a major turning point was the WCPA World Park Congress in 2003. Recommendation V.13 on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas” of the 2003 World Park Congress points out that all involved in conservation should fully recognise and respect cultural and spiritual values and rights in their conservation activities. IUCN was recommended to include cultural and spiritual values in the 1994 Protected Area Category Guidelines, which was done three years later in 2008. Finally, WCPA and its members were asked to implement the recommendations within the protected areas component of the IUCN Programme.

Key developments at different levels in Spain

After the WPC, two Spanish participants became members of the Task Force on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas, then led by Mr. Allen Putney. Back in Spain they discussed and planned several actions to integrate Recommendation V.13 in the work of organisations responsible for protected areas in their country.

2005 – The Conference of EUROPARC-Spain hosts the first round table on cultural and spiritual values in protected areas in Spain. Its conclusions led to a new section in the 2002 Action Plan for Protected Areas of Spain dedicated to the integration of cultural and spiritual values in the methods and strategies of planning and management of protected areas.

2005 – Silene Association was created in 2005. It aims at the study, dissemination and promotion of the spiritual and intangible cultural heritage values inherent in Nature, particularly in relation to the conservation of nature and natural protected areas. Silene’s documentation centre answers to the increasing need for a reference service to those who study and promote the spiritual and cultural values of nature.

2008 – EUROPARC-Spain and Silene adopt an agreement to promote the integration of cultural and spiritual values in the protected areas of Spain. The same year, the Board of the Natural Park of Montserrat adopted a complete strategy for integrating cultural and spiritual values, becoming the first protected area in Spain to do so.

2006 – The first workshop of the Delos Initiative “Spirituality in Protected Areas” was held in the holy mountain and monastery of Montserrat. Delos Initiative focuses on sacred natural sites that are representative of the world’s religious and spiritual traditions in technologically developed countries. Its objective is to reach an understanding of these faiths’ relationships with the natural world and the importance of sacred natural sites therein while resolving conflicts between sacrality and conservation objectives. The Delos Working Group draws experience from case studies that have been analysed in order to provide recommendations and guidance.

2009 – The Programme of Work of Protected Areas of Spain was adopted in 2009 by all the agencies responsible for protected area management and the first to include a strategic line and actions on cultural and spiritual values of protected areas. Strategic line 4.2 is dedicated to the integration of cultural and spiritual values into the management of protected areas. The expected outputs are Guidelines to include intangible values into the planning and management of protected areas.

2010 – Seminar on the Intangible Cultural Heritage and Spiritual Heritage of Protected Areas in Catalonia. Silene organised a workshop in the seminar held at Poblet Monastery, a World Heritage Site located inside a protected area. One of the goals of the seminar was to contribute to the EUROPARC-Spain manual 10, a guide to incorporating intangible heritage in protected area management in Spain.

2012 – The Manual on Intangible Heritage in Protected Areas was published after two years of preparatory work. Entitled: “Intangible Heritage: Cultural and Spiritual Values. Manual for its introduction into Protected Areas” the handbook presents background to the subject at international and European levels, sets out the criteria and methodologies needed for assessment of the values of intangible heritage and provides recommendations for incorporating these values into all stages of protected natural areas planning management and evaluation. It includes ten full case studies, references, a glossary and a list of over one hundred initiatives and experiences regarding intangible heritage that have been developed in Spain. Click here to download of the manual.

2013 – The Masters Programme on Protected Areas at Madrid Autonomous University includes a component on cultural and spiritual values of protected areas following the publication of manual 10 (see above). Students of this programme come from Spain and Latin America. The syllabus features four hours of dedicated classwork as well as several other classes on planning, management, and evaluation that include smaller components on cultural and spiritual values. Every year several students choose to do their masters thesis on this topic, often in South America while working with indigenous communities. Learn more ⟶

2015 – A workshop for testing Manual 10 in Biosphere Reserve Sierra del Rincón. EUROPARC-Spain and the municipality of La Hiruela organised the workshop to promote the cultural heritage of natural protected areas. Fifteen participants from protected areas of several regions of Spain, including the Canary Islands participated. The seminar allowed sharing firsthand experiences and resources promoted through the Geoportal on the cultural heritage of protected areas of EUROPARC-Spain. Learn more ⟶

2016 – Post-graduate course on values and significance of Nature. The 10 ETC course entitled “Spiritual Significance and Values of Nature: perception, interpretation, communication and integration” will be taught at the University of Girona. Tailored to professionals working in natural areas, the course will offer a space for reflection, training, and dissemination on the ultimate reasons to conserve nature. It deals with the significance that nature holds for the worldviews and faiths coexisting in Catalonia. The course will feature 16 teachers, coordinated by Josep-Maria Mallarach and Josep Gordi.

Lessons Learned

  • Participation of a large number of people involved in different protected area types and regions across Spain provided a diverse overview of examples and experiences.
  • The interest in cultural and spiritual values in protected areas was higher than anticipated and allowed for the identification of examples of best practices for almost all the proposed guidelines.
  • Despite that a good deal of preparatory online and desk work, the two three-day workshops on the topic held in protected areas, fostered participants’ personal acquaintance and impetus to engage in the project.
  • From the start of the project, the strong collaboration between the Technical Office of Europarc Federation-Spain, responsible for providing training to protected areas managers, planners and policy makers and Silene Association, focusing on cultural and spiritual values of nature conservation, was crucial to the its success.
  • Publishing the Manual as part of a series issued by the Technical Office of Europarc Federation in Spain allowed for its delivery at the target group as well as further mainstreaming and integration of cultural and spiritual values in protected areas.


2003: Durban WPC – First recommendations to integrate cultural and spiritual values in protected areas.

2005-2006: Annual meeting EUROPARC-Spain, first and second round table on cultural and spiritual values in protected areas.

2006: First workshop of the Delos Initiative “Protected Areas and Spirituality” held in the natural park and holy mountain of Montserrat.

2008: Agreement between EUROPARC-Spain and Silene Association to promote the integration of cultural and spiritual values in the Protected Areas of Spain.

2009-2013 :Programme of Work for Protected Areas of Spain includes a Strategic Line and actions on cultural and spiritual values of protected areas.

2011-2012: Development and publication of the training manual of intangible heritage, guidelines for including cultural and spiritual values into protected areas of Spain.

2013 onwards: Inclusion of cultural and spiritual values in the annual Masters Programme of Protected Areas in Madrid -the more prestigious of Spain.

2015: Testing and fine tuning of the recommendation of the training manual at the workshop of Europarc Spain & Silene in Reserve of Biosphere Sierra del Rincón, Madrid.

2016: A six month training course at the University of Girona on the Spiritual Values and Significance of Nature for protected area professionals.

The first manual published in Europe on account of the intangible heritage in protected natural areas cover Sacred Natural Sites in depth. The scope of the concept of “intangible heritage” has been carefully defined in order to encompass all the intangible values that have clear links to the natural heritage. Learn more →

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