Researchers Map World’s Sacred Forests

Posted by: Amberly Polidor – Posted in: Africa, Asia, Success Story – via Sacred Land Film Project » News & Blog.

Shinto/Buddhist pilgrimage trail through forest in the Kii Mountains of Japan. Photo courtesy of Brad Towle.About 15 percent of the world’s surface is “sacred land” and about eight percent of it — mostly forest — is owned by religious groups, according to a team of Oxford University scientists working on a project to scientifically measure the coverage of religious and sacred land around the globe and assess its biodiversity and land-use values.

While initially focused on areas owned or revered by the world’s mainstream religious groups, the project — a collaboration with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation — has moved into a broader stage of mapping all “religious forests,” including those managed by much smaller groups and communities. The aim is to create a database to aid scientists working with community and religious groups on conservation efforts.

The research team, from the Biodiversity Institute in the Oxford Martin School, will carry out field studies and collect information in face-to-face interviews with local communities spanning the globe and representing a spectrum of beliefs and practices. Visits are already planned to India and Ghana. (Read our sacred site reports to learn more about sacred forest groves in India and Ghana.)

To create the database, researchers will collect information on boundary lines and land rights; a forest’s biodiversity value and role in carbon-dioxide absorption; and the local community’s relationship with the forest over generations — religious and cultural uses, including medicinal plant resources.

The results could play a vital role in conservation, as well as native land rights efforts. “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,” research team member Dr. Shonil Bhagwat said. “Such mapping can also allow the custodian communities, who have protected these sites for generations, to secure their legal status.”