Posted by Alicia Perez Rodriguez on Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Oxford scientists are producing an entire map of the world’s religious forests –locations that contain some of richest biodiversity in the world, including some of the highest numbers of threatened species. A research team is now engaged in a project to scientifically measure the full extent of global coverage that religious forests provide and assess their value in terms of biodiversity and land use by the local community. Religious forests are managed through the stewardship of community elders but most receive no formal protection. The researchers hope this evidence-based assessment will be the first step in ensuring these biodiversity hotspots are fully protected through official channels-like regional or national governments.

Religious communities recently estimated that they owned up to one tenth of the word’s forests. Oxford scientists are in the vanguard in recognising the important role that religious groups can play as partners in conservation. The research team will gather information in face-to-face meetings with local communities and carry out field studies in the forests and other sacred sites- with the initial visits already planned to India and Ghana. The team hopes to build links and gather evidence about the scientific significance of the forests.

An initiative to globally map religious forests was started in collaboration with ARC (Alliance of Religions and Conservation) but until now the efforts have mainly focused on areas owned by mainstream religious groups. Oxford University has teamed up with ARC and the scientists behind another similar project, SANASI, to spearhead and evidence-based approach that identifies and assessed all religious forests, including those managed by much smaller groups.

Professor Kathy Willis, Dr Shonil Bhagwat and graduate student Ashley Massey at the Biodiversity Institute (part of Oxford Martin School) aim to create an evidence-based database that can inform scientists on how they can work with community groups and religions.

Read more at:  Religious forests to protect biodiversity hotspots |