Culture and Wetlands
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Culture and Wetlands

The question of what cultural values are is an important one, especially if we are to say that they can be used to promote environmental management and contribute to nature conservation. Culture is often perceived as a set of characteristics that define a group of people or society, something related solely to literature or the arts, and of interest to a select few. But culture also refers to the day to day ways in which humans live their lives, to anything created by human activities; this can include beliefs, value systems, working practices and food traditions.

Some of these cultural values are deemed important enough to be passed on to future generations, which become part of our human heritage. This heritage can be material or intangible, may have different meanings for different stakeholders, and its values may compete and change over time; it can include such things as traditional knowledge and wisdom associated with natural resources, cultural landscapes formed from agricultural patterns, oral traditions and languages, as well as events and ceremonies either secular or spiritual. When it comes to wetlands, cultural values and heritage manifest themselves through salt harvesting, reed cutting, fishing, the weaving of nets, rice growing, boat building, animal grazing, hunting, and the building of huts, roofs and fish-traps with reeds. These everyday activities are the cultural values deeply entwined with Mediterranean wetlands.

Cultural heritage merits protection both for its own sake and its inseparable links to biodiversity. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, humankind depends on biological diversity for its survival. While at the same time, it has been acknowledged that indigenous and local communities play a vital role in conserving the very biodiversity so essential to human life. Culture and biodiversity are interconnected, and the factors that threaten one will eventually jeopardise the other. As such, integrated management methods that keep in mind the importance of both cultural and natural values are the optimum tools for successful conservation practices.

Cultural values, however, can be a double-edged sword; they can be used for the benefit of wetlands and nature in general, or they can have harmful effects on our shared environment. In the form of pesticides and fertilisers used in proximity to wetlands, uncontrolled grazing, fishing and hunting, unsustainable mass tourism, overuse of water resources and the draining of wetlands for agricultural land and development, cultural values and practices can have a negative impact on biodiversity and the health of ecosystems. Med-INA aims to promote cultural values that benefit both man and nature.