Culture and Wetlands
Sacred Natural Sites
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Sacred Natural Sites

Support for the integrated management of the Athonite Peninsula (2011-2013)

The Athonite Peninsula in northern Greece has hosted an important monastic community since the end of the first millennium. Today the community numbers more than 2000 monks living in 20 monasteries and a variety of sketes and hermitages. Besides its unique cultural and spiritual significance resulting from the ancient and uninterrupted tradition of Orthodox monasticism existing on the peninsula, Mount Athos is blessed with a rich natural heritage and high biodiversity. For this reason it was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1988 for both its natural and cultural importance, as well as being listed in its entirety as a Natura 2000 protected area under EU legislation.

Med-INA’ s director Thymio Papayannis is assisting the Holy Community of Mount Athos by coordinating a major study and integrated management plan for the spiritual, cultural and natural heritage of the area, in accordance with World Heritage Committee requirements.

The expected results of the study include an integrated plan for the conservation and management of the cultural, spiritual and natural heritage of the entire Athos peninsula, to be approved by the Holy Community as custodians of the site, and endorsed by public authorities and the World Heritage Convention, with concrete proposals for its implementation through an Action Plan.

Acting as secretariat, MedINA has performed the following duties:
  • Preparation or editing of key documents.
  • Translation of documents from English to Greek or from Greek to English.
  • Organisation of meetings, including travel arrangements.

The coordinator’s tasks for the first phase of the management study have included the following:
Preparing an outline of the study.
  • Assigning tasks to each study team member.
  • Collecting and editing their resulting work.
  • Organising and leading study team meetings.
  • Writing the first draft of the preliminary report.
  • Incorporating in the report the comments received from the study team on the first draft and from the Mount Athos Committee on Institutional Matters on the final draft.
The first phase of the study has been approved by the Holy Community of Mt Athos in December 2012.

In addition, the study coordinator has provided technical and policy advice on various issues at the request of the Holy Community and its Committee on Institutional Matters.

The Delos Initiative

Strengthening co-operation between custodians of sacred sites and managers of protected areas can provide mutual benefits. As mainstream churches adopt a more environmentally responsible attitude to the management of their lands there exist a great many positive opportunities for collaboration. For this reason the Delos Initiative was established in 2004, within the framework of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and its Specialist Group on the Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas (CSVPA).

The Delos Initiative focuses on sacred natural sites found in developed countries throughout the world. Its primary purpose is to help maintain both the sanctity and biodiversity of these sites, through understanding the complex relationship between spiritual and natural values. The Delos Initiative is jointly coordinated by Thymio Papayannis, Med-INA director, and Josep-Maria Mallarach of the Silene Association. Med-INA provides secretarial support to the Delos Initiative and hosts its website.

The objectives of the initiative are as follows:
  • To understand the position of religions and spiritual traditions on nature and the sanctity of natural sites in technologically developed countries.
  • To assess the relevance and importance of sacred natural sites in contemporary life and attempt to estimate the significance of their spiritual values.
  • To study how these spiritual values can be maintained and enhanced, and to investigate whether and how these values can contribute to the conservation of sites. 
  • To attempt to resolve conflicts between the spiritual character and uses of sacred sites with their conservation and management requirements by working towards cooperation wherever possible.

The Delos Initiative embraces a bottom-up approach, based on the analysis of specific sites. The objectives outlined above are therefore examined first at a local level and discussed among different teams until conclusions are reached, with the results being extrapolated to a broader level. This method is complemented by a top-down approach, by applying to projects the basic metaphysical principles shared by most spiritual traditions, such as the symbolic character of nature, the sacredness of at least some natural manifestations, and the awe and respect shown for the natural order as a reflection of divine order.

Since its establishment, MedINA has contributed to the following:
  • Support for the organisation of the Delos1 Workshop in Montserrat (Catalonia, Spain) on ‘Nature and Spirituality’, 23-26 November 2006. The workshop produced the ‘Montserrat Statement on sacred natural sites in technologically developed countries’ and the workshop’s proceedings:
  • Mallarach, J.-M. and Papayannis T. (eds) (2007), Protected areas and Spirituality: Proceedings of the First Workshop of the Delos Initiative - Montserrat 2006, IUCN - Abadia de Montserrat, Barcelona.
  • Organisation of the Delos2 Workshop in Ouranoupolis (Halkidiki, Greece) on ‘Providing guidance for sacred natural sites in developed countries’, 24-28 October 2007. The workshop produced the ‘Ouranoupolis Statement on sacred natural sites in technologically developed countries’ and the workshop’s proceedings: Papayannis, Th. and Mallarach J.-M. (eds) (2009), The Sacred Dimension of Protected Areas: Proceedings of the Second Workshop of the Delos Initiative - Ouranoupolis 2007, IUCN - Med-INA, Athens.
  • Support for the organisation of the Delos3 Workshop in Inari (Lapland, Finland) on the ’Relation between mainstream faiths and indigenous beliefs’, 30 June - 4 July 2010. Med-INA also contributed to the editing of the workshop’s proceedings: Mallarach, J.-M., Papayannis, T. and Vaisanen, R. (eds) (2012), The Diversity of Sacred Lands in Europe: Proceedings of the Third Workshop of the Delos Initiative – Inari/Aanaar 2010, Gland: IUCN and Vantaa: Metsahallitus Natural Heritage Services.
  • Establishment of a global Delos network on sacred natural sites (SNS) in developed countries.
  • Awareness-raising in major monastic communities (mainly Christian Catholic and Orthodox).
  • Providing guidance on ecological management of SNS in specific cases.
A Delos4 Workshop is now being planned by the Delos Initiative to be held this time in a Moslem country, focusing on Islamic sacred natural sites.