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Sacred forests of India: a strong tradition of community-based natural resource management


Sacred forests represent an important long-held tradition of conserving specific land areas that have cultural, and often religious, significance. India, with its diversity of cultures and traditions, has over 100 000 sacred forests. Many of these groves are forest fragments in agricultural landscapes. In most cases, community members are at least aware of these fragments, if not actively involved in their protection and management. This review focuses on the Western Ghats in southern India and Meghalaya state in north-eastern India, both international biodiversity hotspots. In addition to the cultural significance of sacred forests, a number of studies have suggested that they are important refuges for conservation of biological diversity, including medicinal plants, within highly anthropogenic landscapes. Whilst sacred groves have been successful conservation areas, current threats to these forests are numerous, ranging from pressures for use of timber and other forest products to clearing for agriculture or general changes in cultural traditions. A variety of arrangements exist for ownership and management of sacred forests, making it necessary to identify solutions on a case-by-case basis. Support for the continued practice of the tradition of sacred forest protection is needed in order to provide a culturally sensitive model for community-based natural resource management.

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*Correspondence: Dr Alison Ormsby Tel: +1 727 864 8379 Fax: +1 727 864 7967 e-mail:
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