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Maintaining standing stones benefits biodiversity in lowland heathland

  • Emma Shepheard-Walwyn (a1) and Shonil A. Bhagwat (a2)

The exploitation of natural resources by people generally has detrimental effects on nature but in some cases anthropogenic activities can result in changes to the natural environment that produce new habitats and increase biodiversity. Understanding and supporting such cultural aspects of land use is an important part of effective conservation strategies. The UK has a range of cultural landscapes that contribute to the landscape matrix and are often important for biodiversity. However, little research has been conducted on the relationship between various types of cultural landscapes or their effects on biodiversity. We examined the interaction between semi-natural sacred sites and lowland heathland in Cornwall, and the contribution these sites make to the overall biodiversity within the habitat. We found that semi-natural sacred sites had significantly higher levels of biodiversity compared to surrounding heathland; the existence and use of the sites created new and important habitats for rare and threatened heathland species; and the spiritual and cultural use of the sites aids the management of heathland. Promoting the use of semi-natural sacred sites could therefore contribute to biodiversity conservation. Furthermore, the cultural and spiritual importance of such sites potentially increases the availability of volunteer resources for their management. We highlight the importance of an integrated management approach for achieving effective biodiversity conservation in areas containing multiple types of cultural landscapes.

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