Research shows that biodiversity loss has occurred on an alarming scale in recent decades, and this has significant implications for the health of local communities and the environment around the world. Sacred Natural Sites (SNS) are increasingly seen as showcases for the conservation of biological and cultural diversity, because their great cultural importance derives from biodiversity and requires its maintenance.
The biodiversity of trees in general and of medicinal plants in particular, which otherwise are in greater danger, is protected in the SNS. The research described in this paper addresses the conservation of endangered medicinal plants in the SNS and similar informal protection areas of Sidama in southwestern Ethiopia. Mixed methods were used to inventory the biodiversity of medicinal plants in these places and explore local understandings and explanations of the role these places play in conservation. The findings suggest that where SNS exist, medicinal plants and traditional herbal medicine are fine. Furthermore, the results showed that some species of medicinal plants owe their continued existence to the maintenance of the SNS. This research is expected to contribute to a better understanding of the role SNS play in the conservation of medicinal plants, as well as the resilience and dynamics of traditional herbal medicine in the context of SNS.
Public interest statement
This research reports on the role played by the sacred sites of Sidama in Ethiopia in the conservation of medicinal plants and in the conservation of indigenous plant-based medical practices. The research is significant because it contributes to the debate on the emerging issue of the conservation of biocultural diversity and the role that sacred natural sites such as sacred forests play under traditional management regimes in the conservation of biological and cultural diversity. The findings could be of interest to academics, policy makers and the general public in the areas of community forestry, crop protection forest management, medicinal plants and their knowledge.
1. Background and introduction
Biocultural diversity is a concept that indicates the connection between biological and cultural diversity (Loh and Harmon, 2005; Redford and Brosius, 2006). Sacred Natural Sites (SNS) are socially constructed places (Schaefer, 2003), which focus on natural objects and other man-made objects as the epicenters of local ecology, community life, livelihoods and beliefs ( Sponsel, 2013). The SNS are important world heritage sites built from time immemorial; they are manifestations of an inextricable link between human cultural systems and nature (Balée, 2006); key evidence from nature such as cultural archives and anthropogenic footprints (Pilgrim et al., 2009). Human societies have reserved areas of land for special cultural or other needs since time immemorial (Sobrevila, 2008). Sacred mountains, rivers, forests and groves, caves, wells and islands are the oldest conservation areas in the world (Dudley, Higgins-Zogib, and Mansourian, 2009) and still form a vast network of sanctuaries around the world, mostly unrecognized (Mallarach and Papayannis, 2009; McIvor, Fincke and Oviedo, 2008). SNS are increasingly seen as showcases for biocultural diversity. This is because its great cultural importance derives from biodiversity and requires its maintenance (Dudley et al., 2009; McIvor et al., 2008; Sponsel, 2013; Verschuuren, 2010). Research interest in SNS and their role in the conservation of biological and cultural diversity has increased since the 1960s (Sponsel, 2008) and their importance for conservation is increasingly recognized globally (Mallarach & Papayannis, 2009 ; Sobrevila, 2008) after the introduction of the concept. of biocultural diversity in the conservation debate in the early 1990s.