This page outlines the Mediterranean Consortium for Nature and Culture’s experience and lessons learned on how to strengthen and celebrate traditional cultural practices that benefit nature and biodiversity and the people who maintain them.
With real examples and case studies from the Mediterranean Consortium partners underlining the different methodologies and approaches, we hope that this set of principles, tools and advice will be useful to practitioners in the field of environment and culture in the Mediterranean and further afield.
It has been developed in a joint effort by all Consortium partners: DiversEarth, MedINA, Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon, Trashumancia y Naturaleza, WWF-North Africa and Yolda Initiative, and reflects our work together over the past 5 years in support of cultural practices that benefit nature in the Mediterranean.
We have kept it very simple. The document is split in 10 parts based on the various aspects and features of the work of the Consortium with cultural practices and their practitioners. Each part gives an overview of the subject and for those interested in finding out more, there are links to further information, tools and case studies.
WHO IS IT FOR?
• Other practitioners in the fields of environment and culture
• Conservation and cultural heritage community
• Interested general public
Definition of Key Terms
Definition UNESCO (2002): “Culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature, lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs.”(UNESCO, 2002)
The definition of Edward Burnett Tylor, an English anthropologist (1832 – 1917): “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”.
Traditional and customary practices and knowledge developed within specific ethnic or cultural groups. For our work, we focus on cultural methods of managing lands and waters, various agricultural systems and religious belief systems such as sacred natural sites or sacred species.
The seasonal movement of people and livestock through the landscape in search of water and pasture. This includes variations such as transhumance, semi-nomadic and nomadic pastoralism and certain practices of extensive grazing, involving people, herds and movement through the landscape.
A seasonal movement of people and livestock through the landscape in search of water and pasture, typically to highlands for summer and lowlands for winter. Normally only the herd travels accompanied by shepherds whereas the rest of the family stays in the villages.
Semi Nomadic and Nomadic Pastoralism
A seasonal or continued movement of people and livestock through the landscape in search of water and pasture where the whole family moves together with the animals.
Low intensity livestock farming, based on seasonal rotation of pastures.
Traditional Fishing Practices
Small-scale commercial or subsistence fishing methods employed by local populations. Those various techniques (mobile traps, barriers, etc.) are less wasteful and less stressful on fish populations than modern industrial fishing and can have positive impacts on coastal or lagoon ecosystems.
The Following Are Some Of The Principles And Standards That Have Guided Our Work:
Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC): While these standards were originally developed for Indigenous Peoples, all peoples have the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). FPIC is a principle protected by international human rights standards that state, ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination’ and – linked to the right to self-determination – ‘all peoples have the right to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’. Backing FPIC are the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Labour Organization Convention 169. http://www.fao.org/3/a-i6190e.pdf
Ethical Research: Linked to FPIC as outlined above, we acknowledge that undertaking research with and within communities is an ethical concern in terms of how we use, communicate and share information (see ISE guidelines – International Society of Ethnobiology (2006). International Society of Ethnobiology Code of Ethics (with 2008 additions), http://ethnobiology.net/code-of-ethics/).
Supporting Communities to Continue Their Ways of Life: Our main entry point is in a supportive role – how can we best help support communities to continue their threatened cultural practices (that benefit nature)?
Capacity Building: Capacity building is a two-way street and we acknowledge that we are being enriched as much as we hope to enrich others.
Working with Knowledge-Holders: We respect and celebrate practitioners of threatened cultural practices that benefit nature and recognize their contribution to planetary care.
Reviving Cultural Practices: We acknowledge the difficulties that surround this issue. There is no blueprint here, but many questions to ask ourselves – who wants to revive the practice? Can it be revived – is it viable in today’s world? Why would we want to revive it? Etc…
The Consortium’s work together began with a Rapid Assessment of the cultural practices that benefit nature in the Mediterranean Basin. We wanted to identify these first and get a feel for their scope and impact in the countries where we focus (Iberian Peninsula, Middle East, Turkey, North Africa, Greece and Balkans). We set out a simple methodology for collecting a vast amount of information, then consolidated it into a report.
How do we define a cultural practice?
Taking the broadest definition of culture, how do we decide what is a cultural practice? Some simple criteria include:
1. Distinct Cultural Practice
Is the practice evidently based on cultural values and value systems that can be identified, that differentiate it from other practices in the same place or area?
2. Authenticity / Integrity
Is the practice an authentic endeavour embedded in a community?
Does the practice occur in areas of high biodiversity value?
Does the practice contribute, directly or indirectly, to the conservation of biodiversity and/or the sustainable use of natural resources? Does the practice contribute to the Traditional Ecological Knowledge of a region?
Does the practice have longevity and therefore has it been sustainable to date? What is the likelihood of its existence in the future?
6. Added Value
What can we practically do, as an interdisciplinary team, to support this practice?
Our methodology was simple – each partner would identify the following:
2. Name of practice (English and local language)
3. Description of practice
4. Description of cultural values and systems
5. Conservation impact
6. Where is it practiced, since when, and by whom
7. Assessment of sustainability
8. Threats and opportunities
The main groups of cultural practices identified by the Rapid Assessment were:
A. Transhumance, nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoralism, traditional grazing
B. Agro-pastoral systems based on local knowledge (linked with agro-biodiversity)
C. Sacred sites, holy places, sacred species, ways of pilgrimage
D. Traditional forestry and forest protection
E. Dry stone walls, architecture and other bio-climatic construction techniques (including terracing)
F. Traditional (and unique) fishing techniques
G. Traditional hunting
H. Traditional water management systems
I. Belief systems, rituals, festivals, folklore, etc…
J. Traditional harvesting of food (food as cultural practice)
K. Traditional harvesting of natural resources for other purposes (medicinal, crafts, etc.)
1. Can a Lost Cultural Practice be Revived?
Many issues surround the idea of reviving lost cultural practices:
- Who can decide to revive a practice?
- Can it be someone other than the practitioners?
- Why did it disappear in the first place?
- Is the practice pertinent / possible today?
- How do you ensure that it becomes properly embedded again in a community?
- What about ownership and integrity?
- How do you get wider support for it?
- Is revival understood to mean a return of the practice to every day life or can it be revived as a form of conservation?
The list of questions is endless.
Two of the major cultural practices considered in this study are Transhumance in Spain and Hima (community conserved areas) in the Middle East, Lebanon in particular– both of these are practices that have been / are still being revived. Over 25 years of hard work by Jesús Garzon and his organisation Trashumancia y Naturaleza (Consortium member for the Iberian Peninsula) to revive the long transhumance in Spain and Portugal has proved, without doubt, that lost practices can indeed be brought back with integrity. The revival of Hima in the Middle East is at an earlier stage of revival, being initiated as a concept by SPNL in 2004. However the interest that has been developed is strong. It will be extremely interesting to see the extent to which it can be moved from a concept to a meaningful part of community life. Success stories from Lebanon have already shown the positive impact on community life and nature conservation. SPNL (Consortium member for Lebanon, Jordan and Syria) is world leader in Hima revival.
2. The Deeper Connection
One of the most interesting issues that has emerged from this work is the recognition that the practices people have most attachment to – and are therefore most sustainable – are not necessarily those that provide economic benefit (although this, of course, is one important element among many). They are instead practices that involve a deeper dimension of involvement: practices that inspire ‘freedom’ for the practitioner; practices that are devotional or spiritual in nature; practices that are actually lifestyles; or practices that are so unique and passed from one generation to the next with pride.
3. Authenticity and Integrity
Very much linked to the above, are the characteristics of authenticity and integrity. Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher, believed that jazz was a real expression of authenticity – an expression of the self. Likewise, the authentic cultural practice is a practice that truly expresses the ideas and values (at least partially) of a culture or a community. Only when it has that fierce integrity does it have a chance of being somehow sustainable.
4. Threats to Human Cultural Diversity
In this assessment we touched also on practices that were more than simple activities. The nomadic pastoralists of Turkey are one such case in point. Here we are talking of lifestyles, of ethnic minorities, of cultural heritage and of human rights. It also raises the question of threatened human cultural diversity and how, as a conservation community, we can help address these threats, particularly as conservation has often been the source of threat.
5. Interrelated Practices
It was also made very clear during this exercise that these cultural practices are often interrelated and dependent on one another. For example, in Spain and Portugal, Trashumancia y Naturaleza decided to consider all of the different types of cultural practices occurring on one transhumant route: la vía de la Plata. This practice relates to many others (production of food, craftsmanship of animal bells etc.) and in many ways cannot be separated. Likewise in Tunisia it was noted that in almost all of the practices considered, the Marabout played a pivotal role.
Education and Engaging Youth
Thinking of the sustainability of cultural practices is certainly an inter-generational issue. Therefore engaging youth and bio-cultural education were seen as key elements in the Mediterranean Consortium’s work. Case studies from SPNL, MedINA and WWF-North Africa explain this further.
The World Wide Fund for Nature, North Africa
Environmental education in childhood includes the development of a sense of respect and acceptance of the natural and cultural identity of spaces. It also includes the development of problem-solving skills and and an appreciation of the world around us. Since 1994 the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) North Africa (NA) has been working on the conservation of ecosystems, including environmental education as a key pillar for nature conservation.
The Society for Protection of Nature Lebanon
A set of trainings took place under the Homat Al Hima Capacity Building Programme within Hima Anjar/Kfar Zabad between April and August 2016 specifically for Bird Identification and Monitoring, Canoeing and Safety in Water, Flora and Fauna identification, Guiding in Nature, Landscape and Hima, Social Media, Business Planning and Event Management, Water and Sustainable agriculture. The aim of the trainings was the development of management/business plans for the Hima sites where the trainings took place, economic empowerment, education and awareness for Homat Al Hima members, in addition to the protection of nature and biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources for the benefit of the young people.
The Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos
Education and youth engagement is a key agent in facilitating sustainable positive change within a societal context and crucial in shaping a new generation that applies civic values like cooperation, respect and autonomy as well as appreciates and actively protects its natural and cultural heritage. Being much more than just passive recipients of external influences, young people must be supported in becoming actively involved in social and environmental issues.
Mapping Cultural Practices and Sciences
This important element of our work is led by Yolda Initiative and ensures that we are making the case for practices in a way that is sound and compelling.
Like for other traditional cultural practices, mobile pastoralism and their communities, and mainstream scientific research can contribute substantial to one another other by generating new co-produced knowledge (there already exist numerous studies acknowledging this beneficial relationship). Considering the role that mobile pastoral communities play by managing 25% of the world’s land area (if not more) simply through how the practice functions and supports landscapes of high ecological value is indispensable for conservation science.
Our Findings Have Enabled Us To:
- Understand the current extent of the practice in these 5 countries
- Develop a baseline indicator from which to monitor change, decline, revival – over the coming years
- Develop a baseline dataset for further studies and finer scale correlations with other variables
- Demonstrate the significant intersection level between the routes and the areas of high ecological values
- Demonstrate the spatial connectivity function of the practice between the areas of high ecological values
- Provide a finer scale dataset/knowledge as a foundation for decision making processes towards developing policies and reinforcement of on-the-ground solutions for halting the loss of the practice and/or conserving areas of high ecological value
Policy, and specifically the CAP, is one of the most influential factors on pastoralism and agrosilvopastoral ecosystems in the EU. While the Nature Directives tend to favour them, the CAP mainly supports an industrial export-oriented production model applied to agriculture. This has triggered simultaneous processes of intensification and land abandonment, resulting in pollution, resource overuse and biodiversity decline. Traditional small farming has being progressively displaced by this intensive model, and the number of small farms has been dramatically reduced (2,5 millions disappeared in the EU in the period 2003-2010).
As it is a hugely influential EU policy and there is a risk that it will be followed or to some extent copied in other countries in the Mediterranean, it is very important to work to improve it so that it supports traditional farming and cultural practices, such as mobile pastoralism.
Use Emotive Messaging
Messages should be scientifically and technically well founded but also they should appeal to people´s emotions eg, by using easy slogans such as “healthy food, healthy environment, healthy people”, communicating that production growth should never be at the expense of the health and future of the people in rural communities.
Decode The CAP
It is important to “decode” the CAP and make it understandable. When faced with the complexity of the CAP the best strategy is to ask simple questions to expose its inefficiency and contradictions.
'Bottom Up' Design
Elaborating solid economic arguments to support cultural practices, such as extensive grazing and mobile pastoralism, as the driver of a new economic model based on sustainability. The proposed CAP for the next period should supports the provision of ecosystems services and public goods. This should be funded through outcome-based measures and designed ‘bottom-up’. In this sense, dismantling and exposing the fallacies of the current CAP rhetoric is essential (see our section on Traditional Ecological Knowledge).
Creating Centres for Knowledge and Interaction
Three of our Consortium partners considered or undertook the development of Centers of Knowledge and Interaction. The following case studies from SPNL, MedINA and WWF-NA showcase the opportunities and the challenges of such an approach.
The World Wide Fund for Nature, North Africa
The MCNC’s project was an opportunity to have continual presence in Ghar el Melh, which helped WWFNA to not only continue the work of lobbying to open the Wetland Center to the public, but also engage new partnerships to better understand the needs and aspirations of the practitioners and implement wetland city accreditation.
The Society for Protection of Nature Lebanon
One of the key issues identified was the loss of traditional practices and their proper conservation and management of distinctive landscapes due to the lack of interest of new generations and the out-migration of rural areas. This issue was highly reflected in Lebanon and solutions sought in the management of Hima and by the initiation of the Homat Al Hima programme. Today SPNL has seen some major accomplishments as noted in a previous Part of this document.
The Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos
Creating a Multi-Functional Fishing Hub in Messolonghi was explored as an activity that could have major benefits for the area and for traditional fishermen. The creation of such a centre of knowledge and interaction would be a product of collaboration by a variety of local agents from businessmen to local authorities to traditional fishermen.
Traditional Ecological Knowledge
Many traditional cultures that have been shaping the world’s landscapes for thousands of years are based on an understanding that their survival and that of future generations depends on respecting the constant interaction with nature. Thus, the ecological knowledge emerging from their accumulated experiences across generations builds a body of wisdom that perceives individuals and thus communities as an integral component of ecosystems whereby pushing the boundaries of current hegemonic perspectives.
Fikret Berkes defines such traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) as “a cumulative body of knowledge, practice, and belief, evolving by adaptive processes and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment”.
Thus traditional ecological knowledge is built on a web of shifting patterns that links humankind firmly with their environment. This acknowledgment of the deep connection with nature, is accompanied by the values, spirituality, rituals, rites, worldview, norms, artifacts/techniques, practices and institutions. This holistic understanding is the key element for these communities to adapt to external variables and to build socio-ecological resilience, which also benefits nature, thus conserving and fostering high biodiversity in many landscapes.
 Berkes, F. 2012. Sacred Ecology, New York, Routledge.
Considering the ongoing loss of biodiversity despite decades of endeavour and the recognition that many more conventional thinkers in nature conservation may be contributing to problems rather than to solutions, the importance of traditional ecological knowledge is becoming increasingly recognized by the conservation network. In addition to conservation science these fields include sustainable development, food security, agroforestry, traditional medicine, applied anthropology, biodiversity and cultural heritage conservation, natural resource management, impact assessment, and natural disaster preparedness and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Yet the threats of the modern era are such that there is a rapid loss of traditional ecological knowledge held by communities the world over. Therefore endeavours aiming to conserve these communities should also focus on understanding and promoting TEK and ensuring that it is valued as a key to a sustainable future.
Addressing this need, we have conducted several activities including research and written and visual documentations in regard with traditional ecological knowledge of the mobile pastoral communities we work with. These activities have been focused on their knowledge and role on:
- flora and fauna
- indicators of changes at species and ecosystem levels
- herd management
- land and resource use
- adaptive strategies regarding temporal and spatial variables
- fire prevention etc.
We have also conducted a study in which recognition and utilization of TEK in the establishment, management, monitoring and evaluation of protected areas was addressed. For this study semi-structured interviews have been conducted with protected area authorities and members of mobile pastoral communities in 5 countries. The findings of this study are being published in a peer-reviewed journal.
 Nakashima, D.J., Galloway McLean, K., Thulstrup, H.D., Ramos Castillo, A. and Rubis, J.T. 2012. Weathering Uncertainty: Traditional Knowledge for Climate Change Assessment and Adaptation. Paris, UNESCO, and Darwin, UNU, 120 pp.
The current productivist economic model based on mass industrial production, standardization, economies of scales and low prices is detrimental for traditional production systems. Arguably, new social demand and a truly multifunctional and sustainable view of agriculture is emerging, but inertia and specific interest groups keep the existing model well embedded in the administrative system.
Looking at profitability through a new lens of social values, such as biodiversity, is essential for the survival and future of traditional agriculture systems. Accordingly to explore new and emerging roles or market niches for cultural practices to satisfy new social demands is the focus of our activity on economic matters.
Extensive grazing and mobile pastoralism can provide multiple ecosystem services now in increasing demand, such as:
- Wildfire prevention
- Carbon sequestration and CO2 emission reduction
- Soil regeneration
- Water retention and erosion prevention
- Pollution reduction
- Healthy food
- Biodiversity, landscape and sustainable tourism
- Sustainable materials (textiles, insulation, etc.)
The provision of all these “new social values” must be sought by both public policy and the market. To accelerate these transitions it is important to support the producers exploring new ways of commercialization, such as:
- “Grass meat”, in order to reduce industrial feed and use natural pastures
- Wool market
- Artisanal raw milk cheese making
- Fauna and flora observation
- Complementary use of drover´s roads (trekking, horse riding, etc.)
- Certified cork, etc…
Questioning the validity of the current scenario of economic axioms that seem to have become fallacies, such as: ‘growth’ identified with ‘development’; ‘profitability’ based on accountancy rules, where environmental impacts are not considered and subsidised products compete unlawfully with producers both inside and outside the EU; application of economies of scale as the absolute rationale for rural development, where instead, ‘diversity’ of cultures, practices and products (and protection of ‘diverse’ natural heritage) should prevail as a basic driving force for the economy.
2. Preparing and Dessiminating
Preparing and disseminating a new socioeconomic discourse where the CAP payment should only support agriculture systems that provide ecosystem services to society, with food production being only one of them. The provision of these services should also be a condition for receiving any sort of CAP payment, such as RD payment. Also, farming practices that damage natural resources and/or have clear negative effects on rural communities should not receive public subsidies.
Promoting cultural landscapes and their producers as providers of these public services. Also to promote an economy based on collaboration to deliver ecosystem services for community benefit, as an ‘ancestral-cutting-edge solution’ in a world of growing population with limited resources.
Civil Society Platforms
The Spanish Platform for Extensive Grazing and Pastoralism (Plataforma por la Ganaderia Extensiva y Pastoralismo – PGEP) is a country-wide platform of livestock farmers, advocacy organisations, conservationists, government officers and researchers, founded in 2013. It has been calling out for the recognition of the importance of extensive grazing and agrosilvopastoral ecosystems, among them the dehesas. TyN was one of their founding members and currently TyN is part of its steering committee.
At the European level, the platform is also part of the European Forum on Nature Conservation and Pastoralism (EFNCP), and signatory of the Wood Pastures Manifesto.
The Platform works on matters related to extensive grazing, pastoralism and trashumance with the main objective of promoting visibility, political influence and being a respresentative entity for the sector. One of the main fields of activities has been the CAP, especially the discriminating rules against wood pastures when it comes to payments (the so called “eligibility coefficient”), and the explicit recognition of Mediterranean pastures in CAP Regulations, which has recently happened partly due to the PGEP efforts.
Most recently, a new women livestock farmers’ network has formed within the PGEP Ganaderas en Red (GeR) and has been proved very succesful in giving more visibility to this traditionally marginalized and invisible sector.
As PGEP has become one of crucial actors in the extensive grazing, pastoralism and trashumance sector, TyN provides it both with finances and staff time, thanks to MAVA projects.
The website, also supported by TyN: http://www.ganaderiaextensiva.org/
Creative Outreach and Communications
While scientific information, field research, facts and figures have their place, they can at times be dry and hard to engage with – and often, unintentionally, leave the general public out of the discussion.
One of the most effective ways of raising awareness for issues, that are sometimes unrelatable and far removed from everyday life, at ground level is through Art and Culture – the use of visual arts, performance arts, music, poetry and stories to connect with audiences and encouraging them to be responsive to our key messages. Bringing the experience of communities in need of help closer to home; making their concerns more relatable and understandable, and more immediate.
Keeping the above in mind, we developed our communications and outreach to be centered around creative outputs related to each of the cultural practices we are working on: On The Move (a travelling photography exhibition) and One Square Meter (a needlefelt sculpture) for mobile pastoralism, and an online photography showcase for traditional fisheries (still in progress).
Think Outside The Box
How can you get your creative communications to become the center piece for wider discussions and engagement?
Include Everyone In The Discussions
Change doesn’t happen if we only speak to our peers / industry, we need to influence and shape the attitudes and perceptions of society by taking a grassroots type of approach to nature and culture, and communications. Let’s include everyone in the discussions.
Celebrate diversity, show people that there are many different ways of living life, of protecting nature, of managing resources.
Celebrate simplicity, moving towards a way of living that is less stressful, less strenuous on the planet, more giving and satisfying.
Going A Long Way
Art and Culture outputs can provide and be adapted into a wide range of communication tools (articles, blog posts, interviews, photographs, videos, illustration, social media campaigns, newsletters etc.) beyond the exhibition itself for continued outreach and building awareness.
See the latest from the field
For the last 5 years we have been studying the practice of Mobile Pastoralism in the Mediterranean Basin, and the innumerable ways in which it helps protect the environment. On completing an initial assessment of the state of play of the practice in each...read more