Charisma of Natural Heritage

Natural Heritage is a category in the World Heritage classification by UNESCO, this category is based on four criteria representing significant; “exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance”, “major stages of earth’s history”, “on-going ecological and biological processes” and “natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity” (UNESCO). There are currently 203 listed natural sites, and 18 are on the in danger list (UNESCO).

Natural World Heritage Sites and Biomes

In order to understand the issues relating to natural heritage, it becomes important to grasp the earth’s natural landscape. Researchers have divided the world into 14 biomes.

A biome is a geographic area with similar ecological flora and fauna that inhabit in alike environmental conditions (Hazen, 2007).

However these biogeographic categories are not represented with equal diversity in the protected Natural Heritage List (Hazen, 2007).

The World Heritage committee recognized a gap in the true representation of the world’s natural biogeographic regions globally. Their approach was to increase the inscription of sites more representative of all biomes. The controversial issue with this approach is not all natural sites may carry the same weight of true representation of the ecological regions they bear. Historically, natural sites have been selected on the basis of their aesthetic value more as compared to the ecological value they hold. Biomes that lack a “charismatic” value to them and are visibly under represented on the natural heritage list, where as the true ecological values of this biome cannot be equated to that of any other biome. For example the grasslands make up almost 27% of the world’s biomes, however, the protected natural heritage site percentage is a little over 2% of that region (Hazen, 2007). The lack of an obvious aesthetic value has resulted in a smaller portion of grasslands being inscribed onto the world heritage list.

The charasmatic value can be put into perspective with the example of Yosemite National Park. This park is known for its scenic glacier carved valleys, dramatic waterfalls, and immaculate lakes. The park’s ecological region may carry important flora and fauna, but the charasmatic value supersedes its biological significance.

Many of the biomes under represented are not considered pristine because of the impact of people. This dilemma called for a new concept of “cultural landscape”, the human interaction with the natural is a testament of a historic value of human and nature’s coexistence (UNESCO, 1992).

Konso Cultural Landscape, Ethiopia.

The Konso Cultural Landscape in Ethiopia, is an example of over four century old living tradition. The local communities have been constructing dry wall terraces to create land for farming, walled towns and community buildings resulting in an exceptional fortified cultural landscape. The coexistence of nature and human in Konso is based on the generations old engineering techniques that are passed down as a part of their culture. These practices have associated traditional and cultural value to them, where the locals erect generation stones and man-hood trees to continually form the landscape.