Cultural landscapes must be protected under EU environmental and cultural policies

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Culture and environment are inextricably linked at the monastery of Saint Martin du Canigou, in France. [Emanuele/Flickr]

EU policymakers, together with the Greek government, academia and businesses, have called for integrated management of EU cultural and natural heritage, writes Sophia Staikou.

Sophia Staikou is Chairman of the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation (PIOP). 

Though it is evident that EU-wide environmental policies contribute to the preservation and protection of endangered habitats and species, there is clearly much more that can be done to create a stronger political link between environmental policy and cultural preservation policy. Together, the EU’s Natura 2000 network and the 1992 Habitats Directive establish a strict system of species protection as well as an extensive network of habitat preservation sites to ensure the ecological and economical sustainability of threatened land and wildlife. However, these current environmental policies overlook the importance of cultural heritage and its relevance to landscape protection and upkeep.

In an international meeting held in Athens and Stymfalia, Greece on 10-11 October, the Piraeus Bank Group Cultural Foundation (PIOP) collaboration with the Greek Ministries of Culture & Sports and Environment, Energy & Climate Change brought together relevant EU decision-takers, major international bodies (UNESCO, UNEP, etc.), the European Bank for Regional Development, academia, professional and civil society organisations. The purpose was to discuss and lay the foundations for new policies promoting the integrated management of cultural and natural heritage at the landscape level, with emphasis given to the protection of cultural landscapes that fall within the jurisdiction of the Natura 2000 Network.

While gaining political attention and support is important, local participation will also be key to the sustainability of new policies, as it is essential to create a clear public understanding of how culture shapes the environment and vice versa. This rising awareness will make it easier to implement and sustain the integrated management of cultural and national heritage. Ultimately, providing communities with adequate knowledge and education about local landscapes, providing local employees with management skills, and facilitating communication between local administrators will be the most effective way to facilitate the implementation of new policies.

Furthermore, we must reorient EU (environmental, cultural, economic, regional development, agricultural, maritime and research) policies and funding programmes so as to prioritise the integration of cultural and natural heritage into local, regional and sectoral policies. In practical terms, special attention should be given to the integration of cultural heritage in the management plans of the Natura 2000 sites, with a respective enrichment of the related guidelines for the preparation of these plans.

The development of sustainable and high quality tourism should also include products linked to cultural and natural heritage. To this end, Cultural Landscapes in Natura 2000 Sites may be considered as a potential cultural route crossing several countries and connecting them in a common, cultural and environmental, narrative.

Today, culture and the environment are, simultaneously, the parameters nobody can ignore when talking of, and searching for, a new model of balanced and sustainable development.  Likewise, the defence and management of our cultural and natural heritage constitutes a very strong value for our society and the societies of Europe. 

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