This special issue of World Heritage is about interlinkages between nature and culture.

One of the defining characteristics of the World Heritage Convention is that the governance of both natural and cultural values of Outstanding Universal Value falls under one international instrument, but we have still to harness the full potential it offers to recognize and build on their interlinkages. As evidenced in these pages, there is growing interest in bridging the divides and differences between nature and culture and addressing commonalities and possible shared opportunities through heritage conservation strategies. In the recent past, debates on these topics have resurfaced at World Heritage Committee meetings with both plenary discussions and side-events about the multiple challenges associated with nomination and management of properties.

Whereas the nature–culture division in the World Heritage system poses both policy and institutional challenges, it also presents States Parties and heritage practitioners with implementation complexities in their everyday work. In response, new efforts have been initiated by the World Heritage Committee and its Advisory Bodies (ICCROM, ICOMOS and IUCN), ranging from capacity-building to integrative research and practice. This special issue is an opportunity to reflect upon experiences in this evolving field, highlighting two main points. At the conceptual level, there is a growing need to rethink natural and cultural heritage as an interrelated and interdependent concept, rather than as separate domains. At the management level, there is a need to rethink current approaches, where nature and culture management remain separate. Far too often cultural aspects within nature conservation remain neglected, and vice versa. We need to build synergies across sectors and engage far more proactively with indigenous peoples and local communities. Discussions on cultural landscapes, mixed sites and sacred sites highlight the importance of such rethinking.

In this context, it is notable that this issue is published in the wake of the November 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress, raising two points of significant importance to the future orientation of World Heritage as a whole. The first point is the recognition of the fact that the immediate impact of a cultural site on visitors hinges upon the way it fits into its natural setting. This goes hand in hand with the realization that natural sites are frequently marked by longstanding cultural connections and biocultural heritage. The second point is a new strategy of close collaboration between World Heritage (with its 197 natural sites and 31 mixed) and other protected areas through a comprehensive landscape conservation effort. This is of vital importance to the conservation of all natural territories worldwide, as well as a basis for cultural diversity protection.

A collective effort has been made by the Advisory Bodies and UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in recent years. With the support of the Committee they have developed and launched a capacity-building effort with a view to addressing these concerns and transmitting existing knowledge through practitioners from both natural and cultural heritage for more effective management of their sites.

All these crucial topics are thoughtfully explored as we take a closer look at culture–nature links at the Ifugao Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, Peru’s Río Abiseo National Park, as well as sites in Europe and North America.

Kishore Rao
Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre