Integrating cultural and heritage resources into forest management

January 15, 2016

Community members conducting a religious ceremony at a place of cultural significance.

By Coen Nienaber and Michal Brink

The constitutional and legislative definitions of ‘environment’ include cultural and heritage resources. But as is the case in most other industries, heritage is not well integrated with environmental management in forestry.

Essentially culture is what makes us human and defines who we are. Heritage resources represent this concept, past and present, and are integral to all human activities. Caring for our cultural heritage is not only a legislative requirement but also augments and expands the conservation role of forestry and speaks directly to the notion of stewardship.

Unlike some natural resources that can be replenished, heritage resources are individually unique and synchronic. Once a heritage resource has been damaged it can never be replaced – it is gone forever! The conservation and sustainable management of these resources is imperative and the aim of good management should be to protect these resources where they occur in the landscape.

Heritage and cultural resources can be physical, real and visible, but can also be intangible. They can also be movable, such as objects, or immovable, such as sites, cemeteries and buildings. This characteristic of heritage relates to natural resources in a very significant way. For example one could consider a forest as a collection of trees in a specific natural relationship with each other, the soil, the slope or valley in which it grows, etc. But this could also be a holy forest in the eyes of the local community.

According to such a community’s beliefs the trees may house spirits, and the way in which these spirits are treated and looked after can influence the daily lives of people. Individual trees may also mark graves or have other cultural value.


Family member praying at a grave site.

Products of the forest may have cultural uses, or artefacts like stone tools might occur on the forest floor or in riverbanks or dongas in the forest and could be part of the deep archaeological past of the area. Therefore the forest is not only a natural resource but could also include immovable cultural or heritage sites or movable objects of cultural significance – as well as intangible cultural values.

Heritage or cultural resources management forms part of the Natural Environmental Management Act (NEMA, Act 107 of 1998) Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process but can also be triggered by the tenets of the National Heritage Resources Act (NHRA, Act 25 of 1999) which requires Heritage Impact Assessments (HIA) for certain listed activities. All heritage resources are declared part of the National Estate. Heritage Resources Management and Environmental Management have the same broad aims and functions and these functions can be integrated to benefit responsible forest management.

It is important that heritage resources that occur in forests be identified, assessed and managed. The well-known adage applies: You can not manage if you do not know what you have and are responsible for. Cultural resources are identified through two processes, either by foot surveys conducted by a heritage professional such as an archaeologist, or through public participation where communities are asked to identify their cultural sites in a specific area. These approaches are usually used in conjunction and the heritage professional will often work with community members to find and identify heritage resources.

The assessment of heritage resources aims at determining their significance. There are legislative and other guidelines for assessment and different criteria apply to different types of heritage resources. Graves are always viewed as significant and are treated in this way while buildings or even archaeological sites could be classified as not significant if it is of a very common type that occurs in large numbers in other areas, is well known and has no additional cultural values attached to it.


Community cemetery in a forestry area.

The ruins of an old farmstead might not be significant if it is just one of several in the area. But the same ruin could be very important if it was, for instance, the birthplace of a struggle hero or a historical figure. Heritage resources are managed and monitored according to a Heritage Management Plan (HMP) which can form part of and can be integrated into existing or new Environmental Management Plans (EMP).

Apart from legislative compliance the successful integration of heritage resources management into forestry management will benefit the industry in terms of expanded stewardship, improved public participation and community relations and represent many benefits for social responsibility programmes.

The FSC certification process also requires that the roles and stakeholdership of neighbouring communities and ancestral communities be represented. Responsible heritage resources management in forests will accomplish these requirements.



An archaeologist conducting an on-site assessment to determine the significance of a cultural find.

Heritage management training course
CMO is arranging a series of courses on the ‘Practical integration of heritage in forestry’.  These will be held at three venues around the country so as to broaden the understanding and importance of how cultural heritage relates to forestry, and how we as foresters should manage it.

Training dates and venues:
•    5-6 April: George in the southern Cape
•    14-5 April: Nelspruit in Mpumalanga
•    20-21 April: Pietermaritzburg, KZN.

Enquiries: to register

*First published in SA Forestry magazine, Dec 2015

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram