Incorporating social and cultural significance of large old trees in conservation policy

Conserv Biol. 2014 Dec;28(6):1558-67. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12341. Epub 2014 Aug 13.


In addition to providing key ecological functions, large old trees are a part of a social realm and as such provide numerous social-cultural benefits to people. However, their social and cultural values are often neglected when designing conservation policies and management guidelines. We believe that awareness of large old trees as a part of human identity and cultural heritage is essential when addressing the issue of their decline worldwide. Large old trees provide humans with aesthetic, symbolic, religious, and historic values, as well as concrete tangible benefits, such as leaves, branches, or nuts. In many cultures particularly large trees are treated with reverence. Also, contemporary popular culture utilizes the image of trees as sentient beings and builds on the ancient myths that attribute great powers to large trees. Although the social and cultural role of large old trees is usually not taken into account in conservation, accounting for human-related values of these trees is an important part of conservation policy because it may strengthen conservation by highlighting the potential synergies in protecting ecological and social values.

Keywords: cultural values; ecosystem services; large trees; natural heritage; old trees; patrimonio natural; policy; política; servicios del ecosistema; social values; valores culturales; valores sociales; Árboles añejos; árboles grandes.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Culture*
  • Environmental Policy*
  • Trees / growth & development*