SHAPE developed tourism initiatives that depend on the management of both natural and cultural heritage assets. Interactions between cultural and natural heritage define the identity of a place and can form the basis for distinctive and locally sustainable tourism projects. A workshop session at the SHAPE final conference explored practical examples of integration and provided an opportunity for participants to collectively reflect on lessons learned, best practices and recommendations that we can make for new sustainable tourism projects.
It is often difficult to make the distinction between nature and culture, particularly as we look to the past. Nature and culture tend to be tightly interconnected in forms such as story-telling and poetry with the oral tradition being an important means of conveying this relationship. This is exemplified by the significance of the bear in Karelian culture for example.
Community engagement is necessary to ensure that heritage tourism is well aligned with community identify and perceptions. This is particularly important for less tangible aspects of heritage e.g. local stories that can offer insights into the social history of an area e.g. heritage narratives of East Belfast.
Tensions can arise where communities, natural resource managers and visitors value the cultural and natural heritage values of a place in different ways. There may be common ground in terms of respect and appreciation for places rich in biodiversity for example, but tourism practices may come into conflict with conservation measures and the priorities of local communities. Certain Scottish lochs (Loch Ness for example) are highly popular with tourists due to their rich cultural signficance but are also sensitive conservation sites rich in biodiversity. There is a need for better knowledge transfer on the complex ecology of these freshwater habitats between conservation, communities and visitors to improve the sustainability of tourism in these places.
Tools and means of promoting integrated management were demonstrated by the PERICLES project which works to preserve cultural heritage and landscapes in coastal areas. The importance of integrating policies for cultural areas with strategies for biodiversity and landscapes was emphasised. GIS systems are being developed to support integrated planning by allowing the inclusion of heritage narratives and landscape values in marine planning.
Other examples of best practice in balancing the management of natural and cultural heritage in special landscapes include the development of Économusées where visitors can engage with artisans and cultural products, trails designed to give experiences of natural and cultural heritage features and partnerships with tour guides and local story-tellers who can convey both the cultural and natural significance of the landscape to visitors. A combination of these approaches is being used to support ecotourism in Northern Ireland.
The Amazon of Europe project demonstrates how natural and cultural heritage can be harnessed to develop ecotourism at the transnational scale. The Amazon of Europe bike trail follows protected riverine systems in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves spanning 5 countries in central Europe. The project aims to boost regional development through the valorization of cultural and natural heritage and is an inspiring example of large -scale partnership working.