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Last Update: 2017-11-21   Source: Research Headlines
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Sustainable planning for cultural and natural heritage sites

EU-funded researchers have developed strategies to protect and valorise natural and cultural heritage sites in Latin America with the aim of achieving sustainable growth in the surrounding areas. The project found that the involvement of local communities in protecting their own heritage was crucial.

Machu Picchu, lost city of the Incas

© Allen G -

Recognising a site or region as being of special cultural or natural significance – such as awarding it UNESCO World Heritage site status – helps attract tourists and boost local economies. However, this can sometimes come at the expense of the surrounding area if funding and public attention is too focused and not adequately spread out, or if increased traffic causes environmental degradation.

The EU-funded STRAVAL project focused on three natural and cultural heritage sites suffering from marginalisation – the Luján region in Argentina, the basin of the Tubarão river in Brazil and Mexico’s Cuitzeo lake.

After careful analysis, plans were developed that sought to include local communities in the benefits of having protected sites. For example, opportunities were identified for local environmental engineering businesses to keep the sites clean and for local providers to install clean energy to reduce pollution.

“The STRAVAL project sought to tackle the marginalisation of neighbouring populations at heritage sites in Latin America and, in doing so, boost economic development,” says project coordinator José Luis Brianso of the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain.

“We delivered a series of business and action plans to help national and local authorities sustainably exploit these sites, with an eye very much on involving local populations.”

Putting plans into practice

STRAVAL also involved targeted awareness-raising activities aimed at local businesses and advocacy groups, as well as teaching modules, training courses, seminars and open days. The purpose of this was to recognise where marginalisation occurs and to empower locals in developing solutions for themselves.

The finalised plans took into account transferrable best practices from European world heritage sites like the Boi Valley in Catalonia and Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, both UNESCO World Heritage sites. These practices include communication campaigns to raise pride and awareness of local heritage, as well as ways of improving protected sites that also create jobs.

Strategies have been transferred to local governments and community groups.

“It is now up to local authorities to decide on the most appropriate use of the target sites and, say, to determine compensation for any environmental damage caused,” says Brianso. “This of course requires an economic investment.”

Brianso adds that while recommendations will vary from site to site, the methodology of the project is eminently transferrable to other heritage areas.

A general lesson, for example, is that local populations and authorities – as well as research centres and SMEs – need to be involved in the planning process of how best to valorise local heritage sites. The project also found that the sustainable conservation of cultural heritage is highly dependent on public understanding and participation.

Building on heritage

Since completion of STRAVAL, which received funding through the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme, similar proposals that build on the project’s work have successfully applied for EU funding.

For example, the Autonomous University of Barcelona is also involved in the GEOPARK project, which focuses on promoting heritage, education and sustainable development in southern Mediterranean countries and is due for completion in December 2018.

“The latest project to be approved for funding that we are involved in is the ERASMUS+LA, Capacity Building in Higher Education project,” says Brianso. “This initiative is focused on encouraging innovation in environmental applications, and all partners have long experience with distance and blended learning education.”

The project, which runs until 2020, is being coordinated by the Autonomous University of Barcelona together with the National University of Luján in Argentina.


Project details

  • Project acronym: STRAVAL
  • Participants: Spain (Coordinator), Estonia, Croatia
  • Project N°: 269227
  • Total costs: € 470 400
  • EU contribution: € 470 400
  • Duration: From July 2011 to June 2015

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