New global spotlight to protect endangered heritage
One of the world’s most outstanding regions of cultural and natural heritage is set to receive increased international attention, it was announced yesterday (1 March 2022). Following a successful nomination by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in collaboration with Soqotri, Yemeni and global partners, the Soqotra Archipelago has been selected for the World Monuments Watch 2022.
RBGE’s Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (CMEP) acting on behalf of and working closely with Soqotri and international partners, recommended Soqotra to the World Monuments Fund biennial Watch of 25 global heritage sites that are facing challenges and present opportunities from such a call to action. Since inscription on the World Heritage List in 2008, for its outstanding natural heritage, Soqotra has undergone significant changes. Its cultural heritage has received significantly less attention that its natural heritage despite the fact that the two are interlinked and have formed the basis of life on the islands for millennia.
The distinctive cultural and natural heritage of the region was recognised by the prestigious World Monuments Watch as one of the world’s most priceless cultural and natural assets, and inclusion on the list will raise awareness and provide new opportunities for long-term and sustainable conservation of the region’s heritage.
Simon Milne, Regius Keeper of RBGE said: “The Soqotra Archipelago is an area of outstanding biological diversity where an incredible 37% of plant species can be found nowhere else on Earth
This astonishing biodiversity is part of a rich cultural heritage, unique to the region, where nature and the environment are inextricably linked with the culture, language and traditions of the Soqotran people. Sadly, they are now under threat from conflict, development and climate change.
“I am delighted that Soqotra has now been recognised by the WMF, an important step in the protection of this globally significant heritage.”
Dr Julian Jansen van Rensburg, Soqotra Heritage Project and Research Associate at RBGE said:
“Highlighting the rich cultural history and traditions of Soqotra is an important step forward that will help the Soqotra Heritage Project foster a greater sense of awareness of a culture that has long been overlooked - allowing this unique heritage to be protected, preserved and shared with the world. The impacts of climate change and conflict have already had a significant effect on Soqotra’s heritage and we welcome this nomination.”
RBGE’S relationship with Soqotra began over 140 years ago when the first major botanical expedition took place. Those first researchers, working on the island in 1880, identified over 200 plant species that were previously unknown to science. Significant field work resulted in publication of the “Ethnoflora of the Soqotra Archipelago” and more recently, CMEP teams, working hand-in-hand with local partners in Soqotra and global heritage experts, have implemented the Soqotra Heritage Project - an initiative that is working to document, conserve and raise awareness worldwide of the archipelago’s cultural and natural heritage and develop solutions to the threats that these face.
This timely recognition by the World Monuments Watch will help to raise awareness and identify and develop programmes that will place heritage conservation at the heart of Soqotri society and livelihoods, conserving its distinctive heritage for local and global benefits.
For further information, interviews or images, please respond to this email or contact Suzie Huggins on 07385 491 460 or Shauna Hay on 07824 529 028.
The World Monuments Fund (WMF) is the leading independent organization devoted to safeguarding the world’s most treasured places to enrich people’s lives and build mutual understanding across cultures and communities.
The World Monuments Watch is a biennial program that advocates for heritage places in critical need of protecting and galvanizes action and support for their preservation. This year’s announcement includes an emphasis on sites facing global challenges of climate change, imbalanced tourism, underrepresentation, and recovery from crisis. The Watch not only brings awareness to these pressures on heritage places but is the impetus for developing new field projects that provide local solutions with global relevance.
The 2022 Watch spotlights 25 heritage sites of extraordinary significance, facing pressing challenges, and where World Monuments Fund’s partnership with local communities has the potential to make a meaningful difference. It represents 24 countries and 12,000 years of history.
The Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (CMEP) is part of RBGE. It works with partners across the Middle East and South-West Asia to tackle a wide range of contemporary environmental challenges. Projects focus on documenting and describing plant diversity, conservation, sustainable livelihoods and capacity development.
CMEP’s activities in Soqotra have ranged from scientific fieldwork and documentation of plant biodiversity and ethnobotany to contribution to a range of large-scale conservation programmes. More recently, it includes the establishment of the Soqotra Heritage Project that works with Soqotri and global heritage experts to document, conserve and raise awareness about the heritage of Soqotra in its widest sense – including the links between cultural and natural heritage long indistinguishable to Soqotri communities.
Landmark outputs have included The Ethnoflora of the Soqotra Archipelago (2004) and the establishment of the first Soqotra Cultural Heritage Database. In all these endeavours RBGE has worked closely with local authorities.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is a leading international research organisation delivering knowledge, education, and plant conservation action around the world. In Scotland, its four Gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan attract more than a million visitors each year. It operates as a Non-Departmental Public Body established under the National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985, principally funded by the Scottish Government. It is also a registered charity, managed by a Board of Trustees appointed by Ministers. Its mission is “To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future.”
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