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Sacred Groves are segments of landscape, containing vegetation and other forms of life and geographical features that are delimited and protected by human societies under the belief that to keep them in a relatively undisturbed state is expressive of an important relationship of humans with the divine or with nature.
Sacred Groves or Forests symbolize a significant tradition of nature worship by providing protection to patches of forest dedicated to deities or ancestral spirits. Such groves may consist of a multi-species, multi-tier primary forest or a clump of trees, depending on the history of the vegetation. These groves are protected by the local communities, usually through social taboos and customs with cultural and ecological implications. The customs and taboos associated with sacred groves are often created according to the needs of the community. The institution of sacred species or groves only qualify as being of conservation value when such practices actually prevent or mitigate bio-resource depletion, species extirpation or habitat degradation.
Section 37 of the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, provides for the creation of Biodiversity Heritage Sites (BHS) by the State Government. The Guidelines for selection and management of Biodiversity Heritage Sites issued by the National Biodiversity Authority define Biodiversity Heritage Sites (BHS) as:-
Well defined areas that are unique, ecologically fragile ecosystems-terrestrial, coastal and inland waters and marine, having rich biodiversity comprising any one or more of the following components: richness of wild as well as domesticated species or intra-specific categories, high endemism, presence of rare and threatened species, keystone species, species of evolutionary significance, wild ancestors of domestic/cultivated species, past pre-eminence of biological components represented by fossil beds and having significant cultural, ethical or aesthetic values and are important for the maintenance of cultural diversity, with or without a long history of human association with them.
Areas having any of the following characteristics shall qualify for inclusion as BHS:-
Sacred groves often represent a positive interface between nature, culture, society and technologies. Declaring such areas as BHS should not only be a matter of pride to the local communities but should also contribute to the objectives of both conservation and livelihood security.