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Culture and Conservation in the Sacred Sites of Coastal Kenya

Shepheard-Walwyn, Emma (2014) Culture and Conservation in the Sacred Sites of Coastal Kenya. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:48959)

Language: English
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The Mijikenda sacred natural sites (SNS) contribute towards Kenya’s East African Coastal Forest ecosystem. This ecosystem is highly biodiverse and important to the conservation of many rare and endemic species. The SNS are therefore thought to be very important to biodiversity locally and globally, as well as playing a significant role in the preservation of the local traditional culture. Whilst it is known that the SNS contain coastal forest, there are no accurate estimates on the amount, nor are there assessments of habitat diversity within the sites and no systematic surveys have been done in the past 20 years. In addition, degradation of the sites has been described, but the level of encroachment and amount of forest loss has not been measured. A major driver of the degradation and deforestation of SNS is thought to be cultural change, leading to a decrease in the adherence to traditional practices, and loss of knowledge and respect for local customs. The existing management of the SNS is based on the traditional laws associated with the SNS; enforcement is left to local Kaya Elders, and it follows the assumption that the Mijikenda are a homogenous and culturally static group. As such it is thought that changes in culture and values systems may be undermining the successful conservation of the sites. However, again, whilst changes within the local communities surrounding the SNS have been described, no research has been done on how such changes may have altered the attitudes and values of the local people in this region, or what impact this may have on the preservation of the SNS.

The aims of this thesis are to: measure the amount of costal forest within the Mijikenda SNS; to assess if the habitat heterogeneity within the sites; investigate their potential for biodiversity; measure the amount of forest loss within the sites, and the amount of encroachment that they suffer from; understand the current attitudes and values of the local communities towards the SNS, their culture, and conservation; compare current attitudes and values to what would be expected traditionally; investigate the use of resources from the Kayas by the local communities; and, in light of these questions, assess the efficacy of the existing management plan in light of the current landscape in which the SNS are located and any changes in local culture, and associated values.

The results show that the Mijikenda SNS contain a substantial proportion (1.4%) of Kenya’s coastal forest. Due to their habitat heterogeneity and habitat features, as well as being some of the only forest habitat within a degraded landscape, they are important to both local and global conservation, including the possibility to maintain viable populations of rare and endemic species. Whilst the rate of forest loss within the SNS was found to be significantly lower than forest loss outside the sites, almost all sites were undergoing encroachment, degradation and forest loss. The local communities were found to be diverse, with different demographics, attitudes, values and behaviours. There has been a significant departure from the traditional culture, including a decrease of participation in traditional practices, a lack of adherence to customary laws, and a loss of traditional knowledge. The SNS were found to be important for resources to the local communities; however, extraction is not being monitored or managed for. In addition, ongoing developments in the region could pose a significant threat to the SNS. This research provides the first set of accurate estimations of coastal forest within the sites, and the range of habitat heterogeneity and potential contribution to biodiversity they make. It also offers the first set of accurate measurements, of the extent of encroachment, and forest loss, that a number of sites on the north coast have undergone. In addition it provides some of the only large-scale social data associated with the Mijikenda SNS. This thesis shows that whilst some of the threats to the sites, and changes in local culture have been observed in the past, none have been accounted for in the current management plans associated with the sites.

The management of the SNS needs to be redesigned to account for the changes within the local communities and the surrounding area, as well as addressing the threats that the SNS face. Management should be created on a site-by-site basis, to work with all stakeholders in the area, and must encompass the changes which are happening within the region. In addition, interventions to address conflicts within communities, provide alternative access to resources, and to improve transmission of knowledge, need to be put in place to aid communities in protecting the SNS. Management of the sites must be done jointly by the local people, the government, and NGOs, with the local communities predominantly having autonomy over the protection of the sites and their culture.This research contributes to the understanding of the roles that SNS play in the conservation of biodiversity; and the issues that arise for the conservation of traditionally managed sites of communities undergoing cultural change. It will help to provide information which can be used to address the management of the Mijikenda SNS as well as SNS and community conserved areas around the world.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Bennett, Peter
Uncontrolled keywords: Biodiversity Conservation Culture Kenya Sacred Sites Coastal Forest
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GB Physical geography
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH541 Ecology
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH75 Conservation (Biology)
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation > DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2015 11:00 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 12:32 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Shepheard-Walwyn, Emma.

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