Human beings have moulded landscapes for millenna, whether consciously or unconsciously, to the extent that it is often impossible to separate nature from culture. Sites of special significance become embedded in the landscape to a degree that may make it difficult for the insensitive eye (notably of land-use planners) to detect anything more than untamed wilderness. The landscapes then function as libraries and cathedrals for cultures that may have no written language. They may be intimately associated with the sense of cultural identity of the people perceiving them to be sacred in some way.
Because such landscapes are often protected by taboo, they have proven to be highly protective of biodiversity, even into the modern era of intensive development.
Some cultural landscapes have been shown to have been initiated over 100,000 years ago, through selective cultivation of plants.
Many traditional peoples attach significance to mountains, valleys, rivers, springs and forests that make up a landscape. This significance is maintained by ritual, stories and initiatory quests. Most commonly, this significance may be concentrated on sacred groves. These locations may all be linked to burial ceremonies and what are believed to be homes of spirits.
Cultural landscapes and their links to the conservation of biological diversity are now recognized under the 1972 UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. A new category of Cultural Landscape is now recognized amongst the World Heritage Sites. The first such landscape to be recognized was Togariro National Park, sacred to the Maori people.
The Convention on Biolgical Diversity recognizes the: Close and traditional dependence of many indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles on biological resources and the desirability of sharing equitably benefits arising from the use of traditional knowledge, innovations and practices relevant to the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of its components.