Intangible Heritage & Ecological Sustainability

Working towards an ecologically and climate-robust future

The need to sustainably manage our natural environment is one of the great themes of our time. We see this reflected in political party programmes, the social debate and in various publications.

In the period 2021-2024, the Knowledge Center will investigate two main sustainability themes together with heritage communities and various academic partners.


How can intangible heritage (actively) contribute to an ecologically sustainable future? We map and document the nature and effect of these traditions, skills and customs.

Sub-questions addressed:

  • Which forms of intangible heritage have a strong sustainable component? What knowledge and skills are involved?
  • What exactly does this impact consist of? In other words: how do these forms of heritage directly or indirectly contribute to a biodiverse environment and a sustainable future? And eco-citizenship?
  • How is this often local and 'intimate' knowledge and expertise shared and transferred? What is the role of citizen scientists in this?
  • How are human-nature relationships and the interconnectedness with non-human actors such as animals and plants dealt with in shaping the intangible heritage? What can we learn from that?
  • How can these forms of heritage be supported and made more visible and also used more widely? What inspiring examples can be shared, with other heritage communities, with policy makers and with the general public?
  • We answer these and other questions based on four sub-themes: animals and sustainability, water and land, urban agriculture and trees.


How can intangible heritage communities make their own intangible heritage more sustainable?

Sub-questions addressed:

  • How can practitioners make the transition to sustainability within their heritage, for example through more sustainable material, a more sustainable process or a more sustainable product?
  • What challenges and creative opportunities are there?
  • What good examples of sustainability are already there for inspiration?
  • Which partners do heritage communities need to make their heritage more sustainable?


We always work directly or indirectly with heritage communities in our research. The Dutch UNESCO Commission is also a natural partner. We will also be working with various other partners within the theme of 'Intangible heritage & sustainability' in the coming years. This cooperation varies from exchanging knowledge and networking to jointly researching specific themes or organizing meetings.

The Knowledge Center has been working together with the Center for Agricultural History (CAG) in Leuven for a long time. In 2022, both institutes started a three-year project, in which we research and document how specific forms of intangible heritage can contribute to strengthening ecological sustainability, focusing on the theme of 'water and land'.

We will deal with three current challenges in three project years: water management, conservation of biodiversity and soil fertility. We approach these challenges from our own angle, exchange experience and expertise and thus contribute to new solutions. We start each of the three themed years with an inventory of sustainable intangible heritage practices. Together with the heritage communities, we map out the needs and requirements of their sustainable practices. Finally, we pay attention to disseminating the collected knowledge and insights, and more specifically to the provision of information to policymakers. In the project we compare the results from Flanders and the Netherlands, bring heritage communities together and build a learning network around intangible heritage and sustainability in Flanders and the Netherlands.

In addition, we work together with various university clusters and researchers who are involved in themes related to sustainability, biodiversity and the experience of nature. For example, we work together with Radboud University Nijmegen, where research is being done into human-nature relationships and all kinds of connections between humans and nature. The Biodiversity & Policy team of Wageningen University is also an important partner. At the University of Groningen, we work together with the BirdEyes team, which studies the ecology of migratory birds together with their colleagues at the Royal NIOZ on Texel. BirdEyes works closely with local citizen scientists who collect data through nest protection and bird trapping.

The Knowledge Center also has cooperation plans with the Nature College, a network of (higher) education institutions and nature conservation organisations. The aim of the NatuurCollege is to investigate and strengthen the relationship between humans and nature. It links this to an extensive educational program, developed for a wide audience.

Finally, we also work together with our colleagues from the Dutch Caribbean ICH Committee.


Read more about this research area in the Knowledge Agenda 2021-2024 .

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