"Cultural ecosystem services (CES) are the non-material benefits that humans obtain from the natural environment. They include, for example, getting a sense of community roots and/or religious meaning from natural sites; deriving aesthetic pleasure and satisfaction from natural landscapes; using natural sites/landscapes as a source for recreation and education, and so on. CES are one of the four primary kinds of benefits that humans derives from ecosystems - these different kinds being termed as 'ecosystem services by the major UN-led study, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA). The other kinds of ecosystem services include provisioning services, such as the production of food and water; regulating services, such as the control of climate and disease, supporting services, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination. To help decision makers, such as policy makers, conservationists etc., many of these services are being assigned economic values through quantitative models. However, CES are often experienced intangibly, in the realm of meaning and its effects on practices and behavior. Thereby, while important, their full importance cannot be gauged in quantitative terms, but rather in qualitative terms.
One of the most striking examples of CES in the HKH region are those provided by sacred natural sites, hundreds of thousands of which dot this region from east to west. Sacred natural sites include sacred mountains (such Mt Kailash and Mt Kanchenjunga), sacred lakes (such as Gosain Kund and Lake Manasarovar), sacred forests/sacred groves (such as Gwallek Kedar in Baitadi), sacred caves, rocks, streams, etc. Communities often treat these sites with special forms of behavior, symbolism, and practices, that elevates these sites over profane/non-sacred natural sites and landscapes. This working paper lays out a framework devised for assessing the CES of HKH region's sacred natural sites, and includes: a background to the cultural ecosystem services discourse, the need for such a framework; the process of developing this particular framework; the framework and the methodology to use it, and a pilot case study from district Baitadi, Nepal."