What is it?
Our 'natural heritage' consists mainly of natural historical relics and cultural artefacts contained in the soil or water. Examples include fossils of plants and animals, and strata or pollen in the soil, which reflect the vegetation in the past. However, the concept of 'natural heritage' also includes the amenity value of being able to encounter wild species, wilderness and natural ecosystems first hand or through the media. Landscapes and the associated types of vegetation, structures and living species are all part of our natural heritage. So, for example, the term covers areas such as the Waddenzee or the Veluwe or typical vegetation forms, such as heather or drift sand, coppices, country lane networks and striking (old) trees.
Looking after our natural capital and its historical features is vital in the context of our natural heritage. The significance of the natural heritage that we currently have increases as more of our inheritance disappears. Natural heritage and cultural heritage often exist side-by-side, because human use has influenced the natural heritage. World heritage sites (such as the Waddenzee) often therefore reflect both the world's natural heritage and its cultural heritage.
In real life
Natural heritage is vulnerable to activities that disturb the soil or vegetation. It is therefore very important that, before doing things that impact on the soil, water or landscape, we consider the implications for features that are valuable in cultural heritage terms. Those features might include a geomorphological monument (forms and processes of the landscape), a fossil or the remains of an earlier settlement, but equally a piece of wilderness, a cultural-historical landscape or a form of land use. In order to consider the cultural heritage implications of an activity, we need to know where natural heritage sites are and how they can be protected. It is helpful, for example, to have educational materials that describe our natural heritage. Making it easier for people to recognise natural heritage in the field by targeted management activities or by erecting information signs can also promote utilisation.