The core concept of “cultural landscapes” is a tool that has helped shape research agendas and policy in several disciplines. These include, for example, archaeology, anthropology, cultural heritage law, economic development studies, environmental management, environmental and natural resources law, geography, and international law. It is noteworthy that much of the resulting work has been closely linked to the principles of sustainable development and cultural heritage protection, which have thereby served as bases for establishing a shared, multidisciplinary understanding and application of the concept. Accordingly, interdisciplinary work has focused on interactions between humans and their environment and on cultural identity with landscapes as key factors in achieving biodiversity and land-use sustainability.
There is no continuous transition or spectrum between natural and cultural landscapes. Instead, as we shall see, it is precisely the varying types of fusion between natural and cultural phenomena in distinctive ways among different indigenous cultures as well as the corresponding variance of interactions between human cultures and the natural environment that justify the specificity of the core concept of a cultural landscapes. These may variously include, build upon, be projected upon or simply ignore natural landscapes among various different peoples. Significantly, each type of fusion or interaction generates distinctive legal issues. Sometimes, of course, natural and cultural landscapes are one and the same.
A peoples' identity with a particular landscape, as well as the character of that identity, may be fundamental in their lives and livelihood. For example, in the rugged reindeer-herding environment of northern Finland, the landscape enveloping Sami herding is both a natural and a distinctively cultural phenomenon on which their enthusiasm for the traditional means of their individual and community livelihood relies. For them, herding transcends the obvious exploitation of animal resources: Their landscape is cultural in no small measure. International cooperation is essential in empowering indigenous peoples, protecting their interests in cultural landscapes, and advancing everyone's interest in sustainable development. Towards that end, it is essential to develop a comprehensive typology of cultural landscapes defined by categories that merge natural and cultural phenomena in distinctive ways. Each of these categories will require its own distinctive approach and means of implementation. Moreover, the foundation of the transnational regime to protect the rights of indigenous peoples in and to their cultural landscapes is International Human Rights Law (IHRL), underpinned by the so-called International Bill of Rights, and supported by cultural heritage treaties, especially the 1972 World Heritage Convention (of fundamental importance), treaty law protecting indigenous and tribal peoples’ rights and international environmental instruments.