"An area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means"

Although all protected areas meet the general purposes contained in this definition, in practice the precise purposes for which protected areas are managed differ greatly. The following are the main purposes of management:

  • Scientific research

  • Protection of nature and wilderness

  • Preservation of species and genetic diversity

  • Provision of environmental services

  • Protection of specific natural and cultural features

  • Tourism and recreation

  • Education

  • Sustainable use of resources from natural ecosystems

  • Maintenance of cultural and traditional features


The IUCN has defined a series of protected area management categories based on management objectives. Definitions of these categories, and examples of each, are provided in Guidelines for Protected Area Management Categories (IUCN, 1994). The six categories are: 


CATEGORY Ia: Strict Nature Reserve: protected area managed mainly for science  

Definition: Area of land and/or sea possessing some outstanding or representative ecosystems, geological or physiological features and/or species, available primarily for scientific research and/or environmental monitoring.



Wilderness Area: protected area managed mainly for wilderness protection  

Definition: Large area of unmodified or slightly modified land, and/or sea, retaining its natural character and influence, without permanent or significant habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural condition.



National Park: protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation  

Definition: Natural area of land and/or sea, designated to (a) protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for present and future generations, (b) exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area and (c) provide a foundation for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible.



Natural Monument: protected area managed mainly for conservation of specific natural features

Definition: Area containing one, or more, specific natural or natural/cultural feature which is of outstanding or unique value because of its inherent rarity, representative or aesthetic qualities or cultural significance.



Habitat/Species Management Area: protected area managed mainly for conservation through management intervention

Definition: Area of land and/or sea subject to active intervention for management purposes so as to ensure the maintenance of habitats and/or to meet the requirements of specific species.



Protected Landscape/Seascape: protected area managed mainly for landscape/seascape conservation and recreation

Definition: Area of land, with coast and sea as appropriate, where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant aesthetic, ecological and/or cultural value, and often with high biological diversity. Safeguarding the integrity of this traditional interaction is vital to the protection, maintenance and evolution of such an area. 



Managed Resource Protected Area: protected area managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems  


Definition: Area containing predominantly unmodified natural systems, managed to ensure long term protection and maintenance of biological diversity, while providing at the same time a sustainable flow of natural products and services to meet community needs. 

Where the site does not meet the internationally recognised definition of a protected area, application of a management category is not appropriate. This is indicated as category unassigned (UA) in UNEP-WCMC protected area lists.


National Protected Area Systems

At the national level, a variety of designations is used, and will continue to be used. Because of this, it is inevitable that the same designation may mean different things in different countries; and different designations in different countries may be used to describe the same category of protected area. This is one of the key reasons for defining and using at the international level a system of categories identified by management objectives in a system which does not depend on titles. This category system is intended to operate in the same way in all countries so as to facilitate the collection and handling of comparable data, and to improve communication between countries. 


Regional Variation

The conditions for the establishment and management of protected areas vary greatly from region to region, and from country to country. For example, regions like Europe with long-settled, long-managed landscapes in multiple ownership are not, on the whole, as suited to the establishment of Category II areas - but on the other hand, their circumstances are more conducive to the establishment of Category IV and V areas. The IUCN does not favour different standards being used in the application of these categories in different parts of the world, as this would counter the value of having a defined standard. However, the flexibility which is inherent in these guidelines should help in their application to the conditions in different regions and countries 


Size of Protected Areas

The size of an area should reflect the extent of land or water needed to accomplish the purposes of management. For example, for a Category I area, the size should be that needed to ensure the integrity of the area to accomplish the management objective of strict protection, either as a baseline area or research site, or for wilderness protection. For a Category II area, the boundaries should be drawn sufficiently widely that they contain one, or more, entire ecosystems which are not subject to material modification by human exploitation or occupation. 


Zoning within Protected Areas

Though the primary purposes of management will determine the category to which an area is assigned, management plans will often contain management zones for a variety of purposes which take account of local conditions. However, in order to establish the appropriate category, at least three-quarters and preferably more of the area must be managed for the primary purpose; and the management of the remaining area must not be in conflict with that primary purpose. Cases where parts of a single management unit are classified by law as having different management objectives are discussed under the heading of multiple classifications. 


Multiple Classifications
Protected areas of different categories are often contiguous; sometimes one category 'nests' within another. Thus many Category V areas contain within them Category I and IV areas; some will adjoin Category II areas. Again, some Category II areas contain Category Ia and Ib areas. This is entirely consistent with the application of the system, providing such areas are identified separately for accounting and reporting purposes. Although there are obvious benefits in having the entire area within the responsibility of one management authority, this may not always be possible; in such cases, close cooperation between authorities will be essential. 


Management Responsibility

Governments have a fundamental responsibility for the existence and well being of national systems of protected areas. They should regard such areas as important components of national strategies for conservation and sustainable development. However, the actual responsibility for management of individual protected areas may rest with central, regional or local government, non governmental organisations, the private sector or the local community. The test is whether the designated authority is capable of achieving the management objectives. In practice, protected area Categories I-III will usually be the responsibility of some form of governmental body, while responsibility for categories IV and V may rest with local administrations, albeit usually working within the framework of national legislation. 


Ownership of Land

As with the question of the managing authority, the key test is whether the type of ownership is compatible with the achievement of the management objectives. In many countries ownership by some form of public body (whether nationally or locally based), or an appropriately constituted non-governmental body with conservation objectives, facilitates management and is therefore to be favoured in Categories I-III in particular. However, this is not universally true, and - in the remaining categories - private ownership will be much more common, often being the predominant form of land ownership. 


Local communities

Whatever the ownership, experience shows that the success of management depends greatly on the good will and support of local communities. In such cases, the managing authority will need to have good consultative and communications systems, and effective mechanisms which may include incentives, to secure compliance with management objectives. 


Areas around Protected Areas

Protected areas are not isolated units. Ecologically, economically, politically and culturally, they are linked to the areas around them. For that reason, the planning and management of protected areas must be incorporated within regional planning, and supported by the policies adopted for wider areas. For the purposes of the application of the categories system, however, where one area is used to 'buffer' or surround another, both their categories should be separately identified and recorded.


The information given above is extracted from

IUCN (1994). Guidelines for Protected Areas Management Categories. IUCN, Cambridge, UK and Gland, Switzerland. 261pp.


This is some text from WIKIPEDIA, which I intend to elaborate further:

Category Ia strict nature reserve


A strict nature reserve (IUCN Category Ia) is an area which is protected from all but light human use in order to protect its biodiversity and also possibly its geological/geomorphical features. These areas are often home to relatively pristine (often mistakenly referred to "virgin")  ecosystems where all human disturbance is prohibited, except scientific study, ecological monitoring and educational programmes. Because these areas are so strictly protected, they provide relative pristine ecosystems that enable measurement of external human influence by means of comparison with other areas.


Category Ia reserves with spiritual significance and traditional rights of indigenous communities will usually continue to be accessible to those communities to practice their faith.


Human impacts on strict nature reserves and all other categories are increasingly difficult to prevent because climate change and air pollution and other impacts that do not stop at the boundaries of protected areas. If intervention is required to maintain the originally relative pristine conditions, the area will often fall into category IV or V.


A wilderness area (IUCN Category Ib) has similar management objectives to a category Ia reserve, but in the sense that in many cases they protect relative pristine ecosystems, but the objective is to provide opportunities to a limited number of visitors to experience "wild nature".


These areas are a protected domain in which biodiversity and ecosystem processes (including evolution) are allowed to flourish or experience restoration if previously disturbed by human activity. These are areas which may buffer against the effects of climate change and protect threatened species and ecological communities.


Human visitation is limited to a minimum, often allowing only those who are willing to travel of their own devices (by foot, by ski, or by boat), but this offers a unique opportunity to experience wilderness that has not been interfered with. Wilderness areas can be classified as such only if they are devoid of modern infrastructure, though they allow human activity to the level of sustaining indigenous groups and their cultural and spiritual values within their wilderness-based lifestyles.[8] Category II  national park


A national park (IUCN Category II) is similar to a wilderness area in its size and its main objective of protecting functioning ecosystems. However, national parks tend to be more lenient with human visitation and its supporting infrastructure. National parks are managed in a way that may contribute to local economies through promoting educational and recreational tourism on a scale that will not reduce the effectiveness of conservation efforts.


The surrounding areas of a national park may be for consumptive or non-consumptive use but should nevertheless act as a barrier for the defense of the protected area's native species and communities to enable them to sustain themselves in the long term.[9] Category III ? natural monument or feature

A natural monument or feature (IUCN Category III) is a comparatively smaller area that is specifically allocated to protect a natural monument and its surrounding habitats. These monuments can be natural in the fullest sense or include elements that have been influenced or introduced by humans. The latter should hold biodiversity associations or could otherwise be classified as a historical or spiritual site, though this distinction can be quite difficult to ascertain.


To be categorised as a natural monument or feature by IUCN's guidelines, the protected area could include natural geological or geomorphological features, culturally-influenced natural features, natural cultural sites, or cultural sites with associated ecology. The classification then falls into two subcategories: those in which the biodiversity is uniquely related to the conditions of the natural feature and those in which the current levels of biodiversity are dependent on the presence of the sacred sites that have created an essentially modified ecosystem.


Natural monuments or features often play a smaller but key ecological role in the operations of broader conservation objectives. They have a high cultural or spiritual value that can be utilised to gain support of conservation challenges by allowing higher visitation or recreational rights, therefore offering an incentive for the preservation of the site. Category IV ? habitat or species management area The Gal?agos, Ecuador, is managed under category IV to preserve the islands' native flora and fauna.

A habitat or species management area (IUCN Category IV) is similar to a natural monument or feature, but focuses on more specific areas of conservation (though size is not necessarily a distinguishing feature), like an identifiable species or habitat that requires continuous protection rather than that of a natural feature. These protected areas will be sufficiently controlled to ensure the maintenance, conservation, and restoration of particular species and habitats possibly through traditional means and public education of such areas is widely encouraged as part of the management objectives.


Habitat or species management areas may exist as a fraction of a wider ecosystem or protected area and may require varying levels of active protection. Management measures may include (but are not limited to) the prevention of poaching, creation of artificial habitats, halting natural succession, and supplementary feeding practices. Category V ? protected landscape or seascape


A protected landscape or protected seascape (IUCN Category V) covers an entire body of land or ocean with an explicit natural conservation plan, but usually also accommodates a range of for-profit activities.


The main objective is to safeguard regions that have built up a distinct and valuable ecological, biological, cultural, or scenic character. In contrast with previous categories, Category V permits surrounding communities to interact more with the area, contributing to the area's sustainable management and engaging with its natural and cultural heritage.


Landscapes and seascapes that fall into this category should represent an integral balance between people and nature and can sustain activities such as traditional agricultural and forestry systems on conditions that ensure the continued protection or ecological restoration of the area.

Category V is one of the more flexible classifications of protected areas. As a result, protected landscapes and seascapes may be able to accommodate contemporary developments, such as ecotourism, at the same time as maintaining the historical management practices that may procure the sustainability of agrobiodiversity and aquatic biodiversity. Category VI ? protected area with sustainable use of natural resources Satellite image of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia

Though human involvement is a large factor in the management of these protected areas, developments are not intended to allow for widescale industrial production. The IUCN recommends that a proportion of the land mass remain in its natural condition?a decision to be made on a national level, usually with specificity to each protected area. Governance has to be developed to adapt the diverse?and possibly growing?range of interests that arise from the production of sustainable natural resources.


Category VI may be particularly suitable to vast areas that already have a low level of human occupation or in which local communities and their traditional practices have had little permanent impact on the environmental health of the region. This differs from category V in that it is not the result of long-term human interaction that has had a transformative effect on surrounding ecosystems.