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The definition of a protected area adopted by IUCN is:

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




Sustainable use of resources from natural ecosystems


Maintenance of cultural and traditional features

Categories of Protected Areas

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.

CATEGORY Ib : 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.

CATEGORY II : 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.

CATEGORY III : 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.

CATEGORY IV : 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.

CATEGORY V : 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. 

CATEGORY VI : 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.

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