Protected areas, in general, are defined as locations which receive protection because of their environmental, cultural or similar value. Designating special areas for protection has been a cornerstone strategy of biodiversity conservation since times immemorial. Over the centuries, the practice and concept of protected area has evolved under the influence of a very wide range of contextual factors. Countries around the world now have extensive systems of protected areas developed over many years. These systems vary considerably from country to country, depending on national needs and priorities, and on differences in legislative, institutional and financial support. Protected areas also can be found across different environments from the mountains to sea, across deserts, forests, freshwater lakes and even national boundaries (territories). They are known by a multitude of names ranging from National Parks, Nature Reserves, Marine Sanctuaries, Tourism Management Areas to Wildlife Parks in different countries. These protected areas are established under various criteria and are protected by various means ranging from legal protection to customary systems.
Protected areas are a fundamental part of global, national and sub-national conservation strategies that are supported and governed by a range of local and national institutions, NGOs and even individuals such as in the case of private protected areas. The definition of a protected area differs between countries, however the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2008), through consultation within IUCN members and IUCN-World Commission on Protected Areas, has developed the definition of “ A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values ”.1
Protected areas are designated by national governments based on the management objectives identified by them. They assess whether the site meets the IUCN’s definition, and document the characteristics and justification for protected area status. Based on this information, a management category is proposed and ideally a consultation is carried out with all stakeholders.1 The final decision is made by the government on the category of protected area. IUCN can advise on assignment and sometimes runs individual advisory missions to countries or even individual protected areas. The criteria for designation, management and business implications depend on a number of factors, but can largely be separated based on the management objective and governance type of the area, which are described below.
IUCN has developed a system of categorising protected areas according to the underlying management objectives, which could be implemented by different management approaches. These categories are recognised by international bodies such as the United Nations and by many national governments and have become an important global standard for the planning, establishment and management of protected areas, and as such are increasingly being incorporated into government legislation.
The categories are as follows, and are described in further detail on separate factsheets:Ia. Strict Nature Reserve:
Ib Wilderness Area
II National Park (ecosystem protection; protection of cultural values)
III Natural Monument
IV Habitat/Species Management
V Protected Landscape/Seascape
VI Protected Area with sustainable use of natural resources