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High Conservation Value Areas (HCVA)

Areas identified to maintain or enhance their outstanding and critical conservation values


High Conservation Value Areas (HCVAs) are natural habitats, which are of outstanding significance or critical importance due to their high environmental, socioeconomic, biodiversity or landscape values. These areas need to be appropriately managed in order to maintain or enhance those identified values.1 The HCV concept was originally developed by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)2 in 1999 for use in forest management certification. It is now a keystone principle of sustainability standards for palm oil, soy, sugar, biofuels and carbon, as well as being widely used for landscape mapping, and in conservation and natural resource planning and advocacy. HCVAs may be part of larger habitats or may be an entire habitat. The HCV Resource Network was established, by a group of organisations who used the HCV approach in 2006 to provide information and support the evolving usage of the HCV approach.1


Supported by

High Conservation Value Resource Network, led by organisations including industry (e.g. Tetra Pak, Mondi, World Business Council for Sustainable Development); conservation groups (International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)); standard setting and certification organisations (Forest Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance); and intergovernmental organisations (the World Bank and International Tropical Timber Organisation).


Year of creation



Global in extent



There are six main types of HCVs used to define HCVAs, based on the definition originally developed by the FSC for the identification and management of the High Conservation Value Forests (HCVFs).1 These are:

  • HCV1. Areas containing globally, regionally or nationally significant concentrations of biodiversity values (e.g. endemism, endangered species, refugia)
    • HCV1.1. Protected areas
    • HCV1.2. Threatened and endangered species
    • HCV1.3. Endemic species
    • HCV1.4. Critical temporal use
  • HCV2. Globally, regionally or nationally significant large landscape-level areas where viable populations of most, if not all, naturally occurring species exist in natural patterns of distribution and abundance
  • HCV3. Areas that are in or contain rare, threatened or endangered ecosystems
  • HCV4. Areas that provide basic ecosystem services in critical situations (e.g. watershed protection, erosion control)
    • HCV4.1 Forests critical to water catchments
    • HCV4.2 Forests critical to erosion control
    • HCV4.3 Forests providing barriers to destructive fire
  • HCV5. Areas fundamental to meeting basic needs of local communities (e.g. subsistence, health)
  • HCV6. Areas critical to local communities’ traditional cultural identity (areas of cultural, ecological, economic or religious significance identified in cooperation with such local communities)

Further explanation of each HCV is available on the HCV Resource Network website.1 A generic Global Toolkit, developed by ProForest, provides guidance on how to apply the HCV definitions and to develop detailed and specific National Interpretations. National HCV Toolkits have been developed for a number of countries, which are also available through the Resource Network website.



The HCV approach was developed as a tool for managing critical values within a production landscape, and is most commonly used by industry committed to certification of timber, pulp or agricultural products. The core of the HCV approach is the identification and maintenance of critical environmental and social values. In practice, many HCVAs are managed by commercial or community owned industry outside protected area networks and approaches to maintain values vary. HCV management may range from complete protection to extractive uses such as selective logging or harvesting of natural products, where these are precautionary, managed to an agreed standard, and monitored for any negative effects on HCVs. Natural HCVAs may not be converted to other land uses. National and sectoral guidelines to interpret and identify the values, management options and monitoring of HCVAs, case studies and training materials are available from the HCV Resource Network.


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – Legal recognition and protection is not a criteria for identification of HCVAs. Most of the HCVAs typically lie outside the legal protected area network (except HCV 1.1), although some categories of locally protected land may also be HCVAs (e.g. steep slopes, important watersheds, riparian protection areas, community owned lands). Therefore legal protection will be present for some HCVAs (especially watershed protection) depending on the context.

Assessing and maintaining HCVAs is central to compliance with a number of key voluntary sustainability standards. The HCV approach forms integral part of the FSC standard.3 In addition, they are also referred to in several standards of certification schemes such as those of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB)4, the Climate and Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA)5, the Better Sugarcane Initiative (BSI)6, The Round Table on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS)7, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)8, and the GlobalG.A.P. aquaculture standards9. These standards all require that HCVAs are maintained or enhanced and have specific restrictions preventing the expansion of cultivation of crops and aquaculture farms into these areas.

Biodiversity – HCVAs are frequently (although not always) designated for their importance to biodiversity, as sites with global, regional or national significance. Their identification criteria includes both high vulnerability and high irreplaceability of species and habitats. These areas are identified at the site-scale and are therefore of significant relevance for business in terms of mitigating and avoiding risk from biodiversity loss and identifying opportunities associated with biodiversity conservation.

Socio-cultural -The recognition of socio-cultural values of sites is an important criterion of some HCVAs. HCVAs of social importance are identified as sites with critical significance for the livelihoods, wellbeing or cultural identity of local communities to be managed in consultation with such communities. Such HCVA sites provide opportunities to build trust between companies and communities, train and build local capacity, and provide multiple benefits for local people.



  • High Conservation Value Resource Network – provides a source of information about the HCV approach, access to the Global Toolkit and the national interpretations of the toolkit, and a series of publications and guidance


  1. Forest Stewardship Council website
  2. FSC (2002) FSC Principles and Criteria for Forest Stewardship version 4. Forest Stewardship Council, Powys, U.K.
  3. RSB. (2009) Annex to the Guidelines for Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, Stakeholder Mapping and Community Consultation Specific to the Biofuels Sector- Ecosystem and Conservation Specialist. Version 1.0. Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, Lausanne, Switzerland.
  4. CCBA. (2008) Climate, Community & Biodiversity Project Design Standards Second Edition. The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance, Arlington, VA, U.S.A.
  5. BSI. (2010) Better Sugar Cane Initiative Production Standard. Better Sugarcane Initiative Ltd, London, U.K.
  6. RTRS. (2010) RTRS Standard for Responsible Soy Production Version 1.0. The Round Table on Responsible Soy, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  7. RSPO. (2007) RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production. Round Table of Sustainable Palm Oil, Selangor, Malaysia.
  8. Global G.A.P.(2007) Control Points and Compliance Criteria Integrated Farm Assurance. All Farm Base. EUREPGAP. Cologne, Germany.


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