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Tamoios Ecological Station, Brazil. © Enrico Marone

IUCN Category Ia - Strict Nature Reserve

Protected areas managed with minimal human intervention

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This category refers to those areas that receive the least amount of human impact. They are defined by IUCN as “ strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphological features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values ”.1 The primary objective of protected areas in this category is to conserve regionally, nationally or globally outstanding ecosystems, species (occurrences or aggregations) and/or geodiversity features: these attributes will have been formed mostly or entirely by non-human forces and will be degraded or destroyed when subjected to all but very light human impact.


Supported by

Developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) with support of the World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and other international institutions such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and assigned by national governments


Year of creation


Not applicable



The area should generally:1

  • Have a largely complete set of expected native species in ecologically significant densities or be capable of returning them to such densities through natural processes or time limited interventions;
  • Have a full set of expected native ecosystems, largely intact with intact ecological processes, or processes capable of being restored with minimal management intervention;
  • Be free of significant direct intervention by modern humans that would compromise the specified conservation objectives for the area, which usually implies limiting access by people and excluding settlement;
  • Not require substantial and on-going intervention to achieve its conservation objectives;
  • Be surrounded when feasible by land uses that contribute to the achievement of the area’s specified conservation objectives;
  • Be suitable as a baseline monitoring site for monitoring the relative impact of human activities;
  • Be managed for relatively low visitation by humans;
  • Be capable of being managed to ensure minimal disturbance (especially relevant to marine environments).


These areas are managed for strict protection and this can be carried out by a range of actors depending on the governance type. See factsheet IUCN Protected Area Categories for information on governance types.


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – The classification of a category Ia protected area requires that such areas are managed for conservation by legal or other effective means, and therefore legal recognition and protection at the national or sub-national level is likely to be present in these sites. The level of legal protection will however vary between countries, and will depend on the governance type of the area, as they receive differing levels of recognition by government in different countries. Nonetheless a number of national laws are likely to apply to these sites that deter economic activities in order to maintain the conservation values.

As designated protected areas, these sites receive international attention and have been incorporated into a number of environmental safeguard standards. These include those of multilateral financial institutions including the World Bank2, the International Finance Corporation3, the European Investment Bank4, the Asian Development Bank5, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development6 and the Inter-American Development Bank7. Such standards often require that project activities do not take place within these areas unless they do not adversely impact the area and are compatible with the conservation aims of the protected area. In cases where projects are eligible for funding, additional requirements often apply, including consultation with and informed consent by stakeholders and managers, as well as the implementation of additional programs to enhance the conservation aims of the protected area. These standards refer to those that have been designated as well as areas officially proposed for protection.

In addition, a number of sector specific safeguard standards refer to protected areas, many of which are related to certification programs, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) that declares categories I and II as ‘no-go’ areas8, as well as the standards of the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM)9 and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC)10 that requires members to identify and respect legally protected areas. Protected areas form one of the values of the High Conservation Value (HCV) approach and are therefore included in a number of certification programmes and standards that adopt this approach requiring that such values are maintained or enhanced. These include the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)11, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)12, the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS)13 and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA)14.

Biodiversity – These areas are strictly protected for their biodiversity conservation values. While the actual biodiversity criteria used to identify and designate these sites will vary between countries and between areas, based on the level of protection afforded, high biodiversity values can be expected within these site-scale areas. They are therefore of high relevance for mitigating and avoiding risk from biodiversity loss.

Socio-cultural – These areas are strictly protected from any form of human activity, and therefore the presence of socio-cultural values are unlikely due to a lack of human presence and intervention at sites. Nonetheless, these areas can form the core area of a larger area with multiple uses, and therefore can play an important role for maintaining utilised resources by communities in the wider landscape.



  • Protected Planet is a tool for visualizing, mapping and contributing to information on protected areas. This includes information on the IUCN category where known. Protected Planet brings together spatial data, descriptive information and images from the World Database on Protected Areas, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), WikipediaTM, PanaramioTM, FlickrTM, and Google MapsTM.
  • The Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) for business provides a visualisation and GIS download tool for protected areas, including the IUCN category where known.


  1. Dudley, N. (Editor) (2008). Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. x + 86pp.
  2. World Bank (2001) Operational Policy 4.04: Natural Habitats. World Bank, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  3. IFC (2012) Performance Standard 6: Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Natural Resource Management. International Finance Corporation, Washington, DC, U.S.A
  4. EIB (2009) Statement of Environmental and Social Principles and Standards. European Investment Bank, Luxembourg.
  5. ADB (2009) Safeguard Policy Statement. Asian Development Bank, Manila, Philippines.
  6. EBRD (2008) Environmental and Social Policy. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, London, U.K.
  7. IDB (2006) Environment and Safeguards Compliance Policy. Inter-American Development Bank , Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  8. 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.
  9. ARM (2010) Fairtrade and fairmined standard for gold from artisanal and small-scale mining including associated precious metals. Alliance for Responsible Mining Foundation, Antioquia, Colombia.
  10. RJC (2009) Responsible Jewellery Council Standards Guidance. The Responsible Jewellery Council. London, U.K.
  11. RSPO (2007) RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Selangor, Malaysia.
  12. FSC (2002) FSC Principles and Criteria for Forest Stewardship version 4. Forest Stewardship Council, Powys, U.K.
  13. RTRS. (2010) RTRS Standard for Responsible Soy Production Version 1.0. The Round Table on Responsible Soy, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
  14. CCBA. (2008) Climate, Community & Biodiversity Project Design Standards Second Edition. The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance, Arlington, VA, U.S.A.


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