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IUCN Category Ib - Wilderness Area

Large unmodified or slightly modified protected areas

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This category refers to those areas that remain largely unchanged by humans. They are defined by IUCN as “ large unmodified areas that retain their natural character without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition”.1 The primary objective of protected areas in this category is to protect the long-term ecological integrity of natural areas that are undisturbed by significant human activity, free of modern infrastructure and where natural forces and processes predominate, so that current and future generations have the opportunity to experience such areas.


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

  • Be free of modern infrastructure, development and industrial extractive activity, including but not limited to roads, pipelines, power lines, cell phone towers, oil and gas platforms, offshore liquefied natural gas terminals, other permanent structures, mining, hydropower development, oil and gas extraction, agriculture including intensive livestock grazing, commercial fishing, low-flying aircraft etc., preferably with highly restricted or no motorized access.
  • Be characterized by a high degree of intactness: containing a large percentage of the original extent of the ecosystem, complete or near-complete native faunal and floral assemblages, retaining intact predator-prey systems, and including large mammals.
  • Be of sufficient size to protect biodiversity; to maintain ecological processes and ecosystem services; to maintain ecological refugia; to buffer against the impacts of climate change; and to maintain evolutionary processes.
  • Offer outstanding opportunities for solitude, enjoyed once the area has been reached, by simple, quiet and nonintrusive means of travel (i.e., non-motorized or highly regulated motorized access where strictly necessary and consistent with the biological objectives listed above).
  • Be free of inappropriate or excessive human use or presence, which will decrease wilderness values and ultimately prevent an area from meeting the biological and cultural criteria listed above. However, human presence should not be the determining factor in deciding whether to establish a category Ib area


These areas are managed to maintain natural condition with minimal human intervention, and this can be carried out by a range of actors depending on the governance type of the area (see factsheet IUCN Protected Area Categories for information on governance types).


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – The classification of a category Ib 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 large-scale economic activities in order to maintain the conservation values of these large unmodified areas.

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 protected for their biodiversity conservation values based on their size and intactness. These areas are therefore likely to hold high biodiversity value due to their potential role in maintaining natural processes and species that are perhaps threatened in more modified landscapes. Although relatively large in size, these areas form distinct management units that therefore of high relevance for mitigating and avoiding risk from biodiversity loss.

Socio-cultural – These areas are largely free of human habitation and activity and therefore the presence of socio-cultural values are less likely due to a lack of human presence and intervention at sites. Nonetheless, some small-scale activities and human presence may exist within these areas, and many will hold some cultural value as a result of the solitude that can be experienced at these sites.



  • 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.
  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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