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White Desert, Egypt © Dietmar Temps

IUCN Category III - Natural Monument or Feature

Small areas for the protection of a natural feature

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This category refers to small-sites that focus on one or more prominent natural features and the associated ecology, rather than on a broader ecosystem. They are defined by IUCN as “ areas set aside to protect a specific natural monument, which can be a landform, sea mount, submarine cavern, geological feature such as a cave or even a living feature such as an ancient grove ”.1 They are generally quite small protected areas and often have high visitor value. The primary objective of protected areas in this category is to protect specific outstanding natural features and their associated biodiversity and habitats.


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



Category III protected areas could include: 1

  • Natural geological and geomorphological features: such as waterfalls, cliffs, craters, caves, fossil beds, sand dunes, rock forms, valleys and marine features such as sea mounts or coral formations;
  • Culturally-influenced natural features: such as cave dwellings and ancient tracks;
  • Natural-cultural sites: such as the many forms of sacred natural sites (sacred groves, springs, waterfalls, mountains, sea coves etc.) of importance to one or more faith groups;
  • Cultural sites with associated ecology: where protection of a cultural site also protects significant and important biodiversity, such as archaeological/historical sites that are inextricably linked to a natural area.

The term “natural” as used here can refer to both wholly natural features (the commonest use) but also sometimes features that have been influenced by humans.



These areas are managed to maintain certain natural features, and this can be carried out by a range of actors depending on the governance type of the area (see factsheet ‘Protected Areas’ for information on governance types). These areas are generally managed in much the same way as a category II area but at a smaller-scale. Visitation and recreation is often encouraged.


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – The classification of a category III 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 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.

n 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 III and IV as ‘high-risk’ 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 – The main emphasis of protection in category III areas is on the natural features found in these sites. Their role in the conservation of species and habitats, hence, varies. In some cases their contribution to biodiversity conservation may be indirect result of protection of natural features. In other cases (e.g. natural cave system) they may play a key role in the wider conservation strategy of an area. Category III is similar to category II and managed in much the same way but at a rather smaller-scale and with less complexity of management.

Socio-cultural – Category III areas are likely to hold socio-cultural values as they may have features such as sacred groves, springs, waterfalls, mountains, sea coves etc. of importance to one or more faith groups.



  • 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, Phillipines.
  6. EBRD (2008) Environmental and Social Policy. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, London.
  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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