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IUCN Category VI - Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources

Areas managed for nature conservation and sustainable use

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This category refers to areas defined by IUCN as “ generally large, with most of the area in a natural condition, where a proportion is under sustainable natural resource management and where low-level non-industrial use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation is seen as one of the main aims of the area ”.1 The primary objective of protected areas in this category is to protect natural ecosystems and use natural resources sustainably, when conservation and sustainable use can be mutually beneficial.


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





As with all of the IUCN protected area categories, there are no formal criteria. However they generally have the following distinguishing features:2

  • These areas aim to conserve ecosystems and habitats, together with associated cultural values and natural resource management systems. Therefore, this category of protected areas tends to be relatively large (although this is not obligatory).
  • They are unique in that they have the sustainable use of natural resources as a means to achieve nature conservation, together and in synergy with other actions more common to the other categories, such as protection.
  • The category is not designed to accommodate large-scale industrial harvest.
  • In general, IUCN recommends that a proportion of the area is retained in a natural condition, which in some cases might imply its definition as a no-take management zone. Some countries have set this as two-thirds; IUCN recommends that decisions need to be made at a national level and sometimes even at the level of individual protected areas.


Management of these areas 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). Human occupation and intervention is to be expected in these areas, although most practices will be traditional and low-impact as sustainable use is actively promoted. As a result people who live and manage the land under traditional and sustainable practices act as the main stewards of these protected areas. Unlike category V, intervention within these areas is aimed at maintaining or restoring predominantly natural ecosystems.


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance – The classification of a category VI 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, as well as those under the protection of traditional and local people.

In addition, a number of sector specific safeguard standards refer to protected areas, many of which are related to certification programs, including the standards of of the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM)8 and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC)9 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)10, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)11, the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS)12 and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA)13.

Biodiversity – Category VI areas are unique amongst the IUCN categories as they seek to achieve biodiversity conservation through a synergy between the sustainable uses of natural resources together with protection. These areas often tend to be relatively large and are particularly relevant for the application of landscape approaches to conservation. As intervention within these areas is aimed at maintaining or restoring natural ecosystems, they can be anticipated to have high biodiversity values, and may often include no-take areas as an integral part of maintaining these values.

Socio-cultural – These areas can be expected to hold significant socio-cultural value. While industrial use is not accepted, sustainable use by local and traditional communities is a key criterion, and the maintenance of these sustainable practices is as important as the maintenance of the natural resources on which people rely.



  • 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. 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.
  9. RJC (2009) Responsible Jewellery Council Standards Guidance. The Responsible Jewellery Council. London, U.K.
  10. RSPO (2007) RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Selangor, Malaysia.
  11. FSC (2002) FSC Principles and Criteria for Forest Stewardship version 4. Forest Stewardship Council, Powys, U.K.
  12. RTRS. (2010) RTRS Standard for Responsible Soy Production Version 1.0. The Round Table on Responsible Soy, Buenos Aires.
  13. 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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