Sites recognised and managed for nature conservation
Protected areas, in general, are defined as locations which receive protection because of their environmental, cultural or similar value. The term protected area often refers to a very wide range of land and water management types that have some value for biodiversity and landscape conservation. Designating special areas for protection has been a cornerstone strategy of biodiversity conservation since times immemorial1 and the practice and concept of protected areas has evolved over the centuries. Countries around the world now have extensive systems of protected areas that vary considerably, depending on national needs and priorities, and on differences in legislative, institutional and financial support.
Protected areas can be found across different environments from the mountains to sea, across deserts, forests, freshwater lakes and even national boundaries (territories). They are known by a multitude of names in different countries ranging from national park, nature reserve, wilderness area, wildlife management area, tourism management areas and ecological stations to scared groves. Many of these nationally designated protected areas also form part of international protected area systems created under global conventions (e.g. World Heritage sites) and regional agreements (e.g. Natura 2000 sites in Europe).
To reduce the confusion around the use of many different terms to describe protected areas, the IUCN , through its World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) of over 1400 members in 140 countries 2 , have developed a definition and seven internationally recognised Protected Area Management Categories that define protected areas according to their management objectives. These categories provide international standards for comparing the protected areas in different countries and encourage the planning of protected areas under specific management aims. (For more information, please see the page on IUCN Categories). The IUCN definition states that a protected area is “ A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values ”.1
The establishment of the earliest protected areas for wildlife and their habitat can be traced back to around 200 BC when hunting reserves existed under the ownership of, and for use by, Asian and European royalty (see History of Protected Areas for more information).3
National governments and sub-national institutions
Year of creation
First protected areas established around 200 BC
According to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) there are over 150,000 protected areas around the world. The proportion of areas protected globally (percentage of terrestrial area and territorial waters up to 12 nautical miles) amount to 11.9%. The proportion of terrestrial areas protected amounts to 12.9% and marine areas to 6.3%, as recorded in WDPA for 2009.4
Protected areas are typically established or designated within countries national territory (including any maritime claims) using the appropriate legislation or agreement.4 These are locations of significant environmental, cultural or natural value that in most cases have some kinds of management authority in place for their protection. Protected areas can be both nationally designated and internationally recognized and there are a number of globally and regionally recognised international treaties, conventions and agreements, which stipulate their own criteria for recognition (or establishment) of these areas. These include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites, Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB), the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the EC Birds Directive, the EC Habitats Directive and the ASEAN Declaration on Heritage Parks etc. In some cases an internationally recognised area can be composed of multiple nationally designated protected areas from different countries (e.g. transboundary protected area). Within A-Z Guide, detailed information is provided on the criteria for the internationally-recognised protected areas as well as the different IUCN Protected Areas categories.
As protected areas are set up for a range of purposes, there are a wide variety of management approaches that apply to them. These vary from those which are highly protected sites where few if any people are allowed to enter, to much less restrictive approaches where conservation is integrated with the traditional and sustainable human activities and practices. Some protected areas ban activities like food collecting, hunting or extraction of natural resources while for others it is an accepted and even a necessary part of management. The approaches taken in terrestrial, inland water and marine protected areas may also differ significantly according to their respective guidelines.
Legal status and compliance – The classification of a protected area under the IUCN definition 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 that receives 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 Bank,5 the International Finance Corporation6, the European Investment Bank7, the Asian Development Bank8, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development9 and the Inter-American Development Bank10. Such standards often require no project activities are acceptable 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 often 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, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB)11, the Alliance for Responsible Mining (ARM)12 and the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC)13 , which require 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)14, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) 15, and the Round Table on Responsible Soy Association (RTRS)16 and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA)17.
Biodiversity – The actual biodiversity criteria used to identify and designate protected areas will vary between countries and between areas. Further detailed information is needed to locate the actual distribution of biodiversity within each specific area type in different countries for site-scale assessment and decision making.
Socio-cultural values – The social, economic and cultural values also vary significantly and site level information is required to determine the socio-cultural values of each protected area.
- 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.
- Dudley, N. (Editor) (2008). Guidelines for Applying Protected Area Management Categories. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN. x + 86pp
- World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) website
- Chape, S., Spalding, M. & Jenkins, M. D. (eds.) (2008) The World’s Protected Areas: Status, Values and Prospects in the 21st Century. Prepared by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, University of California, Berkley, USA.
- IUCN and UNEP (2009) The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA). UNEP-WCMC. Cambridge, UK.
- World Bank (2001) Operational Policy 4.04: Natural Habitats. World Bank, Washington, DC.
- IFC (2006) Performance Standard 6: Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Natural Resource Management. International Finance Corporation, Washington, DC.
- EIB (2009) Statement of Environmental and Social Principles and Standards. European Investment Bank, Luxembourg.
- ADB (2009) Safeguard Policy Statement. Asian Development Bank, Manila.
- EBRD (2008) Environmental and Social Policy. European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, London.
- IDB (2006) Environment and Safeguards Compliance Policy. Inter-American Development Bank , Washington, DC.
- 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.
- 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
- RJC. (2009) Responsible Jewellery Council Standards Guidance. The Responsible Jewellery Council. London.
- RSPO (2007) RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Selangor, Malaysia.
- FSC (2002) FSC Principles and Criteria for Forest Stewardship version 4. Forest Stewardship Council, Powys.
- RTRS. (2010) RTRS Standard for Responsible Soy Production Version 1.0. The Round Table on Responsible Soy, Buenos Aires.
- CCBA. (2008) Climate, Community & Biodiversity Project Design Standards Second Edition. The Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance, Arlington, VA.
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