IUCN management categories

Page Last modified 16 May 2017
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According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) a protected area can include any area of sea, lakes, rivers or land that has been identified as important for conservation of nature, and managed for this purpose. Some protected areas allow industry, extensive agriculture or fishing to occur within their boundaries, while others prohibit all of these activities.

IUCN protected areas management categories system

While a designation type often provides information about the purpose of a protected area, it does not provide information on the type of management applied in the individual site.

In an attempt to describe and categorise the different management approaches in individual sites, the IUCN has identified seven different protected area categories, based on management objectives.

IUCN category



 Strict Nature Reserve

Strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphologic features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values. Such protected areas can serve as indispensable reference areas for scientific research and monitoring.


 Wilderness Area

Usually large unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed so as to preserve their natural condition.


National Park

Large natural or near natural areas set aside to protect large-scale ecological processes, along with the complement of species and ecosystems characteristic of the area, which also provide a foundation for environmentally and culturally compatible, spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational, and visitor opportunities.


Natural Monument or Feature

Protected 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. They are generally quite small protected areas and often have high visitor value.


Habitat/Species Management Area

Protected areas aiming to protect particular species or habitats, their management reflects this priority. Many Category IV protected areas will need regular, active interventions to address the requirements of particular species or to maintain habitats, but this is not a requirement of the category.


Protected Landscape/Seascape

A protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant, ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value: and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values.


Protected area with sustainable use
of natural resources

Protected areas that conserve ecosystems and habitats together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems. They are 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.

Source: IUCN

Percentage of nationally designated areas coverage per IUCN category

The nationally designated areas (CDDA) database includes information on which IUCN management category applies to nationally protected sites in Europe. So far, this information has been provided for almost 70 % of the sites across the 39 EEA countries. However, in the case of the Flemish part of Belgium, parts of Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey, the data are either lacking or incomplete. These data are also lacking or not used at all for very small sites in Scandinavia. In Estonia, IUCN management categories are allocated to each different management area within a designated site. In spite of these gaps, it is still possible to sketch a general picture of the share of IUCN categories across EEA countries, as shown in the diagram below.

Percentage of CDDA coverage per IUCN category; left: % of the number of sites; right: % of area - Eps file

Distribution of nationally designated areas in Europe according to their IUCN management category classification

The distribution of nationally protected areas under the various IUCN management categories shows different patterns across Europe (map below). While sites in IUCN category V are predominantly located in France, Germany and the United Kingdom (countries with the largest population in the EU), IUCN categories Ib and Ia are predominantly distributed in Scandinavia. Although the data are not available in the CDDA for Spain, it is well known that IUCN category V is also very important in this country.

Distribution of nationally protected sites (CDDA) in Europe according to their IUCN category classification - eps file


Geographic coverage


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