The term “protected area” in this context refers to the following IUCN definition:  “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.” (IUCN Definition).

IUCN has defined protected area management categories and governance types as global standards for classifying and reporting protected areas. IUCN protected area management categories classify protected areas according to their management objectives, while the governance types classify protected areas according to their governance arrangements. These standards are also used to record protected areas in the World Database on Protected Areas managed by UNEP-WCMC. Protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) refers to changes in the legal status of protected areas.


Protected areas (PAs) are expected to conserve nature and provide ecosystem services in perpetuity, yet widespread protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD) may compromise these objectives. Even iconic protected areas are vulnerable to PADDD, although these PADDD events are often unrecognized.

Policy options to better govern PADDD include improving tracking and reporting of PADDD events, establishing transparent PADDD policy processes, coordinating among legal frameworks, and mitigating negative impacts of PADDD. To support PADDD research and policy reforms, enhanced human and financial capacities are needed to train local researchers and to host publicly accessible data.

As the conservation community considers the achievements of Aichi Target 11 and moves toward new biodiversity targets beyond 2020, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers need to work together to better track, assess, and govern PADDD globally.

Protected areas are essential for biodiversity conservation, underpinning most national and regional conservation strategies. Next to their role in maintaining natural ecosystems and conserve species, many contain major features of the Earth’s history and processes, while others conserve the interplay between human activity and nature in sustainable use landscapes. Larger and more natural protected areas also provide space for evolution and future ecological adaptation and restoration: both increasingly important under conditions of rapid climate change.

Protected areas are vital to the cultures and livelihoods of Indigenous peoples and local communities, conserving places of cultural and sacred value. They provide recreation and renewal, deliver clean air and water, and bring benefits to millions of people through tourism.

IUCN has developed a set of generalised protected area management categories to assist in the development and understanding of protected area systems across different national contexts and legal systems. Each country in the region has its own suite of protected area types defined in legislation and policy, such as national parks, national reserves and forest reserves. These definitions usually vary from country to country. They can, however, usually be matched to the IUCN categories, although there is not always an ‘exact’ match and often not all categories are represented in a particular country or region. The full range of categories I – VI allows for protected area systems to include those where human activities are strictly limited, as well as those where sustainable activities are allowed.

IUCN’s protected area management categories


Category Description Examples
Ia – Strict Nature Reserve Strictly protected areas which are set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphical features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values. There are few examples of this category in the region, though some national parks will have restricted areas within them, rather than being fully categorised as Category Ia. Tsingy de Bermaraha, Tsaratanana and Betampona
    Aldabra   Atoll,   Cousin,   La   Digue   and   Aride
Ib – Wilderness Area Protected areas which are usually large unmodified or slightly modified areas, retaining their natural character and influence without permanent or significant human habitation, which are protected and managed to preserve their natural condition. Moremi,   Khutse   and   Central   Kalahari   Game Reserves (Botswana)
    Koko Hill, Mamboya and Ikwamba Forest Reserves
II – 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. This is the most common management category in the region. Parc Marin de Mohéli (Comoros)
    Amboseli  and  Masai  Mara  (National  Reserve)
    Niassa (National Reserve) (Mozambique)
    Volcans (Rwanda) Kruger (South Africa) Serengeti (Tanzania)
    Bwindi Impenetrable (Uganda)
    Kafue (Zambia)
III – Natural Monument or Feature Protected areas set aside to protect a specific natural monument, which can be a landform, sea mount, submarine cavern, or a geological feature such as a cave or even a living feature such as an ancient grove. Victoria Falls National Park (Zimbabwe)
    Popa Game Park and Gross Barmen Hot Springs
    Toro-Semliki, Karuma, Bugungu and a number of other wildlife reserves (Uganda)
IV – Habitat/ Species Management Area The aim is to protect particular species or habitats and management reflects this priority. Partial Reserve Namibe (Angola) Maun Game Sanctuary (Botswana) Gash-Setit Wildlife Reserve (Eritrea)
    Alledeghi and Bale Wildlife Reserves (Ethiopia)
    Sehlabathebe National Park (Lesotho)
    Majete and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserves (Malawi) Poudre d’Or and Trou d’Eau Douce Fishing Reserves (Mauritius)
    Sabaloka Game Reserve (Sudan)
V – Protected Landscape/ Seascape Protected areas 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. Iles Musha and Maskhali (Djibouti) Libhetse Nature Reserve (Eswatini) numerous areas in Madagascar Imatong Forest Reserve (South Sudan)
VI – Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources These are protected areas which 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. Dabus Valley, Jikao, Tedo, Omo West and numerous other Controlled Hunting Areas (Ethiopia)
    Beacon, Booby Island, Etoile and Mamelles Nature Reserves (Seychelles)
    Matetsi, Sapi and Hurungwe Safari Areas

What are Protected Areas

They are the mainstay of biodiversity conservation, while also contributing to people’s livelihoods, particularly at the local level. Protected areas are at the core of efforts towards conserving nature and the services they provide us with, like food, clean water supply, medicines and protection from the impacts of natural disasters and climate change.

IUCN PA Categories

IUCN protected area management categories classify protected areas according to their management objectives. The categories are recognised by international bodies such as the United Nations and by many national governments as the global standard for defining and recording protected areas and as such are increasingly being incorporated into government legislation.

  • Category Ia: Strict Nature Reserve.
  • Category Ib: Wilderness Area.
  • Category II: National Park.
  • Category III: Natural Monument or Feature.
  • Category IV: Habitat/Species Management Area.
  • Category V: Protected Landscape/Seascape.
  • Category VI: Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources.

Guidelines for applying protected area management categories

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