Protected areas are divided into different categories, all essential in biodiversity conservation.

4 minutes

What is a protected area?

According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) definition, a protected area is a “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.

This definition contains all the answers we seek: let us look at it in more detail, dividing it into three parts.

What types of protected areas exist in the world?

“a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means…”

According to the IUCN classification, protected areas can be divided into different categories, each characterised by specific management objectives:

IA. Strict nature reserve

an area where human use, visitation, or impact is controlled and limited (except for environmental monitoring and education) to protect its biodiversity and possibly geological/geomorphological features.

IB. Wilderness area

Compared to category IA, this area is typically larger with no marginal human presence.

II. National park

Large, more permissive of human visitation and equipped with supporting infrastructure. It promotes educational and recreational tourism on a scale that does not reduce the effectiveness of conservation efforts. Regional or local parks belong to this category but generally cover less extensive areas.

III. Natural monuments

Natural or natural/cultural feature of exceptional or unique value due to its intrinsic rarity, representative of aesthetic qualities or cultural significance.

IV. Habitat and species management areas 

Focus on more specific conservation areas characterised by the presence of species and habitats requiring continuous protection. This category includes, for example, Natura 2000 Network sites (where they are not already included and fall into the above categories).

V. Protected landscape

Covers an entire body of land or sea with an explicit natural conservation plan, allowing surrounding communities more significant interaction with the area.

VI. Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources

Large areas that already have a low level of human occupation or where local communities and their traditional practices have had a limited permanent impact on the region’s environmental health.

What (and who) are protected areas for?

“… to achieve the long-term conservation of nature…”

Although in different forms and types, globally, protected areas play an essential role in the conservation of biodiversity (habitats and animal and plant species): within them, species richness is 10.6 per cent higher and abundance 14.5 per cent higher than in surrounding areas (Gray et al., 2016).

“…with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

Inside the words “ecosystem services“, the protagonists become us because we talk about the “multiple benefits provided by ecosystems to humankind” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005) in terms of food and resource provision, climate and water cycle regulation and various cultural services such as aesthetic-landscape values, spiritual, recreational, etc. 

A protected area serves nature, and nature serves us: by the transitive property, it can be said not even so selfishly that we are the ultimate beneficiaries of ecosystem conservation.

How many protected areas are there worldwide, in Europe and Italy today? And how many will there be tomorrow?

As of July 2023, the global coverage of protected areas on land and inland waters is 16%, while that for marine areas is 8.2% (WDPA, 2023). These percentages are currently confirmed at the European level, while in Italy, in 2022, terrestrial protected areas cover 21.7% of the territory and marine areas 13.4% of national territorial waters (ISPRA, 2023). 

In the coming years, an increase in the coverage of protected areas can be expected as a result of the recent approval of the Nature Restoration Law, which has set as its goal the restoration of all natural environments that have been damaged by man over the years (in particular, the law aims to restore at least 20% of terrestrial and marine ecosystems by 2030 and aims to reach 100% by 2050).

How can the EU objectives on nature restoration be achieved?

In order to achieve the EU objectives, it will be necessary to identify and include new areas that will benefit from ad hoc restoration and protection measures at the planning level.

It will also be necessary to structure the governance of protected areas smartly: Etifor can support defining effective strategies for managing protected areas and natural resources. 

The success of the management will depend on the interaction between the local authorities and their ability to cooperate to seek and attract the necessary funding for operational and effective management. Etifor offers support in searching for European funding to meet the needs of your natural area, park or territory.