Through its World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), IUCN has provided the international guidelines on the categorisation of protected areas for nearly a quarter of a century. These categories are internationally recognised and facilitate a global system for defining, recording and classifying protected areas and the wide variety of specific aims they might embody. Acknowledged on an international level and often incorporated into national legislation, the categories are based upon the management objectives of a protected area and fulfill the following purposes:
Strict Nature Reserves are protected from all but light human use in order to preserve all geological and geomorphical features of the region and their biodiversity, which is often dense and restricted to exclusively to scientific monitoring, study or education. Being such preserved environments, Strict Nature Reserves can be used as an indicator of external human influence, which can be increasingly difficult to guard against as climate and air pollution are potentially able to penetrate protected area boundaries. Occasionally Strict Nature Reserves are of spiritual significance to surrounding communities in which case the people are generally allowed to continue the practice of their faith and may be directly involved in the area's conservation and management objectives, though perpetual human intervention would more suitably be allocated to categories IV or V.
Generally larger than Strict Nature Reserves, the main objectives of these areas is to provide an environment in which biodiversity and ecosystem processes (including evolution) are allowed to flourish or experience restoration if previously disturbed by human activity. Human use is limited, often allowing only those who are willing to travel of their own accord rather than via established touristic activities. Wilderness areas can be classified as such only if they are devoid of modern infrastructure, although they allow human activity to the level of sustaining indigenous groups living wilderness-based lifestyles.
Similar to the objectives of Wilderness Areas, National Parks provide protection for functioning ecosystems, but tend to be more lenient with human visitation and the supporting infrastructure. National Parks are managed in a way that may contribute to local economies through promoting educational and recreational tourism on a scale that will not reduce the effectiveness of conservation efforts. The surrounding areas of a National Park may be for consumptive or non-consumptive use, but should nevertheless act as a barrier for the defence of the protected area's native species and communities to enable them to remain sustainable in the long term.
These are comparatively smaller areas that are specifically allocated to protect a natural monument and its surrounding habitats. Natural Monuments or Features can be natural in the wholest sense, or include elements that have been influenced or introduced by humans. The latter should hold biodiversity associations or could otherwise be classified as a historical or spiritual site, though this distinction can be quite difficult to ascertain. As such,The classification then falls into two subcategories, those in which the biodiversity in uniquely related to the conditions of the natural feature, and those in which the current levels of biodiversity are dependent on the presence of the sacred sites that have created an essentially modified ecosystem. Natural Monuments or Features have a high cultural or spiritual value which can be utilised to gain support for conservation challenges.
Habitat/Species Management Areas focus on more specific areas of conservation in correlation to an identifiable species or habitat that requires continuous protection. These protected areas will be sufficiently controlled to ensure the maintenance, conservation and restoration of particular species and habitats - possibly through traditional means - and public education of such areas is widely encouraged as part of the management objectives. Habitat or Species Management Areas may exist as a fraction of a wider ecosystem or protected area and may require varying levels of active intervention including - but not limited to - the prevention of poaching, creation of artificial habitats, halting natural succession and supplementary feeding practices.
Protected Landscapes and Seascapes cover entire bodies of land or ocean which engages a range of for-profit activities within the management plan. The main objective is to safeguard regions that have built up a 'distinct character' in regards to their ecological, biological, cultural or scenic value. Protected Landscapes and Seascapes allow a higher level of sustainable interaction with surrounding communities (such as traditional agricultural and forestry systems)and should represent an integral balance between people and nature. Protected Landscapes and Seascapes are one of the more flexible categories and may be able to accommodate contemporary developments such as ecotourism whilst maintaining historical agrobiodiversity and aquatic biodiversity management practices.
Category VI is a more encompassing classification that is based on a mutually beneficial relationship between nature conservation and the sustainable management of natural resources in correspondence the livelihoods of surrounding communities. A wide range of socio-economic factors are taken into consideration in creating local, regional and national approaches to the use of natural resources. Though human involvement is a large factor in the management of these protected areas, developments are not intended to allow for widescale industrial production. These areas would be particularly suitable to vast areas that already have a low level of human occupation that has had little or no negative impact on the environmental health of the region, as a proportion of the land mass is expected to remain in its natural condition - a regulation to be enforced on a national level, and usually with specifity to each protected area. Governance has to be developed to adapt to the diverse and possibly growing range of interests that arise from the production of sustainable natural resources.
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