Strengthening protected area systems requires the use of a variety of mechanisms such as the purchasing of new land, contractual agreements, land exchanges, the rationalization of existing protected areas and state land, and the streamlining of legislation. It requires a diversity of categories of protection, ranging from strict preservation through to controlled resource harvesting and extraction. It requires taking into account the need for diverse, but coordinated and appropriate levels of control - from national through to provincial and local level. Concomitant with these actions must be the development of management plans for all protected areas.
Protected areas make a vital contribution to the conservation of the world's natural and cultural resources. Values range from retention of representative samples of natural regions and the preservation of biological diversity, to the maintenance of environmental stability of surrounding regions. Protected areas can provide an opportunity for rural development and rational use of marginal lands, for research and monitoring, for conservation education, and for recreation and tourism. As a result, most countries have developed systems of protected areas.
The conditions for the establishment and management of protected areas vary greatly from region to region, and from country to country. For example, regions like Europe with long-settled, long-managed landscapes in multiple ownership are not, on the whole, as suited to the establishment of new National Parks - but on the other hand, their circumstances are more conducive to the establishment of [Habitat Management Areas] and [Landscape Conservation Areas]. At the national level, a variety of designations is used, and will continue to be used. Because of this, it is inevitable that the same designation may mean different things in different countries; and different designations in different countries may be used to describe the same category of protected area.
Core areas for ecological conservation are sites that harbour habitats, species or landscapes of importance. They are therefore areas of special conservation value. Core areas contain: a) substantial representatives from the characteristic natural and semi-natural habitat types (both terrestrial and aquatic) across their traditional range and at different stages of ecological succession; b) viable populations of species of biological importance; c) the natural environmental processes on which these habitats and species populations depend; and d) landscapes of importance.
There are six IUCN Management Categories for Protected Areas: [Category I - Strict Nature Reserve/Wilderness Area] Protected area managed mainly for science or wilderness protection; [Category II - National Park] Protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation; [Category III - Natural Monument] Protected area managed mainly for conservation of specific natural features; [Category IV - Habitat/Species Management Area] Protected area managed mainly for conservation through management intervention; [Category V - Protected Landscape/Seascape] Protected area managed mainly for landscape/seascape conservation and recreation; [Category VI - Managed Resource Protected Area] Protected area managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems.
Under European law, "biogenetic reserves" conserve habitats or ecosystems on land or freshwater bodies or at sea. Each biogenetic reserve should fulfil two objectives: to contribute to guaranteeing the biological balance and conservation of representative examples of Europe's natural heritage to act as a "living laboratory" for research into the operation and evolution of natural ecosystems and to educate the public on the environment. A biogenetic reserve must aim to conserve natural and near-natural habitats or ecosystems, whether on land, water or sea. In some cases minimum human intervention may be necessary to guarantee the maintenance of such a habitat or ecosystem.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends establishing appropriate natural reserves in representative species-rich sites and areas.
The World Commission on Protected Areas (formerly IUCN's Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas (CNPPA)) is the leading international scientific and technical body concerned with the selection, establishement and management of antional parks and other protected areas. Its membership includes more than 500 protected areas professionals from about 120 countries. The Commission is served by IUCN's [Protected Areas Programme] in order to promote the establishment of a world-wide network of effectively managed terrestrial and marine protected areas.
The [Action Plan for Biosphere Reserves] was adopted UNESCO's [Man and the Biosphere Programme] and UNEP in 1984. A network of 286 biosphere reserves in 72 countries has been established. 1995 saw analysis of a draft statutory framework for the [International Network of Biosphere Reserves]. This aims to secure better coverage and obtain more knowledge about global biological diversity, to strengthen and improve the management of biosphere reserves and to enhance the level and expand the scope of scientific research and monitoring in biosphere reserves as observatories of global environmental changes.
[Europe] The [EU Habitats Directive] established the framework for a coherent European ecological network of special areas of conservation under the title [Natura 2000]. This network of sites hosts the natural habitat types and habitats of the species of conservation concern to the EU. Its purpose is to enable the natural habitat types and the species' habitats concerned to be maintained or, where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range. Each member state of the Union is responsible to contribute to and improve the ecological coherence of Natura 2000 by maintaining, and where appropriate improving, features of the landscape which are of major importance for wild fauna and flora. The Natura 2000 network includes the special protection areas for the conservation of wild birds (classified pursuant to EU Directive 79/409/EEC). In 1999, Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Portugal were warned that the European Commission might not be able to assess their applications for structural fund money for the period 2000 to 2006 unless they had nominated a sufficient number of areas to be included in the Natura 2000 network. South Africa's system of protected areas involves 422 formally protected areas which constitute some 6% of the land surface area. While the extent to which viable populations are conserved in such areas is not known, about 74% of plant, 92% of amphibian and reptile, 97% of bird, and 93% of mammal species of South Africa are estimated to be represented in the present protected area system.
The [European Network of Biogenetic Reserves] was established by the Council of Europe in 1976 as a means to promote the conservation of representative examples of the natural habitats that are especially valuable for nature conservation in Europe. In 1992 the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided to enlarge the Network to European non-member states. The main objective of the Network is to promote the creation of protected areas. Resolutions adopted in 1979, 1981, 1986 and 1992 identify specific biotopes and species that should be given priority for inclusion in the Network. The biotopes are heathlands, maquis, wetlands, typical examples of the European natural vegetation map, dry grasslands, dunes, halophytic vegetation, flood plains, peatlands, coastal and marine ecosystems, aquatic freshwater ecosystems, ancient natural and semi-natural forest. The species identified are mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, freshwater fish, butterflies, dragonflies hymenoptera, saproxylic invertebrates and vascular plants.
The Council of Europe mandates experts to compile inventories of sites in the member states that meet the conservation priorities. These inventories are based largely on existing national and international inventories. The lists of sites obtained in this way form the basis for proposals for new biogenetic reserves to the respective member states. If sites already enjoy adequate protected status, they can be directly included in the Network following a proposal from the respective country. National governments are also allowed to propose for inclusion in the Network any site that is of European value for nature conservation and that meets the criteria for biogenetic reserves, without necessarily being one of the biotopes or habitats of species recognised as having priority. Selection is based on two criteria relating to natural value and protection status, namely: the value for nature conservation (the degree to which the area harbours typical, unique, rare and/or endangered ecosystems or species); the protection status of the area, which must be strict. To date a total of 344 biogenetic reserves have been designated in 22 countries.
[Parks for Life: Action for Protected Areas in Europe], published in 1994 by the IUCN Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas (now renamed the World Commission on Protected Areas), is a framework for action for protected areas in Europe. The initiative was partly a response to the call of the 1992 World Parks Congress in Caracas for regional plans to link global aims to national and local action. It is also a follow-up to the decisions of the Earth Summit and Caring for the Earth. The aim of Parks for Life is to ensure an adequate, effective and well-managed network of protected areas in Europe and to conserve the landscape and biodiversity of the continent. Although Europe has many protected areas, the range of areas still has gaps and deficiencies. The plan consists of a series of actions focusing on four themes: (1) placing Europe's protected areas in their wider context (Part I); (2) addressing priorities at the European, sub-regional and national; (3) strengthening the planning and management of Europe's protected areas (Part III); and (4) creating the climate for success (Part IV).
The plan calls for an effective legal framework, under which protected areas can be established and managed. The priority is put on strengthening national and sub-national legislation, supplemented by international agreements on nature conservation and protected areas. It stresses the need for adherence to the Ramsar, the World Heritage, the Bern and the Alpine Conventions and the Convention on Biological Diversity and for the development of a Convention for the Conservation of Rural Landscapes of Europe. The plan includes three kinds of actions: (1) [endorsements]: support from the plan for important initiatives already underway, recognising the great diversity of conservation initiatives and activities in Europe; (2) [recommendations]: advice to governments and other parties on the policies and actions needed to improve the status of protected areas; (3) [priority projects]: 30 high-profile, international projects designed to fill the gaps and enhance the prospects for protected areas in Europe that are catalytic in nature, designed to encourage shifts in policy and to lever the substantially greater sums needed to implement the plan in full.
For managing protected areas, the plan proposes that appropriate funding should be made available through government budgets, the development of novel approaches, increasing EU support, using the EU LIFE Programme to support member states in establishing Natura 2000 and improving the environmental provisions in the EU Structural Funds and Cohesion Fund. The plan calls on all IUCN members in Europe to respond to the recommendations and to join in implementing the priority projects. There is a role for international bodies, governments and non-governmental organizations.