Managing delineated areas of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means.
According to the Convention on Biological Diversity, 'protected area' means a geographically defined area which is designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives.
The 1978 United Nations Protected Areas Management Categories are:
[I: Strict Nature Reserve/Scientific Reserve] To protect nature and maintain natural processes in an undisturbed state in order to have ecologically representative examples of the natural environment available for scientific study, environmental monitoring, education and for the maintenance of genetic resources in a dynamic and evolutionary state.
[II: National Park] To protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international significance for scientific, educational and recreational use. These are relatively large natural areas not materially altered by human activity where extractive resource uses are not allowed.
[III: Natural Monument/Natural Landmark] To protect and preserve nationally significant natural features because of their special interest or unique characteristics. These are relatively small areas focused on protection of specific features.
[IV: Managed Nature Reserve/Wildlife Sanctuary] To assure the natural conditions necessary to protect nationally significant species, groups of species, biotic communities or physical features of the environment where these may require specific human manipulation for their perpetuation. Controlled harvesting of some resources may be permitted.
[V: Protected Landscapes and Seascapes] To maintain nationally significant natural landscapes which are characteristic of the harmonious interaction of man and land while providing opportunities for public enjoyment through recreation and tourism within the normal life style and economic activity of these areas. These are mixed cultural/natural landscapes of high scenic value where traditional land uses are maintained.
A "multiple-use managed resource area" is one of the categories and management objectives allowed for protected areas. It provides for the sustained production of water, timber, pasture, wildlife and outdoor recreation, with the conservation of nature primarily oriented to the support of the economic activities (although specific zones can also be designed within these areas to achieve specific conservation objectives).
Agroecosystems cover a large area of Europe: in western and central Europe, farming occupies around 50% of the land surface while protected areas cover some 10-12%. A significant proportion of the protected area estate, in central and western Europe, is farmed (precise figure unknown). It is clear that Europeans can only meet the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) by further developing policy in the direction of an overall agri-environment strategy. In the EU and candidate countries this will generally include inter alia various rural development measures like agri-environmental measures, LFA schemes etc., while various opportunities under the Common Market Organisations can be used as well. Other countries will have to rely on national policies. Examples of this are Switzerland and Norway. The situation in non EU candidate CEEC's is less clear. Regarding priority setting Natura 2000, the Emerald Network and wider national ecological networks are important tools, although in many cases the ambitions of agri-environmental policies cover larger parts of the countryside.
Today the bulk of Europe's farmland with high natural values as such is not under nature protection. Large categories like semi-natural habitats (semi-natural grassland, heathland, garrigue, etc), Important Bird Areas (for breeding or migratory birds) and areas rich in landscape features (hedges, ditches, woodlots etc.) are covered by formal protection to only a limited extent. A large area of farmland (20%) is under EU agri-environmental programmes but many of these programmes are not yet well targeted on biodiversity and many areas of high conservation value are still lacking such measures, e.g. in the Mediterranean part of Europe. Equally only a relatively limited amount of the total agricultural area is likely to be designated as Natura 2000 areas.
The European Diploma of Protected Areas is an award by the Council of Europe, instituted in 1965, formally adopted in 1973, revised regulations adopted in 1991 and 1998. The award is granted to recognize that a site is of European interest from the natural-heritage standpoint and that the area is properly protected. The Diploma can be awarded to national parks, nature reserves, natural areas and other sites or features. The Diploma is valid for five years and may be renewed for further five-year periods, subject to prior appraisals for each period. To date, a total of 56 sites have been recognized in 21 countries.