Consistency in comparing protected areas across Australia is achieved by the allocation and use of an internationally defined set of management categories, known as IUCN (World Conservation Union) categories. There are six IUCN protected area categories, although only the first four are generally funded by Caring for our Country for the National Reserve System. The six categories are:
- Category Ia
Strict nature reserve: protected area managed mainly for science
- Category Ib
Wilderness area: protected prea managed mainly for wilderness protection
- Category II
National park: protected area managed mainly for ecosystem conservation and recreation
- Category III
Natural monument or feature: protected area managed 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
Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources: protected area managed mainly for the sustainable use of natural ecosystems
The following information comes from the IUCN document: Guidelines for applying protected area management categories (PDF document)
Category Ia: Strict nature reserve
Strictly protected areas set aside to protect biodiversity and also possibly geological/geomorphological features, where human visitation, use and impacts are strictly controlled and limited to ensure protection of the conservation values. Such protected areas can serve as indispensable reference areas for scientific research and monitoring.
To conserve regionally, nationally or globally outstanding ecosystems, species (occurrences or aggregations) and/or geodiversity features: these attributes will have been formed mostly or entirely by non-human forces and will be degraded or destroyed when subjected to all but very light human impact.
Category Ib: Wilderness area
Protected areas 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 so as to preserve their natural condition.
To protect the long-term ecological integrity of natural areas that are undisturbed by significant human activity, free of modern infrastructure and where natural forces and processes predominate, so that current and future generations have the opportunity to experience such areas.
Category II: National park
Protected areas are 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.
To protect natural biodiversity along with its underlying ecological structure and supporting environmental processes, and to promote education and recreation.
Category III: Natural monument or feature
Protected areas are set aside to protect a specific natural monument, which can be a landform, sea mount, submarine cavern, geological feature such as a cave or even a living feature such as an ancient grove. They are generally quite small protected areas and often have high visitor value.
To protect specific outstanding natural features and their associated biodiversity and habitats.
Category IV: Habitat/species management area
Protected areas aim to protect particular species or habitats and management reflects this priority. Many category IV protected areas will need regular, active interventions to address the requirements of particular species or to maintain habitats, but this is not a requirement of the category.
To maintain, conserve and restore species and habitats.
Category V: Protected landscape/seascape
A protected area 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.
To protect and sustain important landscapes/seascapes and the associated nature conservation and other values created by interactions with humans through traditional management practices.
Category VI: Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources
Protected areas are generally large, with much of the area in a more-or-less natural condition and where a proportion is under sustainable natural resource management and where low-level use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation is seen as one of the main aims of the area.
To protect natural ecosystems and use natural resources sustainably, when conservation and sustainable use can be mutually beneficial.