Protected Areas

Category II: National Park

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.

Primary objective

To protect natural biodiversity along with its underlying ecological structure and supporting environmental processes, and to promote education and recreation.

Other objectives

  • To manage the area in order to perpetuate, in as natural a state as possible, representative examples of physiographic regions, biotic communities, genetic resources and unimpaired natural processes;

  • To maintain viable and ecologically functional populations and assemblages of native species at densities sufficient to conserve ecosystem integrity and resilience in the long term;

  • To contribute in particular to conservation of wide-ranging species, regional ecological processes and migration routes;

  • To manage visitor use for inspirational, educational, cultural and recreational purposes at a level which will not cause significant biological or ecological degradation to the natural resources;

  • To take into account the needs of indigenous people and local communities, including subsistence resource use, in so far as these will not adversely affect the primary management objective;

  • To contribute to local economies through tourism.

Distinguishing features

Category II areas are typically large and conserve a functioning “ecosystem”, although to be able to achieve this, the protected area may need to be complemented by sympathetic management in surrounding areas.

  • The area should contain representative examples of major natural regions, and biological and environmental features or scenery, where native plant and animal species, habitats and geodiversity sites are of special spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational or tourist significance.

  • The area should be of sufficient size and ecological quality so as to maintain ecological functions and processes that will allow the native species and communities to persist for the long term with minimal management intervention.

  • The composition, structure and function of biodiversity should be to a great degree in a “natural” state or have the potential to be restored to such a state, with relatively low risk of successful invasions by non-native species.

Role in the landscape/seascape

Category II provides large-scale conservation opportunities where natural ecological processes can continue in perpetuity, allowing space for continuing evolution. They are often key stepping-stones for designing and developing large-scale biological corridors or other connectivity conservation initiatives required for those species (wide-ranging and/or migratory) that cannot be conserved entirely within a single protected area. Their key roles are therefore:

  • Protecting larger-scale ecological processes that will be missed by smaller protected areas or in cultural landscapes;

  • Protecting compatible ecosystem services;

  • Protecting particular species and communities that require relatively large areas of undisturbed habitat;

  • Providing a “pool” of such species to help populate sustain-ably-managed areas surrounding the protected area;

  • To be integrated with surrounding land or water uses to contribute to large-scale conservation plans;

  • To inform and excite visitors about the need for and potential of conservation programmes;

  • To support compatible economic development, mostly through recreation and tourism, that can contribute to local and national economies and in particular to local communities.

Category II areas should be more strictly protected where ecological functions and native species composition are relatively intact; surrounding landscapes can have varying degrees of consumptive or non-consumptive uses but should ideally serve as buffers to the protected area.

What makes category II unique?

Category II differs from the other categories in the following ways:
Category Ia Category II will generally not be as strictly conserved as category Ia and may include tourist infrastructure and visitation. However, category II protected areas will often have core zones where visitor numbers are strictly controlled, which may more closely resemble category Ia.
Category Ib Visitation in category II will probably be quite different from in wilderness areas, with more attendant infrastructure (trails, roads, lodges etc.) and therefore probably a greater number of visitors. Category II protected areas will often have core zones where numbers of visitors are strictly controlled, which may more closely resemble category Ib.
Category III Management in category III is focused around a single natural feature, whereas in category II it is focused on maintaining a whole ecosystem.
Category IV Category II is aimed at maintaining ecological integrity at ecosystem scale, whereas category IV is aimed at protecting habitats and individual species. In practice, category IV protected areas will seldom be large enough to protect an entire ecosystem and the distinction between categories II and IV is therefore to some extent a matter of degree: category IV sites are likely to be quite small (individual marshes, fragments of woodland, although there are exceptions), while category II are likely to be much larger and at least fairly self-sustaining.
Category V Category II protected areas are essentially natural systems or in the process of being restored to natural systems while category V are cultural landscapes and aim to be retained in this state.
Category VI Category II will not generally have resource use permitted except for subsistence or minor recreational purposes.

Issues for consideration

  • Concepts of naturalness are developing fast and some areas that may previously have been regarded as natural are now increasingly seen as to some extent cultural landscapes – e.g., savannah landscapes where fire has been used to maintain vegetation mosaics and thus populations of animals for hunting. The boundaries between what is regarded and managed as category II and category V may therefore change over time.

  • Commercialization of land and water in category II is creating challenges in many parts of the world, in part because of a political perception of resources being “locked up” in national parks, with increasing pressure for greater recreational uses and lack of compliance by tour operators, development of aquaculture and mariculture schemes, and trends towards privatization of such areas.

  • Issues of settled populations in proposed category II protected areas, questions of displacement, compensation (including for fishing communities displaced from marine and coastal protected areas), alternative livelihood options and changed approaches to management are all emerging themes.

Tassili N'Ajjer National Park, Algeria

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