Protected Areas

Category VI: Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources

Protected areas that conserve ecosystems and habitats, together with associated cultural values and traditional natural resource management systems. They are generally large, with most of the area in a natural condition, where a proportion is under sustainable natural resource management and where low-level non-industrial use of natural resources compatible with nature conservation is seen as one of the main aims of the area.

Primary objective

To protect natural ecosystems and use natural resources sustainably, when conservation and sustainable use can be mutually beneficial.

Other objectives

  • To promote sustainable use of natural resources, considering ecological, economic and social dimensions;

  • To promote social and economic benefits to local communities where relevant;

  • To facilitate inter-generational security for local communities' livelihoods – therefore ensuring that such livelihoods are sustainable;

  • To integrate other cultural approaches, belief systems and world-views within a range of social and economic approaches to nature conservation;

  • To contribute to developing and/or maintaining a more balanced relationship between humans and the rest of nature;

  • To contribute to sustainable development at national, regional and local level (in the last case mainly to local communities and/or indigenous peoples depending on the protected natural resources);

  • To facilitate scientific research and environmental monitoring, mainly related to the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources;

  • To collaborate in the delivery of benefits to people, mostly local communities, living in or near to the designated protected area;

  • To facilitate recreation and appropriate small-scale tourism.

Distinguishing features

  • Category VI protected areas, uniquely amongst the IUCN categories system, have the sustainable use of natural resources as a means to achieve nature conservation, together and in synergy with other actions more common to the other categories, such as protection.

  • Category VI protected areas aim to conserve ecosystems and habitats, together with associated cultural values and natural resource management systems. Therefore, this category of protected areas tends to be relatively large (although this is not obligatory).

  • The category is not designed to accommodate large-scale industrial harvest.

  • In general, IUCN recommends that a proportion of the area is retained in a natural condition,7 which in some cases might imply its definition as a no-take management zone. Some countries have set this as two-thirds; IUCN recommends that decisions need to be made at a national level and sometimes even at the level of individual protected areas.

Role in the landscape/seascape

  • Category VI protected areas are particularly adapted to the application of landscape approaches.

  • This is an appropriate category for large natural areas, such as tropical forests, deserts and other arid lands, complex wetland systems, coastal and high seas, boreal forests etc. – not only by establishing large protected areas, but also by linking with groups of protected areas, corridors or ecological networks.

  • Category VI protected areas may also be particularly appropriate to the conservation of natural ecosystems when there are few or no areas without use or occupation and where those uses and occupations are mostly traditional and low-impact practices, which have not substantially affected the natural state of the ecosystem.

What makes category VI unique?

Allocation of category VI depends on long-term management objectives and also on local specific characteristics. The following table outlines some of the main reasons why category VI may be chosen in specific situations vis-à-vis other categories. 

Category VI differs from the other categories in the following ways:
Category Ia Category VI protected areas do conserve biodiversity, particularly at ecosystem and landscape scale, but the aim would not be to protect them strictly from human interference. Although scientific research may be important, it would be considered a priority only when applied to sustainable uses of natural resources, either in order to improve them, or to understand how to minimize the risks to ecological sustainability.
Category Ib Category VI protected areas in certain cases could be considered close to “wilderness”, however they explicitly promote sustainable use, unlike the situation in category Ib wilderness areas where such use will be minimal and incidental to conservation aims. They also contribute to the maintenance of environmental services, but not only by exclusive nature conservation, as the sustainable use of natural resources can also contribute to the protection of ecosystems, large habitats, and ecological processes.
Category II Category VI protected areas aim to conserve ecosystems, as complete and functional as possible, and their species and genetic diversity and associated environmental services, but differ from category II in the role they play in the promotion of sustainable use of natural resources. Tourism can be developed in category VI protected areas, but only as a very secondary activity or when they are part of the local communities' socio-economic strategies (e.g., in relation to ecotourism development).
Category III Category VI protected areas might include the protection of specific natural or cultural features, including species and genetic diversity, among their objectives, whenever the sustainable use of natural resources is also part of the objectives, but they are more oriented to the protection of ecosystems, ecological processes, and maintenance of environmental services through nature protection and promotion of management approaches that lead to the sustainable use of natural resources.
Category IV Category VI protected areas are more oriented to the protection of ecosystems, ecological processes, and maintenance of environmental services through nature protection and promotion of the sustainable use of natural resources. While category IV protected areas tend to prioritize active management, category VI promotes the sustainable use of natural resources.
Category V Category V applies to areas where landscapes have been transformed as a result of long-term interactions with humans; category VI areas remain as predominantly natural ecosystems. The emphasis in category VI is therefore more on the protection of natural ecosystems and ecological processes, through nature protection and promotion of the sustainable use of natural resources.


Issues for consideration

  • Protection of natural ecosystems and promotion of sustainable use must be integrated and mutually beneficial; category VI can potentially demonstrate best management practices that can be more widely used.

  • New skills and tools need to be developed by management authorities to address the new challenges that emerge from planning, monitoring and managing sustainable use areas.

  • There is also need for development of appropriate forms of governance suitable for category VI protected areas and the multiple stakeholders that are often involved. Landscape-scale conservation inevitably includes a diverse stakeholder group, demanding careful institutional arrangements and approaches to innovative governance.

Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda


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