The Hutovo Blato protected marshland and bird reservation in Bosnia and Herzegovina

A nature park, or sometimes natural park, is a designation for a protected natural area by means of long-term land planning, sustainable resource management and limitation of agricultural and real estate developments. These valuable landscapes are preserved in their present ecological state and promoted for ecotourism purposes.

In most countries nature parks are subject to legally regulated protection, which is part of their conservation laws.

In terms of level of protection, a category "Nature Park" is not the same as a "National Park", which is defined by the IUCN and its World Commission on Protected Areas as a category II protected area. A "Nature Park" designation, depending on local specifics, falls between category III and category VI according to IUCN categorization, in most cases closer to category VI. However some nature parks have later been turned into national parks.

International nature parks

The first international nature park in Europe, the present-day Pieniny National Park was founded jointly by Poland and Slovakia in 1932.[1]

Nature parks by country


Overview map of Austria's nature parks (image uploaded in 2010)

There are currently 47 nature parks in Austria with a total area of around 500,000 ha (as at April 2010). They are host to nearly 20 million visitors annually.[2] The designation of "nature park" is awarded by the respective state governments. To achieve this award, the 4 pillars of a nature park have to be met: conservation, recreation, education and regional development.

Association of Austrian Nature Parks (VNÖ)

In 1995 all the Austrian nature parks agreed to be represented by the Association of Austrian Nature Parks (Verband der Naturparke Österreichs) or VNÖ.

Currently there are nature parks in the following states:

  • Ötscher-Tormäuer
  • Purkersdorf-Sandstein-Wienerwald
  • Seebenstein-Türkensturz
  • Sierningtal-Flatzer Wand
  • Sparbach (ältester Naturpark, seit 1962)


In Belgium, there are two different structures. In Flanders, their name is Regionale Landschappen and in Wallonia, the Natural Parks. There are 17 Regionale Landschappen in Flanders and 9 Natural Parks in Wallonia.


In Croatia there is a total of eight national parks and twelve nature parks. Under nature park protection are the following regions:

Czech Republic

In the Czech Republic a Nature Park (Přírodní Park) is defined as a large area serving the protection of a landscape against activities that could decrease its natural and esthetic value. They can be established by any State Environment Protection body.


Main article: Regional nature parks of France


Main article: List of nature parks in Germany

Nature parks in Germany (image created 2010)

The Nature park is one of the options for area-based nature conservation provided for under the Federal Nature Conservation Act (the BNatSchG). On 6 June 1956 in the former capital city of Bonn at the annual meeting of the Nature Reserve Association (in the presence of President Theodor Heuss and Minister Heinrich Lübke)., the environmentalist and entrepreneur, Alfred Toepfer, presented a programme developed jointly with the Central Office for Nature Conservation and Landscape Management and other institutions to set up (initially) 25 nature parks in West Germany. Five percent of the area of the old Federal Republic of Germany was to be spared from major environmental damage as a result.

Definition of nature parks in Germany

The definition of the category of nature park is laid down in federal law (§ 27 of the BNatSchG). Details, especially with regard to the identification, investigation or recognition as a nature park vary in each state depending on the provisions of local conservation law.

§ 27 of the BnatSchG determines that natural parks are large areas that are to be developed and managed as a single unit, that consist mainly of protected landscapes or nature reserves, that have a large variety of species and habitats and that have a landscape that exhibits a variety of uses.

In nature parks, the aim is to strive for environmentally sustainable land use and they should be especially suitable for recreation and for sustainable tourism because of their topographical features.

The underlying idea is a "protection through usage", so the acceptance and participation of the population in the protection of the cultural landscape and nature is very important. In doing so the nature conservation and the needs of recreation users should be linked so that both sides benefit: sustainable tourism with respect for the value of nature and landscape is paramount.

Basically all actions, interventions and projects that would be contrary to the purpose of conservation are prohibited.

Nature parks are to be considered in zoning and must be represented and considered in local development plans. This is called an acquisition memorandum. They are binding and cannot be waived because of a higher common good.

The sponsors of nature parks are usually clubs or local special purpose associations.

The German nature parks come together in the Association of German Nature Parks.

In Germany today there are 101 nature parks (as at: March 2009), that occupy some 25% of the land area. They are an important building block for nature conservation and help to preserve the sites of natural beauty, cultural landscapes, rare species and biotopes and to make them accessible to later generations.

See also: List of nature parks in Germany



South Tyrol has 8 nature parks and part of a national park

See also: List of regional parks of Italy


The Mayon Volcano Natural Park
Tubbataha Reef

In the Philippines, Natural Parks are a type of protected area. They are defined by Republic Act No. 7586 as: "relatively large areas not materially altered by human activity where extractive resource uses are not allowed and maintained to protect outstanding natural and scenic areas of national or international significance for scientific, educational and recreational use."[3]

They include:


See also: Nature parks in Switzerland

A view in the Swiss National Park.

In Switzerland the establishment of regional nature parks is regulated by the Federal Act on the Protection of Nature and Cultural Heritage.[4] The three categories are:[5]

National parks and nature experience parks have very strict protected areas, something which does not exist in regional nature parks.[6] The latter focus much more on striking a balance in the level of support between nature conservation and the regional economy.


In Spain, a natural park (Spanish: parque natural) is a natural space protected for its biology, geology, or landscape, with ecological, aesthetic, educational, or scientific value whose preservation merits preferential attention on the part of public administration. The regulation of the activities that may occur there attempts to assure its protection.[7] Natural parks focus their attention on the conservation and maintenance of flora, fauna, and terrain. Natural parks may be maritime or terrestrial and can be in the mountains, along the coasts, in the desert, or any other geographically defined space.

Islas Cíes in Pontevedra.
Storks in Aiguamolls de l'Empordà.

Spain distinguishes natural parks from national parks. The categories of protected areas in Spain under Law 4/1989 are not based on higher or lower levels of protection, but on functions and characteristics:

The largest protected space in Spain, and also its largest natural park, is the Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas Natural Park in the province of Jaén, at the headwaters of the Guadalquivir. 9.1 percent of the surface area of Spain is protected, including 42 percent of the Canary Islands, 30.5 percent of Andalusia,[12] and 21.51 percent of Catalonia, with lesser percentages in the other autonomous communities. Andalusia, being far larger than the Canary Islands or Catalonia, has 36 percent of the total protected areas in the country.[13]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Nationalpark Pieniny Archived 2011-01-16 at the Wayback Machine accessed on 1 June 2010
  2. ^ Touristische Potenziale der Österreichischen Naturparke, 2009
  3. ^ "Republic Act No. 7586". Department of Energy. Republic of the Philippines. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
  4. ^ Federal Act on the Protection of Nature and Cultural Heritage (section 3b), Federal Chancellery of Switzerland (page visited on 27 July 2016).
  5. ^ a b c d Overview of the Swiss parks, Federal Office for the Environment (page visited on 27 July 2016).
  6. ^ Swiss park categories, Federal Office for the Environment (page visited on 27 July 2016).
  7. ^ "Ley 4/1989, de 27 de marzo, de conservación de los espacios naturales y de la flora y fauna silvestre". Boletín Oficial del Estado (74): 8262–8269. 1989-03-28. Archived from the original on 2012-03-04. Retrieved 2010-02-01.
  8. ^ Excerpted from Ley 4/1989: "áreas naturales, poco transformadas por la explotación u ocupación humana que, en razón a la belleza de sus paisajes, la representatividad de sus ecosistemas o de su flora, de su fauna o de sus formaciones geomorfológicas, poseen unos valores ecológicos, estéticos, educativos y científicos cuya conservación merece atención preferente. Un Parque Nacional lo es por ser de interés nacional en razón de que sea representativo del patrimonio natural y de que incluya alguno de los principales sistemas naturales españoles."
  9. ^ Excerpted from Ley 4/1989: "espacios naturales cuya creación tiene como finalidad la protección de ecosistemas, comunidades o elementos biológicos que, por su rareza, fragilidad, importancia o singularidad merecen una valoración especial."
  10. ^ Excerpted from Ley 4/1989: "espacios o elementos de la naturaleza constituídos básicamente por formaciones de notoria singularidad, rareza o belleza, que merecen ser objeto de una protección especial."
  11. ^ Excerpted from Ley 4/1989: "lugares concretos del medio natural que, por sus valores estéticos y culturales, sean merecedores de una protección especial."
  12. ^ "Red de Espacios Protegidos de Andalucía (RENPA)" (in Spanish).
  13. ^ "El 9,1% del territorio español ya es espacio natural protegido, con 960 zonas que ocupan 4,6 millones de hectáreas". Desarrollo Inteligente (in Spanish). 2005-03-10. Archived from the original on 2012-03-01. Retrieved 2009-12-21.