The six Austrian National Parks are regarded as internationally recognised protected areas for the most ecologically valuable natural environments in our country. Nature protection and species conservation are a top priority here and ensure a largely undisturbed development of characteristic flora and fauna. In their aspiration to make unspoilt nature tangible, National Parks are also valuable recreation, education and research areas.
National Park Definition
A National Park preserves as a protected area unique and characteristic natural landscapes and thus follows a worldwide idea. However, nature conservation is not always the same. Depending on the type of area, the management and nature protection have different goals and purposes.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has defined six categories of protected areas, which are fundamentally different: strict nature reserve and wilderness area, national park, natural monument, biotope or species protection area, protected landscape or marine area, resource conservation area.
National Parks are defined as category II with its major aims to preserve biodiversity with its ecological interrelationships and natural processes and to promote recreational and educational activities. The definition is supplemented by further objectives, distinguishing features and functions.
The criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) set out the conditions under which a protected area established in the long term by the Federal Government and regional states can be recognised as a National Park (category II). This includes the existence of extensive natural environments with ecosystems that merit long-term protection, largely managing without any interventions and carrying out tasks in the areas of research, education, natural environment management, biodiversity and recreation.
Dividing the National Park area into zones makes it possible to bridge the gaps between nature and species conservation.
National Park Zones
In order to comply with the conservation targets, National Park areas are subdivided into various different zones:
- At the heart of the National Park is the core or nature zone, which must occupy at least 75% of surface area, according to IUCN criteria. This area is subject to strict nature conservation requirements and prohibits interventions in the ecosystem and natural scenery. Nature is given top priority here.
- External, conservation and management zones serve to protect cultivated landscapes and their biodiversity. Interventions are possible and permitted within the scope of traditional, natural management. In this way it becomes possible to protect unspoilt nature, as well as other important biotopes, safeguarding the survival of numerous species.
Having popped up in the US in the 19th century, the idea of the National Park successfully spread around the globe: the foundation of the Yellowstone National Park in 1872 was followed by the development of other protected areas in Australia (1879), Canada (1885) and New Zealand (1887). Sweden (1909) and Switzerland (1914) secured the leading role in Europe.
The Hohe Tauern National Park was the first Austrian National Park, established in 1981. Five other domestic protected areas have since been included among the 3,800 National Parks recognised around the world based on IUCN standards.
According to the Federal Constitution, nature conservation in Austria is the responsibility of the federal provinces. Due to their national importance, however, the federal government is also involved in the establishment of these type of protected areas.
For this reason, an international treaty - an agreement pursuant to Article 15a of the Federal Constitutional Act - between the Federal Government and the respective province has to be established. Additional laws and ordinances on federal as well as regional level consolidate the legal basis.