Recently there has been some discussion regarding the applicability and/or relevance of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) categories, and the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) in general.


The Rule 15.3 of the WWFF Global Rules state:

When giving consideration to adding new WWFF reference areas, please ensure that the proposed area falls within the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Protected Areas Categories System found in the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA).

It further states:

To be valid for WWFF these new areas with above nomination should be in the WDPA database.

Language: what does “should” mean

The WWFF Rules are written in English, and (at least try to be) careful with the use of words.

In particular, the word “should” needs to be considered in its formal sense. In International Standards:

“should” indicates a recommendation


a recommendation is defined as an “expression in the content of a document conveying a suggested possible choice or course of action deemed to be particularly suitable without necessarily mentioning or excluding others.

From this, the specification of an IUCN category, and the inclusion within the WDPA are recommendations.

As always, the approval of a reference is at the discretion of the WWFF Directory Manager.


What is the IUCN

From their website:

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a membership Union uniquely composed of both government and civil society organisations. It provides public, private and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge and tools that enable human progress, economic development and nature conservation to take place together.

Not every country/territory is a member of IUCN…

What are the IUCN Categories

These are listed on the IUCN website, and provide an independent categorization of protected areas.

This independence is necessary, as it ensures that a proposed reference has enough international status to warrant inclusion in the WWFF program.

But not having an IUCN category does not exclude, where justification exists… and LogSearch has additional classifications (eg RAMSAR, WorldHeritage, Biosphere and Natura2000 – as well as None!)


What is the WDPA

From the IUCN website:

The World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) is the most comprehensive global database on terrestrial and marine protected areas. Protected areas are internationally recognised as major tools in conserving species and ecosystems. Up to date information on protected areas is essential to enable a wide range of conservation and development activities. Since 1981 UNEP-WCMC, through its Protected Areas Programme, has been compiling this information and making it available to the global community.

The WDPA is a joint project of UNEP and IUCN, produced by UNEP-WCMC and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas working with governments and collaborating NGOs.

The UNEP is, of course, the United Nations Environment Program.

What is in the WDPA

The WDPA is only as good as the data within – and some countries/territories are better at maintaining their entries than other!

Note, inclusion within WDPA does not guarantee approval as a WWFF reference, as the WDPA includes sites that are of a national significance, that and not necessarily of an international significance.

Likewise, a location that is not listed in the WDPA may be considered for a WWFF reference where it is of international significance, and carries an appropriate international designation.