Photo: Kim Abel,

Categories of protected areas

In Norway, protected areas may be designated as national parks, protected landscapes, nature reserves, habitat management areas or marine protected areas. These categories differ in what they are intended to protect and how strictly the areas are protected.

National parks

National parks are large areas of natural habitat that contain distinctive or representative ecosystems or landscapes without major infrastructure development. Norway has established national parks both on the mainland and in Svalbard.

Large protected areas maintain the ecological balance of the natural environment undisturbed, and are important in preventing species extinction. More information on Norway’s national parks is available under the tab for “Outdoor recreation” in the top menu.

Protected landscapes

Protected landscapes may be either natural or cultural landscapes that are important in ecological or cultural terms or as a source of enjoyment for people. Any buildings and other elements of the cultural heritage that contribute to its distinctive character are considered to be part of the landscape. This form of protection is often employed for agricultural or other landscapes that are actively used.

This category of protected area is intended to maintain the character of the landscape and public enjoyment of it.

Nature reserves

Nature reserves are the most strictly protected areas under the Nature Diversity Act. 

They are established in areas that contain endangered, rare or vulnerable species, communities, habitats or landscape types, or that represent a specific type of habitat, are of particular importance for biodiversity, comprise a distinctive geological feature, or are of special scientific interest.

Habitat management areas

These areas protect the habitats of particular animal or plant species, and fulfil specific ecological functions for one or more species. For example, they could be spawning or nursery areas, migration routes, feeding areas, moulting grounds, display grounds or mating areas, or breeding areas.

Marine protected areas

Marine protected areas are established to safeguard areas of high marine conservation value or marine areas that are ecologically necessary for terrestrial species. The criteria for their establishment are the same as those for nature reserves.

They may also be established to maintain distinctive or representative ecosystems without major infrastructure development or areas that fulfil specific ecological functions for one or more specified species. They may be established mainly to protect the seabed, the water column or the surface water or a combination of these.

Other forms of protection

Other forms of protection were used under the 1970 Nature Conservation Act. These included sites designated as “natural monuments”, in other words geological formations or botanical or zoological features, and bird reserves and other protected areas for particular species. The Wildlife Act also provided for a form of habitat protection. All these sites are still protected. If the protection regulations for any of them need to be revised, new regulations will be adopted under the 2009 Nature Diversity Act and adjusted to bring them in line with the new protection categories.