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Different parks, different purposes

There are more than 895 national parks and reserves in NSW. Some of these protected areas are more resilient to different types of human activities. Others are more fragile, and need a higher level of protection. This is one of the reasons why there are different categories of protected areas. In addition to NSW national parks and reserves, there are also marine parks and aquatic reserves (managed by the NSW Department of Primary Industries).

Looking across Sydney Harbour National Park. Photo: David Finnegan

Types of protected areas in NSW

Echo Point lookout (Three Sisters), Blue Mountains National Park. Photo: D Finnegan/OEH

National parks

National parks are areas of land protected because of their unspoilt landscapes, outstanding or representative ecosystems, Australian native plants and animals, and places of natural or cultural significance. In addition to their role in conservation, national parks provide opportunities for public nature appreciation, well-being, enjoyment, and as valuable scientific research. 

Lighthouse at Montague Island Nature Reserve. Photo: Stuart Cohen

Nature reserves

Nature reserves are areas of land in predominantly untouched, natural condition, with high conservation value. Their primary purpose is to protect and conserve their outstanding, unique or representative ecosystems and Australian native plants and animals.

Arrawarra Beach, Coffs Coast Regional Park. Photo: Rob Cleary

Regional parks

Regional parks are lands reserved to protect and conserve areas in natural or modified landscapes. They’re also suitable for sustainable public recreation and enjoyment. Regional parks offer open spaces for cultural and recreational activities (including dog walking in some parks) which may not be permitted in national parks, state conservation areas or nature reserves.

Cosy Corner lookout, Cape Byron State Conservation Area. Photo: John Spencer

State conservation areas

State conservation areas are lands reserved to protect and conserve significant or representative ecosystems, landforms, natural phenomena or places of cultural significance. They provide opportunities for sustainable visitation, public enjoyment, and research.

 Murramarang Aboriginal Area. Photo: Lucas Boyd

Aboriginal areas

Aboriginal areas allow for use of these areas by Aboriginal people for cultural purposes. They’re intended to promote public understanding and appreciation of their natural and cultural values and significance to Aboriginal people. Aboriginal areas also provide opportunities for appropriate research in accordance with Aboriginal cultural values.

Main road, Hill End Historic Site. Photo: John Spencer

Historic sites

Heritage places are areas of cultural significance which protect and promote cultural heritage values. They may be an area of significance to Aboriginal culture, include areas associated with a person or event in history, or include areas containing a building, place, feature, or landscape of cultural significance.

Orient Cave, Jenolan Karst Conservation Reserve. Photo: David Hill

Karst conservation reserves

Karst conservation reserves are outstanding cave areas that offer unique experiences, with their spectacular beauty and stunning surroundings. These areas provide important evidence of past life, such as relics and fossils, as well as evidence of atmospheric, hydrological and biological processes.

Two Dams picnic area. Beni State Conservation Area. Photo: M Bannerman

Community conservation areas

Community conservation areas are widely used throughout the world to allow for improved conservation efforts, while providing for the sustainable use of natural resources. We manage 3 types of community conservation areas:

Border Ranges National Park. Photo: Murray Vanderveer


Wilderness areas are large, natural areas of land which, together with their native plant and animal communities, remain essentially unchanged by modern human activity. They allow the natural processes of evolution to continue with minimal interference, which protects the existing biodiversity in a functioning natural system.

World Heritage walk, Washpool Creek, Washpool National Park. Photo: Rob Cleary

Wild rivers

Wild rivers are rivers which are in near-pristine condition. Wild rivers in NSW are declared within national parks and other reserves and are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. Declaring rivers as 'wild' ensures that their high conservation values are maintained. Aboriginal objects and places associated with these rivers may also be identified and conserved.

Orchid with white petals, Horseshoe Creek, Border Ranges National Park. Photo: Andrew Fay/OEH

Flora reserves

Flora reserves are NSW State forest lands permanently reserved to conserve native plants, forest ecosystems and threatened species and habitats. They may also protect Aboriginal cultural and archaeological values.

Male pollen cone of a critically endangered Wollemi pine tree. Photo: Jaime Plaza © Botanic Gardens Trust

Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS)

Assets of Intergenerational Significance (AIS) are declared to bolster protections for an area with exceptional environmental or cultural values, like important habitat for the iconic Wollemi pine, koala and the greater bilby.