105 years of Russian protected areas

The Russian system of protected areas has been celebrating 105 years this year. On January the 11th of 1917 the first Russian Zapovednik was created starting the history of its unique system. Located at the lake Baikal Barguzinsky Zapovednik was created in order to preserve Barguzin Sable. The demand for its fur was so high, that the animal was facing extinction. Since then Russian system of protected areas have gone through many changes, but Sable survived and so did other wilderness areas in Russia. Currently, there are 237 protected areas of federal significance in Russia, including 109 zapovedniks, 65 national parks and 63 zakazniks. In total, there are about 13 thousand protected areas of federal, regional and local significance in the Russian Federation.

Specially Protected Natural Areas

The Russian system of protected areas is called Specially Protected Natural Areas (SPNA). In accordance with the Federal Law of the Russian Federation specially protected natural areas represent parts of land, water surface and air space above them with natural complexes and objects that have conservational, scientific, cultural, aesthetic, recreational and health significance. They are fully or partially taken out of economic use and have an established regime of special protection.

Specially Protected Natural Areas can have federal, regional or local significance. They can be divided into several categories, depending on the objectives and features of their protection regime: 

  1. zapovedniks (state natural reserves), including biosphere reserves;
  2. national parks;
  3. nature parks;
  4. zakazniks (state natural sanctuares);
  5. natural monuments;
  6. dendrological parks and botanical gardens.


Zapovedniks or state natural reserves are areas of federal significance, within the boundaries of which the environment is preserved in its natural state and economic and other activities are completely prohibited. They have the following objectives: 

  • biodiversity preservation and maintenance of protected natural complexes and objects in their natural state;
  • scientific research;
  • state environmental monitoring;
  • environmental education and development of educational tourism;
  • training of scientific personnel and specialists in the field of environmental protection.

Land plots and natural resources located within the boundaries of state natural reserves are considered to be in federal ownership and aren’t subject to alienation. They can have areas where any human intervention in natural processes is excluded and areas of partial economic use that do not include especially valuable ecological systems and objects. Areas of partial economic use allow activities that ensure the functioning of the reserve and the life of citizens living on its territory. 

Zapovedniks represent the strictest category of natural protected areas. Unauthorized individuals can visit the territories of state natural reserves only with the permission of the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation or the direct management of the reserve. 

National parks

National parks are classified as specially protected natural areas of federal significance. Within the boundaries of national parks zones are allocated in which the natural environment is preserved in its natural state and it is prohibited to carry out any activity not provided by the Russian Federal Law and zones in which economic and other activities are limited in order to preserve natural and cultural heritage sites and use them for recreational purposes.

National parks are entrusted with the following objectives:

  • conservation of natural complexes, unique natural sites and objects;
  • conservation of historical and cultural objects;
  • environmental education of the population;
  • creation of conditions for regulated tourism and recreation;
  • scientific research aimed at the conservation and development of natural and recreational potential of the Russian Federation;
  • state environmental monitoring;
  • restoration of degraded natural, historic and cultural complexes and objects.

Land plots and natural resources located within the boundaries of national parks are federally owned and are not subject to alienation, with the exception of land plots located within the boundaries of settlements included in national parks. Zoning of national parks allocates the following territories:

  • strictly protected zone for preservation of the environment in its natural state and within the boundaries of which any economic activity is prohibited;
  • specially protected zone for preservation of the environment in its natural state and within the boundaries of which excursions and educational tourism are allowed;
  • recreational zone for recreational activities, sports and placement of tourist facilities, museums and information centres;
  • zone of protection of cultural heritage (monuments of history and culture), allowing conservational and recreational activities;
  • economic zone, allowing activities aimed at ensuring the functioning of the national park and the life of citizens living on its territory;
  • zone of traditional extensive nature use, ensuring the livelihoods of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation and allowing traditional economic activities and related types of sustainable nature management.

Nature parks

Nature parks are specially protected natural areas of regional significance, within the boundaries of which zones are allocated that have an ecological, cultural or recreational purpose, according to which prohibitions and restrictions on economic and other activities are established.

Based on the ecological and recreational value of natural sites various regimes of special protection and use are established and different functional zones are identified, including conservational, recreational, agricultural, zones of protection of historical and cultural complexes and objects.

The legal status of natural parks has similar and distinct features with the status of national parks. The difference from national parks is that decisions on their formation and structure, as well as administration, are made by the state authorities of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, while these issues in relation to national parks are clearly regulated in federal laws. 

Another difference from national parks is that the territories of natural parks are located on the lands provided to them for perpetual (permanent) use, in some cases on the lands of other users or owners.


State natural sanctuaries or zakazniks are land and water areas that have special importance for the conservation or restoration of natural complexes or their components and the maintenance of the ecological balance.  They can be of federal or regional significance and can be created with withdrawal from owners or without it. 

There are several types of state nature sanctuaries:

  • complex (landscape), designed to preserve and restore natural complexes (natural landscapes);
  • biological (botanical and zoological), intended for the conservation and restoration of rare and endangered species of plants and animals, including species valuable in economic, scientific and cultural terms;
  • paleontological, intended for the conservation of fossil objects;
  • hydrological, designed for the conservation and restoration of valuable water objects and ecological systems;
  • geological, designed to preserve valuable objects and complexes of mineral nature.

On the territories of state nature reserves, any activity is permanently or temporarily prohibited or restricted if it contradicts the goals of creating state nature reserves or harms natural complexes and their components.

Monuments of nature

Monuments of nature represent unique, irreplaceable, valuable in ecological, scientific, cultural and aesthetic terms natural complexes, as well as objects of natural and artificial origin. They can be of federal or regional significance. The declaration of natural complexes and objects as monuments of nature and the territories occupied by them as territories of natural monuments is allowed with the withdrawal of the land plots from the owners and users.

In the territories where natural monuments are located and within the boundaries of their protected zones any activity that entails a violation of the preservation of natural monuments is prohibited.

A significant part of existing natural monuments of both federal and regional significance is represented by the objects of artificial origin.

Dendrological parks and botanical gardens

Dendrological parks and botanical gardens are specially protected natural areas created to form special collections of plants in order to preserve the flora and its diversity.  Land plots and forest plots within the boundaries of dendrological parks and botanical gardens are provided to state institutions that manage dendrological parks and botanical gardens for permanent (perpetual) use.

On the territories of dendrological parks and botanical gardens, any activity that is not related to the fulfilment of their tasks and entails a violation of the safety of floristic objects is prohibited. 

The territories of dendrological parks and botanical gardens can be divided into various functional zones, including:

  • expositional, which allows visiting in the manner determined by the relevant authorities and institutions managing dendrological parks or botanical gardens;
  • scientific and experimental, access to which is available only to scientists of dendrological parks or botanical gardens, as well as specialists from other research institutions;
  • administrative

Accordance to IUCN

SPNA include areas that can have significant differences in their goals and objectives, size, degree of degradation and transformation of natural ecosystems and landscapes, presence of population and use of the area for traditional activities, etc. However, according to WWF’s study, a vast majority of specially protected natural areas in the Russian Federation meet IUCN criteria for protected areas. The majority of zapovedniks correspond to Ia and Ib categories of IUCN. National parks correspond to categories Ia-Ib and II. Zakazniks correspond to categories III and IV. Natural monuments correspond to III category. The only exceptions are: 

  • Sanctuaries dominated by features of anthropogenic origin; 
  • Natural monuments of artificial origin; 
  • Botanic gardens and dendrological parks with the absolute dominance of artificial plantations.

Apart from specially protected natural areas, there are also protected areas and special-purpose areas established by the Russian legislation, that prohibit or restrict certain types of activities. A lot of these areas include undisturbed or slightly disturbed natural complexes and objects and are important for the conservation of natural and in particular biological diversity and provision of ecosystem services. Some of these areas also meet the IUCN criteria for Protected Areas (territories of traditional nature use, wetlands of international importance, protection zones of SPNAs and biosphere polygons of state nature biosphere reserves, etc), while others (certain categories of protective forests, reproduction sites in the hunting grounds, historic and cultural museum-reserves that include natural areas) comply with some reservations.

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