The International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) defines global standards for protected areas. Although the Swiss parks legislation is not based on these standards, the following IUCN categories apply in Switzerland:
- For the Swiss National Park: category Ia
- For National Parks of new generation: category II
- For Regional Nature Parks: categories V and VI
- For Nature Discovery Parks: category II
Furthermore, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) standards also apply globally.
- One park is also a UNESCO biosphere (UNESCO Biosphäre Entlebuch) and two other parks are part of such a biosphere (the Swiss National Park and the Biosfera Val Müstair).
Both the UNESCO world natural heritage and world cultural heritage categories apply to many sites in Switzerland. Since none of them are also a park, they do not appear on the Swiss parks maps.
The IUCN categories
Categories Ia / Ib: Strict Nature Reserve / Wilderness area
A protected area mainly used for research and managed in a way to protect large and unspoilt wilderness areas.
Category II: National park
Protected area mainly managed in order to protect large-scale ecological systems and for recreational purposes.
Category III: Natural Monument or Feature
Protected area mainly managed to protect a specific natural feature.
Category IV: Habitat/Species Management Area
Protected areas managed to protect particular species or habitats through regular, active interventions.
Category V: Protected Landscape / Seascape
Entire body of land or ocean with an explicit natural conservation plan, which also serves as a recreation area.
Category VI: Protected Area with sustainable use of natural resources
Areas with sustainable natural resources management.
The UNESCO categories
A model region promoting an ecological, economic and social sustainable development. It comprises the three following areas: the strictly protected core area, the buffer zone where human activities are tolerated and the transition area where the greatest activity is allowed, fostering economic and human development.
Natural heritage sites
The UNESCO awards the title of world natural heritage to sites that have been nominated by the State they belong to and which meet the following criteria:
- Contains formidable natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance.
- Is an outstanding example representing major stages of the Earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms or significant geomorphic or physiographic features.
- Is an outstanding example representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems, and communities of plants and animals.
- Contains the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.
Cultural heritage sites
The UNESCO awards the title of world cultural heritage to sites that have been nominated by the State they belong to and which meet the following criteria:
- Represent a masterpiece of human creative genius and cultural significance
- To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.
- Exhibits an important interchange of human values, over a span of time, or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town planning, or landscape design.
- Is an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural, or technological ensemble or landscape that illustrates a significant stage in human history.
- Is an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture, or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change.
- Is directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance.
The following organisations play an essential role for parks and their activities on a global scale:
The Swiss Parks Network is an active member of all three above-mentioned organisations.