Protected areas are set aside for conservation and managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), part of the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water. NPWS also jointly manages over 30 reserves in partnership with Aboriginal people. 

The protected area network in New South Wales includes a range of habitats and ecosystems, a diversity of plant and animal species, significant geological features and landforms, as well as Aboriginal cultural heritage sites, heritage buildings and historic sites.

The category of a protected area guides its management, and this differs according to the natural, cultural and social values of an area.


Aboriginal areas recognise Aboriginal cultural heritage on public land and allow Aboriginal people to use these lands for cultural purposes. An area may have educational, ceremonial or other cultural significance to local Aboriginal people, or could have been used for its natural resources. A number of community conservation areas have also been reserved as Aboriginal areas.

Community conservation areas (CCAs) are multiple-use protected areas that protect the environment but also allow for the sustainable use of the natural resources. The land in CCAs that we manage includes land reserved as national parks (CCA Zone 1), Aboriginal areas (CCA Zone 2) and state conservation areas (CCA Zone 3).

Flora reserves are protected areas of state forest that remain open for recreation. Although the reserves remain as state forest, some of them are managed by NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to align their conservation management with surrounding national parks.

Flora reserves can also be important for the conservation and protection of Aboriginal cultural heritage. For example, the Murrah Flora Reserves were established to help conserve Aboriginal cultural heritage and manage habitat for a number of threatened species.

We manage historic cultural heritage sites and objects to protect and promote cultural heritage values. The most important of these places are incorporated in plans of management and have conservation management plans to make sure they are well managed and maintained.

We work in partnership with other government agencies and communities to identify, protect and manage the heritage of New South Wales. Learn more about conserving heritage and protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage in our parks.

Karst conservation reserves include cave areas of national and international importance. Karst landforms include caves and their contents, gorges, and other features that reflect the complex relationship between climate, soil, ground and surface water, and biology. These areas in New South Wales are amongst the oldest and most complex in the world. We are responsible for over 40 karst environments, including 15 sites in World Heritage areas and 4 karst conservation reserves .

National parks are areas of public land that play an important role in conservation. They protect a wide variety of native plants and animals and their habitats, as well as our historic and cultural heritage. National parks represent a wide variety of environments and provide places where people can share cultural and recreational activities.
We help protect and manage areas within our national park system that have been recognised nationally and internationally for their natural and cultural significance. These include World Heritage-listed areasnational heritage-listed areas, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas and the internationally significant Ramsar wetlands.

Nature reserves are areas of land with significant conservation value because they are in a mostly untouched natural condition with high biodiversity. They differ from national parks in that recreation is not provided for. We carefully manage these reserves to minimise disturbance and protect the ecosystems, native plant and animal communities, and other natural and cultural features they contain.

Regional parks are natural or modified areas reserved for conservation. They provide opportunities for sustainable public recreation and offer open spaces for cultural and activities (including dog walking in some parks) that may not be permitted in national parks, state conservation areas or nature reserves.

State conservation areas (SCAs) are lands reserved to protect areas of significant natural and cultural value. They also provide opportunities for recreation and research.

Unlike other reserves, such as national parks and nature reserves, state conservation areas provide for other uses including mineral exploration and mining, and petroleum exploration and production. SCAs are reviewed every 5 years and if this assessment shows there is no longer a need for mining or exploration activity, an SCA can be upgraded to the category of national park or nature reserve.

Wild rivers are freshwater or estuarine rivers that are in near-pristine condition in terms of animal and plant life and water flow, and are free of the unnatural rates of siltation or bank erosion that affect many of Australia’s waterways. Wild rivers in New South Wales are only declared within national parks and other reserves.  

Wilderness areas are large areas of land that remain essentially unchanged by modern human activity. Almost all declared wilderness is within national parks and nature reserves and are actively managed for fire, pests and weeds as are other parts of the reserve system.

Wilderness areas provide a range of ecological, cultural and human benefits to society. They support large populations of plants and animals which can adapt and evolve over time. They contain many significant Aboriginal sites and places. Wilderness landscapes are a reminder of the Australian environment before European colonisation.

Wilderness must be managed in a way that maintains its wilderness values and pristine condition by limiting activities likely to damage plants, animals and cultural heritage.

World Heritage areas are places or sites that have been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List due to their outstanding universal value. World Heritage places, which include sites like the Grand Canyon and the Great Pyramids of Giza, provide exceptional examples of the world's natural and cultural heritage. The New South Wales national park system protects and manages 4 World Heritage areas: the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, the Greater Blue Mountains, Willandra Lakes Region, and parts of the serial Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Area.

Contact us

Department of Planning and Environment

Other types of protected areas

Marine protected areas are managed by the Department of Primary Industries. The NSW National Park System includes around 20,000 hectares of estuarine and oceanic habitats.

Private land under conservation agreement is managed by the Biodiversity Conservation Trust. Biodiversity Stewardship Agreements, Conservation Agreements and Wildlife Refuge Agreements can help protect biodiversity on privately owned land.

Special Areas are protected catchment lands that surround water storages. WaterNSW and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service jointly manage these areas, which follows the requirements of the Special Areas Strategic Plan of Management.