German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Nature Parks

According to art. 27 para. 1 of Germany's Federal Nature Conservation Act, nature parks (Naturparke) are "areas that are to be developed and managed in a consistent way and that

  1. are large in size,
  2. consist mainly of landscape protection areas or nature conservation areas,
  3. are particularly suitable for recreational purposes by virtue of their landscape assets and are areas in which efforts are being made to encourage sustainable tourism,
  4. are intended for recreational purposes in accordance with the requirements of regional planning,
  5. serve the conservation, development or restoration of landscapes characterised by diverse uses, and of such landscapes' species and biotope diversity, and, to this end, are sites for endeavours toward sustained environmentally compatible land use, and
  6. are particularly well-suited to the promotion of sustainable regional development."

Nature parks are designated both to protect and conserve cultural landscapes with their diverse habitats and species – an objective mainly achieved through landscape protection areas and nature conservation areas – and for purposes of recreation, nature-friendly and environmentally compatible tourism, sustainable land use and also Education for Sustainable Development.

Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) 2020using data provided by the BundesländerBasic Spatial Data: © GeoBasis-DE / BKG 2019Data licence Germany - attribution - Version 2.0(
map of the Nature Parks in Germany

According to information provided by the German states, Germany currently has 103 nature parks. With a total area of 10.1 million ha, nature parks cover 28.4 percent of Germany's land surface. The share of land covered by nature parks increased by 42 percent (about 3.0 million ha) between 1998 and 2020. Protected areas account for some 56 percent of land within nature parks. Nature conservation areas account for about 5 percent of land in nature parks in Germany, although this figure varies across the country.

Map Nature parks in Germany (PDF file)

Table Nature parks in Germany (PDF file, in German)

Source: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) 2015, from data provided by the federal states
table to chart
chart "area ratios of nature parks in the federal states


Already at the beginning of the 20th century the first measures to protect and conserve nature were taken. For the first time, in 1906, extensive areas of the "Lüneburger Heide" were purchased by private investors with the sole purpose of nature conservation. In cooperation with the private "Verein Naturschutzpark e. V. (VNP)", which was founded in 1909 with the purpose to preserve landscapes and cultural heritage, more areas of the "Lüneburger Heide" were bought and the first nature protection park in Germany created.

In 1956 Dr. Alfred Toepfer, head of the VNP, called for the founding of 25 nature protection parks. According to Toepfer nature protection parks not only conserve nature but also serve men as "oases of peace" for recreation purposes. In the same year the nature protection park" Lüneburger Heide" became the first nature park in Germany. In 1957 the VNP published a list presenting various site proposals for possible future nature parks. Thus, the term "nature protection park" was ultimately replaced by the term "nature park" (LIESEN et al. 2008).

Succeeding the nature park "Lüneburger Heide", the second nature park, named "Hoher Vogelsberg", was established in 1957 and subsequently the parks "Südeifel", "Pfälzerwald" and "Siebengebirge" in 1958. In 1963 the "Association of German Nature Parks" (Verband Deutscher Naturparke (VDN)) was founded, connecting and supporting nature parks as national umbrella organization until today. Two years later, in 1965, Toepfer's objective to create 25 nature parks was accomplished. Until the German reunification in 1990 the overall number of nature parks in western Germany went up to 62.

In September 1990 the German Democratic Republic approved of the "National Park Program", which established 14 large protection areas, including three nature parks. These large protection areas were integrated in the German Unification Treatment and complemented the West German system of large protection areas. In the following years the new German states created several new nature parks. In 1997 the range of tasks and responsibilities of nature parks were revised, newly defined and extended by the broader framework of the former East German nature parks: The topics environmental education and sustainable regional development have therefore been integrated.

In 2001 ten guidelines were set and more emphasis placed on the aspect "protecting by using". Apart from the topic environmental education", all of the subsequent fields of action were set in the amended § 27 of the Federal Nature Conversation Act in 2002. The task "Education for Sustainable Development" was eventually added in 2017 in the latest amendment of the Federal Nature Conservation Act.

The "Petersberger Program" from 2006, in which the development goals for nature parks were defined, provides in combination with the guidelines (VDN 2009) and the "Nature Park Quality Campaign" (see below) the basis for the work in nature parks for the coming years.

Source: Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) Geo-services, december 2014
table to chart
chart "Creation of nature parks (1956-2014)"

Fields of action

Nature protection and landscape conservation

The share of nature conservation, landscape protection and NATURA 2000 areas in nature parks exceed the nationwide average, which corresponds with the expectations on nature parks to participate as key players in species and habitat conservation. Through various protection, management and development measures nature parks contribute to the conservation of habitats and promote biodiversity. Additionally, nature parks are supposed to be part of the implementation of a protected areas network and decrease the increasing fragmentation of landscapes and habitats by supporting biotope networking. The special responsibility of protected areas to conserve biological diversity was emphasized in 2004 by the parties of the 7th Conference of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Large areas of nature parks are defined by cultural landscape. Therefore land management must be environmentally friendly and protect the historic cultural landscape elements.

Sustainable regional development

In line with the objective of combining the protection and use of cultural landscapes, nature parks aim to play a greater role in integrated sustainable regional development. The goal is to strengthen rural areas and to promote an independent development of these regions. By using the existing ecological, economic and social structures (e.g. unique landscapes, traditional crafts or typical regional customs) nature parks can contribute to forging a sense of local identity, utilize the potentials of the regions and upgrade these as a whole. Nature parks not only function as independent players, but also as a junction between different stakeholders. Thus, through the development of a park specific regional brand, not only the park as such can be advertised, but local products and partnerships as well.

Recreation and sustainable tourism

Ecological, sustainable tourism and nature experience activities are to be developed and included in the permanent catalog of services nature parks offer. These offers have to be designed in a way, that visitors can experience unspoiled nature, without endangering sensitive habitats. A thoughtful visitor management concept can be mentioned as an example. By integrating the nature park into transregional marketing concepts the parks position and perception as a touristic area can be promoted beyond the region. Furthermore, tourism in nature parks supports sustainable regional development, e.g. through cooperations with local merchants, restaurants or accommodation.

Environmental Education and Communication

Through the strategic use of environmental education and public relations, the visitors can be informed about local natural and cultural characteristics as well as the general significance of the nature park within the region. The aim is to provide information and to convey a basic interest and awareness regarding various environmental topics such as the occurring animal and plant species or ecological interrelations. Problems and challenges concerning the conservation of nature and climate can be illustrates with panels or other information materials. Besides information campaigns, visitors and residents should be encouraged to actively support and participate in the work in nature parks, e.g. by volunteering.

Framework Conditions and implementation challenges

German nature parks remain very heterogeneous. There is large variation among nature parks and states regarding how the statutory requirements concerning management and development are implemented. Reasons for this include differences in the general framework conditions provided by the responsible associations and states; varying statutory requirements and prioritization in nature park concepts and statutes and finally, the different objectives within the responsible administration. Some nature park administrations are integrates in the state's environmental agencies, while others are administrated by registered associations or special-purpose associations set up by a group of local authorities. In some states the issue of a nature park plan is required. Sufficient funding and staffing for a preferably independent self-governing administration should be secured, same goes for the regular updating of nature park plans (see FORST & SCHERFOSE 2010).

Quality Campaign Nature Parks

Nature Park Kellerwald-Edersee (image author Ralf Forst)
Overlooking the Edersee

In order to achieve the goal of developing large-scaled model landscapes by combining nature conservation and use of cultural landscapes, the Association of German Nature Parks (VDN) and EUROPARC Germany launched the ‘Quality Campaign Nature Parks’ in summer 2005. An R&D project, funded by the Federal Office for Nature Conservation (BfN) with resources provided by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, developed a nationwide standardized set of criteria for evaluating German nature parks. Specifically, organizational details and the different fields of action listed above were evaluated. Participation is on a voluntary basis.

The Quality Campaign played a major role within the many campaigns and events surrounding the year of Nature Parks 2006, which commemorated 50 years of nature parks in Germany. Primarily the Quality Campaign is aiming to secure ongoing improvement in the work of nature parks. Furthermore, the gained certification and label can be used for fundraising und help facilitate the communication with decision makers and (potential) sponsors.

Participating parks receive a certification depending on their reached scores. For five years nature parks can display and advertise either the distinction ‘Quality Nature Park’ or ‘Nature Parks’ Quality Campaign Partner’. In the beginning of the year 2018 84 out of in total 105 nature parks were certified in such a manner.

Best practice-Examples from the work of German nature parks can be found in the ‘publications’ of FORST & SCHERFOSE 2016.

Outlook - International

In 2013 the Association German Nature Parks (VDN) and the fellow nature park umbrella organizations of France, Austria, Hungary and Slovenia as well as the EUROPARC Federation signed the 'European Nature Park Declaration'. Under the motto: 'Europe needs Nature Parks: Strong Nature Parks - strong rural areas', in context of the Europe 2020 strategy, the importance of nature parks for regional development was particularly highlighted. However, nature parks should not only implement their own projects and programs, but also act as a coordinating junction between the various national and international stakeholders (e.g. institutions, government and economy) and consequently enable an easier transfer of knowledge. A binding 10-point program to 'strengthen rural areas in Europe by enhancing nature parks' contains the central and necessary tasks and measures in order to reach the defined goal of regional development.

From 2014 to 2017 the VDN, in collaboration with the EUROPARC federation and several other European nature park associations, carried out the international project 'Strengthening Nature/Regional/Landscape Parks in Europe'. The project was funded by the Federal Office for Nature Conservation and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety. In line with the European Nature Parks Declaration this project was supposed to support the exchange of knowledge and experiences as well as improve further cooperation between the individual participants. Among other things, it was examined how successful national projects and concepts can be applied in other European nature parks, e.g. if and how the German Quality Campaign Nature Parks could be apprehended in a different European country. The results of this project are published in the brochure "Living Landscapes" (VDN 2017).

EUROPARC DEUTSCHLAND E.V. (Hrsg.) (2011): Mensch und Natur gehören zusammen. - Berlin, 63 S.

FORST, R. (2010): Die Qualitätsoffensive in den Nationalen Naturlandschaften. Naturparks - die Qualitätsoffensive wird fortgesetzt. - In: EUROPARC Deutschland e.V. (Hrsg.). - Fortschrittsbericht 2009/2010 Nationale Naturlandschaften. - Berlin: 45-48.

FORST, R. & SCHERFOSE, V. (2010): Entwicklungen und Perspektiven deutscher Naturparke. - Naturschutz und Biologische Vielfalt 104: 189-195.

FORST, R. & SCHERFOSE, V. (2016): Vorschläge für Mindest-Standards deutscher Naturparke. - Naturschutz und Biologische Vielfalt 155: 233 - 245.

FORST, R. & SCHERFOSE, V. (2016): Naturparkmanagement in Deutschland - Qualitätsoffensive Naturparke. -  Naturschutz und Biologische Vielfalt 155, 245 S.

LIESEN, J.; KÖSTER, U.; PORZELT, M. (2008): 50 Jahre Naturparke in Deutschland - In: Naturschutz und Landschaftsplanung 40 (1): 26-32.

PORZELT, M. (2012): Naturtourismus in Schutzgebieten am Beispiel der deutschen Naturparke - In: REIN, H. & SCHULER A. (Hrsg.). - Tourismus im ländlichen Raum. - Springer Verlag, Wiesbaden: 171 - 189.

VDN - VERBAND DEUTSCHER NATURPARKE E.V. (Hrsg.) (2005): Naturparke - Eine Perspektive für Ländliche Räume in Europa. - Bonn (VDN), 142 S.

VDN - VERBAND DEUTSCHER NATURPARKE E.V. (Hrsg.) (2008): Optimierte Umsetzung von Naturparkplänen - Ein Leitfaden für die Praxis. - Bonn (VDN), 31 S.

VDN - VERBAND DEUTSCHER NATURPARKE E.V. (Hrsg.) (2009): Naturparke in Deutschland - Aufgaben und Ziele. - Bonn (VDN), 32 S.

VDN - VERBAND DEUTSCHER NATURPARKE E.V. (Hrsg.) (2010 a): Naturparke in Deutschland - Starke Partner für biologische Vielfalt - Bonn (VDN), 51 S.

VDN - VERBAND DEUTSCHER NATURPARKE E.V. (Hrsg.) (2010 b): Qualitätsoffensive Naturparke. - Bonn (VDN), 96 S.

VDN - VERBAND DEUTSCHER NATURPARKE E.V. (Hrsg.) (2012): Naturparke stärken ländliche Räume. Potentiale für die EU-Förderperiode 2014-2020. - Bonn(VDN), 32 S.

VDN - VERBAND DEUTSCHER NATURPARKE E.V. (Hrsg.) (2015): Qualitätsoffensive Naturparke - 3. Phase 2016 - 2020. - Bonn (VDN), 104 S.

VDN - VERBAND DEUTSCHER NATURPARKE E.V. (Hrsg.) (2017a): Living Landscapes - Europe's Nature-, Regional- and Landscape Parks - model regions for the sustainable development of rural areas. - Bonn (VDN), 168 S.

VDN - VERBAND DEUTSCHER NATURPARKE E.V. (Hrsg.) (2017b): Landschaften voller Leben - Ergebnisse des Projektes "Europe's Nature-, Regional- and Landscape Parks". - Bonn (VDN), 28. S.

WEBER, F. (2013): Naturparke als Manager einer nachhaltigen Regionalentwicklung: Probleme, Potentiale und Lösungsansätze. - Wiesbaden Springer VS, 337 S.


Cover of publication

FORST, R. und SCHERFOSE, V. (editor) (2016): Nature Park management in Germany - Quality Campaign Nature Parks
Published in: Schr.R. Naturschutz und Biologische Vielfalt, Heft 155, 245 Seiten, 26 €, ISBN 978-3-7843-4055-5
order direktly by: Landwirtschaftsverlag

cover of publication

Forst, R. & Scherfose, V. (editor) (2010): Naturschutzmaßnahmen und -aktivitäten in den deutschen Naturparken (Nature Conservation measures and activities in the German Nature Parks)

Published in: Schr.-R.  Naturschutz und Biologische Vielfalt, Heft 104, 195 Seiten, 18 €, ISBN 978-3-7843-4004-3

order directly by: Landwirtschaftsverlag

Last Change: 01/03/2021