The world's leading conservation organisation, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) defines a protected area as: "... an area of land and or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means." The World Conservation Union then further defines protected areas into six categories, depending on the reason for and level of protection (page 1).
The first national park in Australia was the National Park (later Royal National Park) south of Sydney, reserved in 1879. The National Park was a Crown reserve, established not for nature conservation but for lawns and gardens and recreational pursuits.
Early legislation to protect species in New South Wales focussed on those plants and animals considered cute and cuddly' or pleasing to the eye (pages 2-3). The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1967 established national parks, state parks, nature reserves and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. In 1974 a new Act was introduced which tidied up existing legislation. The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 still governs the operations of the National Parks and Wildlife Service to this day (page 5).
The NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has eight different categories of protected areas, each of which have a different purpose' or design. National parks are defined as: relatively large areas set aside for their predominantly unspoiled natural landscape, and flora and fauna. As at 30 May 1998, there were 103 national parks with a total area of 3 764 654 hectares (page 7).
In 1995 the NSW Government signed the National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity, which committed the Government to the establishment of a comprehensive, adequate and representative network of terrestrial and marine protected areas. The NSW Draft Biodiversity Strategy identifies performance targets for establishing a comprehensive, adequate and representative (CAR) reserve system, based on comprehensive regional assessments, for forests by the year 2000 and for all other terrestrial and marine ecosystems by the year 2010 (pages 8-9).
The current conservation reserve system in NSW does not include all ecosystems. There is a geographic bias towards more protected areas on parts of the coast, the ranges and the north-west desert. Fertile coastal plains, commercial forest ecosystems, the tablelands and the western slopes and plains remain poorly represented in the reserve system. As at the 30 May 1998, 4 551 372 hectares were reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, which was approximately 5.67% of the total land area of NSW (pages 10-13).
Over the last few years there has been several significant amendments to the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. These include: the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Act (Aboriginal Ownership) Act 1996; the National Parks and Wildlife Amendment Act (Regional Parks) Act 1996 which created a new category of protected areas called regional parks, and the Marine Parks Act 1997. The passing of the Forestry and National Park Estate Act 1998 created a large number of new national parks (pages 13-15).