The first regulatory instrument that lays down fundamental principles for the establishment and management of protected areas in Italy is by all odds the Law nr. 394 of 1991 on protected areas, the “Framework Law on Protected Areas“.

The Law provides that natural heritage on the national territory must be subject to a special protection and management regime.

Law nr. 394 of 1991 provides for the creation of two bodies, the Committee for protected natural areas (now repealed, and its functions transferred to the State-Regions Conference) and the Technical Council for protected natural areas: the former deals with the definition of guidelines for spatial planning, while the latter expresses technical-scientific opinions on the subject, both on its own initiative and upon request.

Law nr. 394 of 1991 identifies different categories on the basis of their purpose, for example the protection of nature or the protection of the marine environment: the State-Regions Conference is the only body able to make new classifications, mostly to make effective provisions of international conventions.

The Ministry for the Environment writes a list of all protected natural areas.

Another quality of Law nr 394/1991 is that it has well harmonised the competences between the State and the Regions, with the former having the task of transposing international conventions and European directives, as well as the conservation and enhancement of the areas; the latter instead have residual functions.

Article 2 of the Law defines national, regional and interregional parks as “consisting of land, river, lake or marine areas that contain one or more intact ecosystems […], one or more physical, geological, geomorphological, biological formations, of national or international importance for naturalistic, scientific, aesthetic, cultural, educational and recreational values such as to require the intervention of the State for their conservation for present and future generations“.

They can only be established by decree of the President of the Republic and are real entities with legal personality.

The management tools are the park regulations, the park plan, the authorization (authorization measure required for any work within the park) and the multi-annual economic and social plan for the promotion of compatible activities.

State or Regional Natural Reserves, on the other hand, refer to the presence of one or more naturalistically relevant fauna and flora species in a certain area.

After consulting the local authorities within whose borders the reserve will be established, a decree of the Minister for the Environment will be issued, and it will always be the Minister who will identify the guidelines for the management of the reserve.

It may happen that a nature reserve is established within a park: the management in this case will be entrusted to the park authority. The management tools are the reserve management plan and its regulations.

It is also worth mentioning the marine protected natural areas and marine nature reserves, which have the same ratio as the categories seen above.

Article 30 of Law 394 of 1991 is the reference standard for sanctions for violations imposed by the law itself and by area management tools.

The criminal sanctions provide for the arrest up to 12 months and a fine ranging from €100 to €25,000 (the letter of the law still reports the figures in lire, the former italian legal currency).

Violations may concern safeguard measures issued by the Minister or the Region, the execution of new works without the necessary authorisation or the modification of the agricultural use.

Article 733-bis punishes with the joint penalty of imprisonment and a fine for anyone who destroys a habitat within a protected site or irreversibly damages it.

Administrative fines, on the other hand, relate, for example, to the violation of provisions issued by area management bodies.

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