Nature conservation covers the whole range of measures to conserve and foster wild species of fauna and flora, their biotic communities and natural resources and to safeguard landscapes and sections of landscapes under natural conditions. There are a number of legal sources for nature conservation law, the most important being EU law, which has adapted the Washington Convention on Endangered Species for European Union, the Federal Nature Conservation Act, and state nature conservation acts. The Federal Nature Conservation Act have to be filled out by state legislation.
The states have to implement the framework provisions in state nature conservation law, in which they enjoy a certain discretionary scope. The Federal Nature Conservation Act applies directly only in exceptional cases, e.g. for the purposes of species conservation, in enforcing the EU Directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild flora and fauna and with respect to administrative and penal provisions. The Federal Nature Conservation Act defines the task of nature conservation and landscape management as to conserve, manage, develop nature and landscape both inside and outside the areas of human settlement in order to safeguard on a lasting basis the functioning of the ecosystem, the sustained availability of natural resources for human use, fauna and flora, and the diversity, characteristic features and beauty of nature and landscapes as resources for human life and for human recreation. This is also the function of protected areas that can be established pursuant to the Federal Nature Conservation Act.
The most important categories of protected area are nature conservation areas, national parks, biosphere reserves, landscape conservation areas, and nature parks. They may overlap or even coincide. There are also natural monuments and protected components of landscapes. These are isolated or very restricted protected areas to individual creations of nature or elements of particular importance for the ecosystem and for enlivening and structuring the landscape.