Lithuania has its very own system of protected areas, and long-standing traditions of the protection of natural and cultural heritage. Protected areas are established not only for the protection of natural and cultural values, but also for their adaptation to allow public use and access, be it for educational, recreational or other purposes.
Lithuania has very old traditions to conserve sacred forests, trees, stones, springs, etc. But the system of Lithuania’s protected areas has been developed for over three decades, and now 67 years have passed since the first protected area was established. Today, protected areas in Lithuania cover 15 % of the total area (excluding marine protected areas). Lithuania’s complete system of protected areas consists of 5 strict reserves (two of which are cultural), around 400 reserves of different types (landscape, geomorphological, hydrographical, telmological, botanical, zoological, etc.), 5 national parks (one being historic), 30 regional parks (one also historic), 1 biosphere reserve, 30 biosphere polygons, 3 recuperative plots and many natural and cultural heritage objects.
Natura 2000 network covers about 13 % of the total country territory. Lithuania has four properties of outstanding universal value that have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. For example Curonian Spit, which is an outstanding example of a landscape of sand dunes that is under constant threat from natural forces like wind and tide. In 2011, Žuvintas Biosphere Reserve became first Lithuanian area included in the UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves. Seven larger scale protected areas are members within the Ramsar Convention on wetlands conservation.
The largest part of the nature conservation system includes national and regional parks. Those have been established in areas that are from a natural, cultural and recreational aspect vulnerable and especially valuable.
The State Service for Protected Areas – Valstybinė saugomų teritorijų tarnyba – under the Ministry of Environment is the main body implementing state policy on protected areas, including Natura 2000 areas, and directly responsible for the conservation of natural values, landscape and biological diversity, set-up and maintenance of visitor centers’ and fulfilling educational activities. At present, all strict reserves, national and regional parks and biosphere reserve have been assigned with administrations, which activities are coordinated by the State Service for Protected Areas.