About 14% of the Danish territory is under some form of protection, and about one third of these areas belong to IUCN categories I and II. Denmark has a long tradition of nature protection, as the first Nature Conservation Act came into force in 1917, and it was subsequently revised many times.
According to this Act, an area can be put under protection for several purposes, such as the conservation of nature, with its stock of wild animals and their habitats, as well as its scenic, historical, scientific and educational values. Protected areas according to the Nature Conservation Act cover about 8.5% of the national territory. In addition to these, the Hunting and Wildlife Management Act is the basis for Denmark's over 100 nature reserves, with a total surface of about 330,000 ha. The purpose of these mostly marine areas is to protect wildlife - especially birds - for breeding, resting and foraging. Most Danish forests are protected under the National Forest Act. Finally, Natura 2000 sites (which partially overlap with other protected areas) cover more than 8% of Denmark's land area and over 12% of its national waters.
National parks are instead a recent phenomenon. The Danish Law on National Parks (Law 131) was enacted in 2006, and the first national park, located in Thy, was opened in 2008: national parks are currently 3, and additional ones will be established in the coming years. Prior to these nominations, a long democratic process took place, as a national park's institution is based on broad local support. Each national park has a decentralised management: the board is to be appointed by the Danish Minister for the Environment but, as much as possible, all its members should have close affiliations to the park area.
Danish national parks are not museums. People live, work and stay on their territories. Parts of them can be privately owned. A Danish national park holds some of Denmark's most valuable nature areas and landscapes, which are important to the Danes, but also at international level. The aim is to have national parks displaying the main types of nature in Denmark: the forests and the open countryside with cultivated fields, grazing and hedgerows will be thus included together with small villages and urban communities.
The central body in charge for nature protection in Denmark is the Nature Agency (Naturstyrelsen), which is a subdivision of the Ministry of the Environment.