Romania has 14 national parks (3 Biosphere Reserves, included in UNESCO), 16 natural parks, and over 900 natural reserves and protected areas, covering approx. 8% of the country's surface.
The protected area represents that natural area whose purpose is the protection and conservation of some representative samples for the national biogeographical space, including natural elements of particular value in terms of physical-geographical, floristic, fauna, hydrological, geological, paleontological, speleological, pedological, or other aspects nature, offering the possibility of visiting for scientific, educational, recreational and touristic purposes.
Romania has a particularly diverse natural capital. This fact is due to some factors as:
- the physical-geographical conditions that include mountains, plains, major hydrographic networks, wetlands and one of the largest delta systems in Europe (the Danube Delta).
- the geographical position of Romania, the flora and fauna have Asian influences from the east, Mediterranean influences from the south and continental European components from the northwest;
- the relative stability of the population in the last 80 years, the lack of mechanization in the forestry sector and the reduced economic development have determined a lower exploitation of resources than in most other areas in Europe.
The general result is the diversity of flora and fauna, including the populations of wolves, bears, lynxes, black goats, which are considered to be among the largest in Europe, as well as in the existence of extensive unaltered forest and alpine habitats, associated with the Carpathian Mountain range.
In Romania, naturalists at the beginning of the 20th century had the initiative to establish nature reserves and even national parks.
In 1904 – at a local jurisdictional level appeared the first natural reserve in the Romanian space: Codrul Secular Slătioara. Then, more efforts were allocated by nature enthusiasts in this domain.
The pioneering period regarding the conservation of nature and protected areas in Romania happened in 1928-1944: in 1928 is mentioned the first congress of Romanian naturalists, when the scientist Emil Racovita proposed the elaboration of the law about the protection of nature in Romania, which was concluded two years later, in 1930. Based on this, the "Natural Monuments Commission" was established, then the first natural monuments were declared by in 1931 (the edelweiss and the thermal water lily) and the first national park in 1935 (Retezat National Park). Summing up, during this period, 36 territories are placed as natural reserves, national parks, natural monuments in an area of 15,000 ha.
However, due to the efforts specific to the beginnings, the emphasis was placed only on the creation of an incipient legislative and institutional framework and on the establishment of a limited number of protected areas and almost not at all on the administration of the established protected areas.
However, in 1965 the total number of protected areas reaches 130, in an area of approximately 75,000 ha, and the number constantly increasing over the years at 190,300 ha in 1984.
After 1970 the first international recognitions of the value of Romanian protected areas took place, when in 1979, Retezat and Pietrosul Rodnei were recognized as Biosphere Reserves under the auspices of the UNESCO - Man and Biosphere (MAB) program.
Another international recognition of the value of Romania's natural capital was the designation of the Danube Delta in 1991 as Ramsar site, and next year as Biosphere Reserve.
Nowadays, among the important protected areas in Romania we mention the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves of Danube Delta, Retezat Mountains and Rodnei Mountains, as well as the new designated Geoparks of Hateg and Buzau regions.