Guidelines for Cave and Karst Protection, IUCN

Woman on top of cliffs looking down.Copyright 1997, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

Prepared by the WCPA Working Group on Cave and Karst Protection

1. Effective planning for karst regions demands a full appreciation of all their economic, scientific and human values, within the local cultural and political context.

2. The integrity of any karst system depends upon an interactive relationship between land, water and air. Any interference with this relationship is likely to have undesirable impacts, and should be subjected to thorough environmental assessment.

3. Land managers should identify the total catchment area of any karst lands, and be sensitive to the potential impact of any activities within the catchment, even if not located on the karst itself.

4. Destructive actions in karst, such as quarrying or dam construction, should be located so as to minimise conflict with other resource or intrinsic values.

5. Pollution of groundwater poses special problems in karst and should always be minimised and monitored. This monitoring should be event-based rather than at merely regular intervals, as it is during storms and floods that most pollutants are transported through the karst system.

6. All other human uses of karst areas should be planned to minimise undesirable impacts, and monitored in order to provide information for future decision making.

7. While recognising the non-renewable nature of many karst features, particularly within caves, good management demands features be restored as far as is practicable.

8. The development of caves for tourism purposes demands careful planning, including consideration of sustainability. Where appropriate, restoration of damaged caves should be undertaken, rather than opening new caves for tourism.

9. Governments should ensure that a representative selection of karst sites is declared as protected areas under legislation which provides secure tenure and active management.

10. Priority in protection should be given to areas or sites having high natural, social or cultural value; possessing a wide range of values within the one site; which have suffered minimal environmental degradation; and / or of a type not already represented in the protected areas system of their country.

11. Where possible, a protected area should include the total catchment area of the karst.

12. Where such coverage is not possible, environmental controls or total catchment management agreements under planning, water management or other legislation should be used to safeguard the quantity and quality of water inputs to the karst system.

13. Public authorities should identify karst areas not included within protected areas and give consideration to safeguarding the values of these area by such means as planning controls, programs of public education, heritage agreements or covenants.

14. Management agencies should seek to develop their expertise and capacity for karst management.

15. Managers of karst areas and specific cave sites should recognise that these landscapes are complex three-dimensional integrated natural systems comprised of rock, water, soil, vegetation and atmosphere elements.

16. Management in karst and caves should aim to maintain natural flows and cycles of air and water through the landscape in balance with prevailing climatic and biotic regimes.

17. Managers should recognise that in karst, surface actions may be sooner or later translated into impacts directly underground or further downstream.

18. Pre-eminent amongst karst processes is the cascade of carbon dioxide from low levels in the external atmosphere through greatly enhanced levels in the soil atmosphere to reduced levels in cave passages. Elevated soil carbon dioxide levels depend on plant root respiration, microbial activity and a healthy soil invertebrate fauna. This cascade must be maintained for the effective operation of karst solution processes.

19. The mechanism by which this is achieved is the interchange of air and water between surface and underground environments. Hence the management of quality and quantity of both air and water is the keystone of effective management at regional, local and site specific scales. Development on the surface must take into account the infiltration pathways of water.

20. Catchment boundaries commonly extend beyond the limits of the rock units in which the karst has formed. The whole karst drainage network should be defined using planned water tracing experiments and cave mapping. It should be recognised that the boundary of these extended catchments can fluctuate dramatically according to weather conditions, and that relict cave passages can be reactivated following heavy rain.

21. More than in any other landscape, a total catchment management regime must be adopted in karst areas. Activities undertaken at specific sites may have wider ramifications in the catchment due to the ease of transfer of materials in karst.

22. Soil management must aim to minimise erosive loss and alteration of soil properties such as aeration, aggregate stability, organic matter content and a healthy soil biota.

23. A stable natural vegetation cover should be maintained as this is pivotal to the prevention of erosion and maintenance of critical soil properties.

24. Establishment and maintenance of karst protected areas can contribute to the protection of both the quality and quantity of groundwater resources for human use. Catchment protection is necessary both on the karst and on contributing non-karst areas. Activities within caves may have detrimental effects on regional groundwater quality.

25. Management should aim to maintain the natural transfer rates and quality of fluids, including gases, through the integrated network of cracks, fissures and caves in the karst. The nature of materials introduced must be carefully considered to avoid adverse impacts on air and water quality.

26. The extraction of rocks, soil, vegetation and water will clearly interrupt the processes that produce and maintain karst, and therefore such uses must be carefully planned and executed to minimise environmental impact. Even the apparently minor activity of removing limestone pavement or other karren for ornamental decoration of gardens or buildings has a drastic impact and should be subject to the same controls as any major extractive industry.

27. Imposed fire regimes on karst should, as far is practicable, mimic those occurring naturally.

28. While it is desirable that people should be able to visit and appreciate karst features such as caves, the significant and vulnerability of many such features means that great care must be taken to minimise damage, particularly when cumulative over time. Management planning should recognise this fact and management controls should seek to match the visitor population to the nature of the resource.

29. International, regional and national organisations concerned with aspects of karst protection and management should recognise the importance of international co-operation and do what they can to disseminate and share expertise.

30. The documentation of cave and karst protection/management policies should be encouraged, and such policies made widely available to other management authorities.

31. Data bases should be prepared listing cave and karst areas included within protected areas, but also identifying major unprotected areas which deserve recognition. Karst values of existing and potential World Heritage sites should be similarly recorded.