Natural Areas and Nature Preserves

The Delaware Natural Areas Preservation System was created by the Delaware General Assembly in 1978 (7 Del. Code, Chapter 73) to ensure that Delawareans of today and the future understand and appreciate natural communities and benefit from the natural, scientific, educational, aesthetic, recreational and cultural values they possess.

Contact Us

Office of Nature Preserves

The administration of Nature Preserves and the preservation of Natural Areas is guided, in part, by the Delaware Natural Areas Advisory Council, which works to ensure that areas of unusual natural significance are preserved for the benefit of present and future generations of Delawareans.

Nature Preserves may be privately or publicly owned and managed. Different Nature Preserves have different levels of public access. Many Nature Preserves are open to the public.

Photo of a shaded woodlandA Natural Area, as defined by the law, is “an area of land or water, or both land and water, whether in public or private ownership, which either retains or has reestablished its natural character (although it need not be undisturbed), or has unusual flora or fauna, or has biotic, geological, scenic or archaeological features of scientific or educational value.”

By being designated a Natural Area, the property is formally recognized as being a place in the State where the vegetation community and habitat is exceptional. This can include being habitat for rare species or having unusual or specimen geological features, cultural resources, and/or archaeological features present.

The DNREC Office of Nature Preserves works closely with the Division of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Programs, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Delaware Geological Survey and other appropriate resource professionals. To designate a state-recognized Natural Area, this team evaluates each site based on its vegetation community and habitat, species rarity, geological features, cultural resources, and archaeological features.

The state follows a set of guidelines and established criteria approved in 2010 when evaluating lands for inclusion as state-recognized Natural Areas.

From Natural Area to Nature Preserve – The Process

Once an area has been formally included on the State Registry of Natural Areas, the landowner (public or privately owned land) can voluntarily permanently preserve all or a portion of the Natural Area by dedicating it as a State Nature Preserve. Legal documentation, a conservation easement or articles of dedication, identifies restrictions on the property ensuring the protection of the conservation values specific to the site. Conservation values are defined as the “natural, geological, or archaeological features specific to each Nature Preserve.”

The purpose of dedicating property as a Nature Preserve is to permanently protect important features of the natural, geological and/or archaeological heritage of Delaware and guarantee their existence for future generations.

Many Nature Preserves on public land are open to the public for passive recreation. Many are part of Delaware State Parks and offer a variety of experiences for visitors. Natural areas may be dedicated as Nature Preserves through articles of dedication or conservation easements.

To learn more about dedicating your property as a Nature Preserve, contact the Office of Nature Preserves at 302-739-9235.

There are 34 state-dedicated Nature Preserves within the State of Delaware, some privately owned and some publicly owned. On those areas that are owned and managed by DNREC, there are opportunities for scientists and students to conduct research.

Nature Preserves provide a wonderful network of living laboratories for us to learn more about our natural environment and responses of nature to an ever-changing world.

If you are interested in conducting research in our Nature Preserves, you must coordinate those efforts with the managing agency and the Office of Nature Preserves.

The Natural Areas Preservation Program was developed to preserve areas of unusual natural significance for the benefit all Delawareans.  These areas are irreplaceable as laboratories for scientific research, as reservoirs of natural materials, as habitats for plant and animal species, as biodiverse communities, as living museums, and as reminders of the vial dependence of the health of the human community upon the health of the natural communities of which it is an inseparable part.

The staff at the Office of Nature Preserves hopes that you visit, volunteer, and/or support these special areas.


Whether strolling through old growth forest or birding along coastal salt marshes, the Nature Preserves provide a beautiful setting for a passive enjoyment of nature. Because of their unique characteristics and sensitive habitats, not all Nature Preserves are open to the public. However, we encourage you to visit the ones that are whether in person or virtually.


There are numerous opportunities to volunteer to help our Nature Preserves. Opportunities to volunteer in Nature Preserves are managed by various entities.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control offers volunteer opportunities through Delaware State Parks, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and other parts of the agency.

The Delaware Nature Society and Delaware Wildlands also offer volunteer opportunities.