Natural Areas The Natural Heritage Program has identified more than 2,400 natural areas across the state. A natural area is a site (terrestrial or aquatic) of special biodiversity significance due to the presence of rare species, unique natural communities, important animal assemblages, or other ecological features. More than half of these areas are entirely or partially in conservation ownership. Visit our Data Download page for a shapefile of natural areas. Use our Data Explorer to view natural areas on-line. Learn how natural areas are rated by reading a summary of the procedure. Complete details can be found here: View Procedures for Rating Natural Areas Many of these natural areas are on private land and are not open to the public. Before visiting any of these sites, contact the landowner for permission. The North Carolina Natural Heritage Program works with many partners, including state and federal conservation agencies, national conservation groups, and the land trust community, to implement voluntary protection for these areas. Through these partnerships, and using funding from federal sources and the Land and Water Fund, and the Park and Recreation Trust Fund, the most important areas are brought into protection. Once a natural area is purchased, it is considered for dedication as a State Nature Preserve. More than 100 state- and privately-owned natural areas are now protected by dedication. If a natural area is not available for purchase, its ecological significance can be recognized through a voluntary registry agreement. More than 300 natural areas are listed as Registered Heritage Areas.