Report of a three-man committee appointed by the 3rd Australasian Conference on Cave Tourism and Management, Mount Gambier, S.A., May  1979, to prepare a draft explanatory and guideline document on cave classification.


A draft Cave Classification guideline document is attached for consideration of the conference. It is substantially based on the resolutions of the third conference and the various individual contributions on the subject (for a brief survey of these see Hamilton-Smith, E. (1978) Review of cave classification in Australia;  Cave Management Newsletter 1:2-4.)

The attached draft would almost certainly benefit from further development. However, given the very long time since cave classification was first discussed, it is suggested that guide- lines be adopted without further delay. If necessary, any modifications may be made later with the benefit of actual experience. It is envisaged that an adopted guideline document might be published as a free-standing publication of the Australian Speleological Federation, possibly with the support of one or more interested management authorities.

The assistance of Andrew Spate and John Dunkley in commenting on an earlier version is much appreciated.


The classification of caves and related features into a scheme of consistent management categories may be of considerable assistance in management programmes. The adoption of a standard classification Australia-wide, with room for local variation to suit specific conditions, will permit Australian cave managers, speleologists and other interested parties to develop greater understanding and cooperation. The purpose of a cave classification scheme is to establish consistency in as simple and workable a way as possible.

Management actions relating to any particular classified feature will depend to a significant degree on the classification concerned. In addition, however, some management objectives and practices may apply irrespective of the classification of the caves. For instance, in some areas (such as tourist cave reserves or national parks) there may be general management policies which affect all caves within the area, regardless of their classification. A scheme of cave classification can be a consistent means of describing management objectives and practices for specific caves, but it must be supplemented by reference to any management implications flowing from the land tenure and management status of the surrounding area. The responsibilities and objectives of the cave manager will vary according to whether the manager is a private landowner or lessee, local trust or committee, tourist bureau, local government council, or state or territory department.     In turn, the range of responsibilities and objectives will vary according to the functions of the manager. For example, there are significant differences in the functions of, say, a tourist department and a wildlife management authority. Land tenure is also an important influence - caves in a reserve established for the protection of flora and fauna might be expected to be managed differently from caves in a tourist reserve.

Having recognised these factors as important influences on the management of any particular cave, it should be emphasised that the most important factor of all in the management and classification of caves should be the relative significance of any cave or feature as part of the national and international estate.     As our knowledge about the resources value of any place (ie cave) changes, it follows that there may need to be changes in one or more of the above management variables, as well as to the cave classification, in order to better achieve responsible cave management.


The fundamental objectives of a cave classification scheme are:
 * to provide cave managers with a flexible framework which their management operations may be based

 * to permit consistency from one area to another, such that users and other interested persons may  readily understand management objectives and practices

Basic principles in the attainment of these objectives are:

* Classification should take account of the place any specific karst area and/or feature occupies within the total national estate.

* The cave classification process should be an integral part of management planning and action in the general area of the features concerned.

* The process of cave classification should involve active consultation with all relevant interests.

* Cave classification should be dynamic - the classification of each feature, and the criteria used to allocate features to any particular category, should be regularly reviewed as better information becomes available.

* The allocation of caves to particular categories should be based on stated criteria.

The basic classification scheme is outlined below. The classification is deliberately simple and flexible so that it may 
reasonably apply in a broad range of circumstances. It is expected that managers of particular areas will, as appropriate to local conditions and needs, spell out the criteria they use to allocate specific caves to particular categories. In addition, sub-categories may sometimes be used to provide a framework for finer management distinctions. A few large and/or complex caves may need to have several different classifications applied to specific areas within the cave.

In addition to the implications for active management programmes, the categories below imply varying degrees of control over access. The actual limitations will be dependent rather more on the specific nature of the caves in question than their classification category as such. In any of the categories there may in addition be general management objectives and practices (and therefore controls) that are not related to any specific cave, but, for example, require all visitors to obtain some kind of permit or to register their intentions with the management authority.


1. Public access  1.1 Adventure
1.2 Show
2. Special purpose(l) 2.1 Reference
2.2 Outstanding natural value (2)
2.3 Dangerous
3. Wild (and unclassified) 3.1 Caves classified as wild
3.2 All unclassified caves.

The objectives and management implications of each category are further explained in the following section.


The two sub-categories have similar objectives, but with varying emphasis.Management programmes would include the provision of appropriate development to facilitate presentation of the caves to the public, interpretation services, maintenance, protection, restoration and monitoring. Caves in these sub-categories may be presented to the public either as guided or self-guided caves.

* to provide opportunities for aesthetic appreciation of caves
* to provide opportunities for education
* to provide opportunities for recreation.

1.1. Adventure caves

Here the emphasis would be on aesthetic appreciation and physical recreation, usually with very little if any development of the cave. Controls on access and activities would depend on individual circumstances.

1.2. Show caves

The emphasis in this sub-category is on aesthetic appreciation. In many cases a significant degree of physical development will be required to present the cave to the public.


This category relates to those caves (other than those that are being actively presented to the public as Public Access caves - see above) where there is a need to specifically protect certain  values of the caves (or, in one special case, to protect people from an extreme hazard). The objectives of each sub-category  below imply different management practices in each case.     These should be stated in the classification of each cave. It is expected that there would be controls on access and activities in all caves classified into these sub-categories. The specific nature of the controls would depend on the sub-category concerned and on the particular requirements of each site. Control of access by a gate or similar may be necessary in some instances.

2.1. Reference

* to provide for strict protection of relatively undisturbed baseline sites for scientific reference.

It is envisaged that sites so classified would be representative of wider classes of sites, and that the system of reference caves would provide, as far as possible, an adequate sampling of all significant classes in the national estate. Management operations for this sub-category would emphasise protecting the site in as undisturbed a state as possible. Some remedial works may occasionally be required. There would be no developments inside reference caves except for essential reference markers. Access to these sites would be kept to an absolute minimum and would be primarily for scientific purposes. However, research would only be permitted if it could not reasonably be undertaken at another site (of different classification) and does not conflict with long-term attainment of the objectives.

2.2 Outstanding natural value
* to protect sites of outstanding scientific, nature conservation, educational or aesthetic significance

* to provide appropriate opportunities for scientific research, aesthetic appreciation, education, recreation or other activities, consistent with protection of the outstanding value(s) of the site.

It is expected that this category would apply to any cave where protection (additional to the general level of protection for all caves in the area) is necessary to maintain the value of the site for research, nature conservation, education, aesthetic appreciation or recreation. Management programmes would include monitoring, restoration and protection works.
Developments would be kept to a minimum, and are likely to be more than essential markers, paths and anchors. Some maintenance may be necessary. The extent and nature of controls would depend on individual circumstances, but it is expected that any activity which is consistent with protection of the special value(s) in question would be permitted.

2.3 Dangerous

to protect human life at sites known to present extreme hazards.

This sub-category would be used very rarely, if at all. Life is basically dangerous, some aspects of it more so than others.     All caves are dangerous to some degree  and it is desirable that managers avoid using "danger" as a grounds for restricting access to caves. Danger is a very subjective thing and managers (and the courts) are not well equipped to make prescriptive judgments on the safety or otherwise of persons knowingly entering caves. However, in recognition of some of the legal and practical difficulties involved, it is acknowledged that there may be a case for restricting entry of some specific caves which are considered to be particularly hazardous to persons without special experience and/or equipment. This should only occur after consultation with as wide a range of experienced persons as possible.


* to provide cave values
* to provide opportunities for scientific research
* to provide opportunities for responsible cave recreation and exploration, subject to the Code of Ethics of the Australian Speleological Federation and /or other codes of practice appropriate to the area concerned.

Apart from any general management practices arising from the reservation and/or management objectives of the surrounding area, it is not expected that there would be any specific management practices or controls in individual caves in this category.

Developments would be restricted to essential markers, paths and anchors. Some monitoring, restoration and maintenance may be needed. Control of access by gates or similar would not be used for this category. Caves in the two sub-categories would be subject to virtually the same management provisions.

3.1 Caves classified as Wild

It is anticipated that a substantial number of classified caves (in many areas, the majority) would normally be managed under this sub-category.

3.2 All unclassified caves

Additional Objective: 
To promote investigation of cave values such that the classification of each cave may be based on reasonably complete information.

All caves not yet classified or documented (or not yet discovered) would automatically fall into this category.


It is important that the classification of caves be regularly reviewed, and that all relevant interests be consulted before decisions are made. As far as possible, cave classification should be undertaken as an integral part of on-going management planning for the whole cave area.

The actual mechanism for making decisions about classification will vary according to the management status of the area concerned and the legislative requirements upon the manager. It is desirable that overall objectives for cave management be established by a formal planning process involving structured public consultation procedures, and that the objectives should be incorporated into a formal management plan. The actual classification (and regular review) should then be undertaken by managers in consultation with all relevant interests, within the parameters established by the plan of management. It is desirable that a working party on which relevant scientific and speleological expertise is adequately represented has a major input into these management decisions.

The cave classifications in effect at any time should be kept in some readily updateable format, and made accessible to the interested public. If possible, it should be published in some inexpensive format. Managers throughout Australia are likely to find exchange of such documents useful. The suggested content and scope of a local classification is outlined in the Appendix.


1. The former term "Limited Access" confused objectives with management actions and ignored the fact that in many areas there are limitations on access in both category 1 and 3.
2. This sub-category was formerly labeled "Conservation . The real purpose of this sub-category is to identify and give additional protection to caves and other karst features of outstanding scientific, nature conservation, aesthetic or recreational value - other than those managed as Public Access (category 1).

3. It was originally proposed that there be a fourth sub-category "Temporary Limitation (Under Review)." It is proposed that this be abandoned in favour of the more practical approach of making a preliminary classification (which may later be changed as better information becomes available). After all, if there is sufficient information to identify a place as needing temporary limitation, there should be enough information to identify what its ultimate classification is likely to be.


The process of cave classification requires careful consideration of a large number of factors, in addition to the provisions of the basic classification scheme. The scheme itself permits considerable local flexibility. The classification in effect or being proposed for any management unit or area at any time should include a brief statement of the following:

* extent (boundaries) of the management unit or area

* land tenure, and the legislation under which the area is managed

* responsibilities of the manager, and the place of cave
management within the range of other responsibilities

* objectives of management for the entire management unit or area, and/or for all of the caves, as implied or expressed in:

-land tenure
-plan of management/master plan
* any general management policies, practices, controls or restrictions that apply throughout the area and/or to all caves irrespective of classification, together with a summary of the reasons for them

* any variations or additions to the basic classification scheme to suit local conditions (in practice, this will mainly amount to 

* for each category in the classification, a detailed statement of:

- objectives
- criteria used to identify caves
- classified under the category
- management practices and controls that
- apply to all caves in the category,
- together with a summary of the
- reasons for them
* for each classified cave:
- any additional management objectives, practices or controls, with reasons
- a brief summary of
** management operations program
** activity restrictions if any
** access restrictions if any
* list of all known caves not yet classified

* priorities for allocation of management resources among categories, among individual caves within categories, and between management programmes for particular caves

* procedures for adoption and review of the classification, including:

- how the formal decisions are taken, and who exercises the ultimate decision-making power
- persons/organisations formally involved in the consultation process
- how other individuals/organisations may become involved in specific decisions
* procedures for obtaining any permits, etcetera, that may be required to visit caves generally or in some categories

* where the criteria are not otherwise specified under the category and/or caves concerned, the criteria that managers will use in exercising and discretionary powers relating to permits, etcetera.