Cultural practices that roughly equate to the establishment and maintenance of reserved areas for animals date back to antiquity, with King Devanampiya Tissa of Anuradhapura establishing one of the world's earliest wildlife sanctuaries in the 3rd century BC. Early reservations often had a religious underpinning, such as the 'evil forest' areas of West Africa which were forbidden to humans, who were threatened with spiritual attack if they went there. Sacred areas taboo from human entry to fishing and hunting are known by many ancient cultures worldwide.
The world's first modern nature reserve was established in 1821 by the naturalist and explorer Charles Waterton around his estate in Walton Hall, West Yorkshire. He spent £9000 on the construction of a 3 mile long, 9 ft tall wall to enclose his park from poachers. He tried to encourage birdlife by planting trees and hollowing out trunks for owls to nest in.
He also invented artificial nest boxes to house starlings, jackdaws and sand martins and unsuccessfully attempted to introduce little owls from Italy. Waterton allowed local people access to his reserve and was described by David Attenborough as “one of the first people anywhere to recognise not only that the natural world was of great importance but that it needed protection as humanity made more and more demands on it”.
The first major nature reserve was Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, United States, followed by the Royal National Park near Sydney, Australia and the Barguzin Nature Reserve of Imperial Russia, the first of zapovedniks set up by a federal government entirely for the scientific study of nature.