Balkan biodiversity: Local challenges and opportunities

02 July 2011 | News story

IUCN CEC member Aysegul Cil and Dusan Ognjanovic reflect on what local actions mean to biodiversity conservation in Western Balkan countries.

For people working in nature and biodiversity conservation in the Balkans, the region’s high genetic, species and ecosystem diversity make it one of the most important areas in Europe. However, is it also clear to local communities that protecting biodiversity will sustain their lives for the future? How do we tackle the development of increased, purely economic activities in rural areas?

Current activities in Balkan countries are largely directed by the EU stabilization and accession processes. Thus, priorities reflect real needs related to solving long-term and ever-growing problems in order to transpose relevant provisions from various international agreements concerning nature protection, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and relevant EU legislation. The strategic framework of the Balkan countries related to biodiversity protection is defined through strategic documents and governments’ determination to join the EU, through the National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans.

How can we truly communicate the direct benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services, how they directly contribute to creating local employment and fighting poverty in rural areas, thus contributing to the harmonious and stable development of the Balkans? It is crucial to know what tools and approaches could actually help in reaching biodiversity conservation goals.

In 2009, ECNC-European Centre for Nature Conservation and Regional Environmental Center initiated a project, supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, for local communities in rural areas in the Western Balkans, with a tool – ‘local biodiversity action plans’ – which allows development of a local community vision in which all actors and stakeholders can play a role for their local natural resources. After two years of working with ten municipalities, there are still many challenges and opportunities. We argue that biodiversity conservation goals can be most effectively achieved through action at the local level. Local authorities, are key players for nature protection. Naturally these achievements are expected to help inclusion and effective implementation of National Biodiversity and Sustainable Development Strategies in the target countries and to transfer these experiences to other local authorities, thus increasing their capacity to systematically integrate biodiversity aspects into their local planning and policy implementation processes.

We have organized two skill development workshops with a small team from each municipality and produced a handbook for the use of municipal civil servants in developing and implementing a local biodiversity action plan. These action plans have different dimensions for each place, thus bringing a variety of choices and best examples for the future, such as a field guide for nature tourists, botanical garden, fish breeding sites in Drina River, urban biodiversity, etc. As the project comes to an end, this is actually just the beginning. It is an ongoing process of engagement and local action that helps to ensure that important species, habitats and ecosystems are maintained and enhanced for the benefit of people and the environment. The challenge is there, so are the opportunities: action plans create potential for more local economic investments through biodiversity, thus attracting more visitors; knowledge of less well-known species and habitats is promoted. It has been proved that action plans enable more effective targeting of limited time and resources by giving a sense of ownership and participation through the development of a shared common goal at local level.

For more information, contact Ms. Aysegul Cil, cil@ecnc.org