Balkans national parks co-operation is necessary for preservation


photoThe Una national park in BiH has drawn an increasing number of tourists. [AFP]

The national parks in the Balkans are increasingly co-operating to boost sustainable tourism, rare species protection and staff education, and have begun to work jointly to widen tourist offerings, officials said.

«[M]any national parks in the region have shown interest to co-operate. The first links we established were with Kozara national park [in BiH] and then created several joint projects with Plitvice Lakes, Paklenica and Krka in Croatia. We expect to sign formal agreements with them soon,» Haris Hadzihajdarevic, a legal expert at the Una national park, told SETimes.

Hadzihajdarevic said such agreements are necessary to enable the parks’ management to develop joint projects financed through EU cross-border co-operation funds and to synergise efforts to attract foreign tourists.

The Una national park began the trend last year when it placed an information desk in Plitvice Lakes and offered one-day visits to Una as well.

This year, both parks included Kozara national park in a visitor-sharing arrangement — the three are within a 120 kilometre radius of each other — for two-day, or lengthier, visits.

«The national parks in BiH must see their chance in this project,» Hadzihajdarevic said.

Plitvice Lakes is an established park, drawing over a million visitors annually.

Officials also said by co-operating, the parks are attempting to offset the continual decline in government funding. Serbia allocated just 1.3 million euros for its national parks last year, half the sum earmarked in 2007, and that covers about a quarter of the parks’ needs.

«[T]hey have financing sources in other ministries and, also, from their own income from tourism, compensation for the use of protected areas, sale of timber and other natural resources as well as through EU and other international projects,» Goran Sekulic, from Serbia’s natural resources, mining and spatial planning ministry, said.

A major effort to increase networking is the Dinaric Arc Parks project by the World Wildlife Fund, according to Leon Kebe, a regional project manager for the fund.

The project assists with capacity building and offers training on protected areas benefits assessment, EU integration, sustainable tourism and climate change.

The World Wildlife Fund network now includes 75 national parks in Slovenia, Croatia, BiH, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia.

«[P]rotected areas’ employees areas have … supported the brand we developed: ‘Parks Dinarides, The Undiscovered World’,» Kebe told SETimes.

The fund also launched a media campaign, complete with a short YouTube video, to popularise the new regional brand and organised a conference that gathered about 200 nature conservation experts in Banja Luka.

«We are not only connecting protected areas, but also people living inside and around them. Through a series of workshops we encourage them to share their views and appreciations of protected areas,» Kebe said.

The World Wildlife Fund said it will organise a second conference by year end on the ministerial level.

«We aim for the eight countries to sign an agreement endorsed by the European Commission to include new commitments about protected areas’ management on the state, as well as the regional, level,» Kebe added.

What should national parks in the Balkans do to increase co-operation and improve nature conservation and tourism? Share your suggestions in the comments space.

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 Date / Fecha: 20/04/13

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