Protecting Eastern Europe's Natural Heritage

Project location: WORLDWIDE, Eastern Europe
Project start date: October 2001 - Project end date: June 2003
Project number: 2001-04
Beneficiary: Birdlife International


Campaign training

A training course on campaigning for threatened sites took place between 13 - 18 April 2002 in Slovenia with 25 participants. It aimed to increase the capacity of IBA (Important Bird Areas) co-ordinators at BirdLife Partners to plan and implement site conservation campaigns more effectively as this skills are crucial when they need to remove threats.

The workshop covered the following topics: the role of communication campaigns in influencing environmental decision making, campaign tools, developing campaign strategies, training on practical communication skills. The workshop has been built around the case study of the Selcovje Saltpans, an IBA threatened by the development of a local airport. The trainers included two communication (Sara Sharpe, European Communications Officer, and Michael Szabo, Global Campaign Manager) and one conservation staff (Szabolcs Nagy, European Conservation Manager) from BirdLife International. The session on practical communication skills were led by Alex Kirby from BBC.

Advocacy & Rapid Site Actions

Call for tenders, application form and selection criteria were published on 20 November after consultation with the Nando Peretti Foundation. Some application has been received, but by now only one "Changing the rules on regulating burning of vegetation in Belarus" has received a grant of Euro 4,480 paid via UNDP.
The project addresses the problem of inappropriate burning of vegetation which threatenes fen mires, the habitat for the globally threatened Aquatic Wabler. Increased burning has caused decline of population by 1.6 times compared to previous years and the number of this endangered species can be restored only if there is no burning at its key habitat for at least two years. Therefore, ASP, BirdLife in Belarus, has convened a meeting of experts and relevant authorities to discuss the need and possibilities of legislative changes. As a result of the meeting leislative changes has been agreed and supposed to be enacted by June. APB is also preparing a video about the threats caused by burning and it is agreed to be broadcasted by the national TV channel. The project made a very important contribution to protect the habitats for some 40% of the global population of the species.

Stewardship training

A very successful workshop on stewardship and involvement of local communities took place between 8 - 12 December 2001 at Tápiószentmárton in Hungary with 21 participants from 11 Central and Eastern European countries. The workshop has been hosted by the Jászkun Természetvédelmi Szervezet, a local affiliate of MME/BirdLife Hungary.
The workshop has covered the following topics: exchange of current experience (MME/BirdLife Hungary and three of four stewardship demonstration projects supported by the Nando Peretti Foundation), land stewardship experience in the US, UK and Hungary, planning and executing land stewardship programmes, land stewardship in practice (visiting the Tápió region), role play exercise to develop collaboration, funding opportunities and further steps.
The workshop has effectively contributed to broaden the view of BirdLife partners in Central and Eastern Europe and triggered new initiatives in a number of countries (Slovenia, Estonia, Poland). It has happened at a critical time, when these countries are facing the challenge and opportunities related to the accession to the European Union. It also served a good opportunity to share the experience with the rest of the partnership about the results of the four stewardship demonstration projects.

Stewardship projects

The project has resulted in establishing caretakers on 27 sites (instead of the planned 18). A successful national workshop was held on 26 - 27 January with 24 participants. The workshop has introduced the caretakers to matters related to monitoring and protection of IBAs. The proceedings is ready and sent electronically to participants. The caretaker manual, based on the European IBA Best Practice Guide, and brochure is in press and to be printed next week. These documents will give further practical guidelines and promote the Important Bird Areas in Romania. These all contributed to a substantially increased capacity of ROS to protect key sites in Romania because the local caretakers have clear guidelines and advice how they can protect them more effectively.

The project is a pilot scheme for local eco-educational activities. Two groups of trainers, made up by 18 volunteers, attending schools and use the Volunteer Guide Book for Environmental Education. An article about the project has been published in Kuscu Bulletin. . There is a bulletin for environmental education that DHKD distributes to primary schools (around 100 teachers and 400 school children) and the group has written about their project for the February issue. The group made a very well received presentation about the project at the 5th Birdwatching Conference held in Samsun between 20 - 23 April attended by the community leaders as well. The BirdLife Secetariat was represented by Guven Eken, Project Development Officer.

Awareness about the conservation importance of the area was raised through radio interviews. SOVS has managed to make substantial contribution to the management plan for the Senne-fishponds Nature Reserves and it was submitted to the Slovak Ramsar Committee for approval. Scrub was removed from 2 of 3 islets to improve breeding and roosting habitats for birds. The work was not completed on one islets due to adverse whether conditions and drainage of the fishpond made it inaccessible. Restoration of dykes, sluices and the bridge has been largely completed and the Ostrovik meadows were flooded. It was also grazed by 90 cattle till mid-November under close supervision of SOVS. Materials for the guide to the area are compiled and printing companies were contacted and consulted, however, it is not printed yet. Reparation of dykes and the bridge were more expensive as forecasted and it is suggested to cover these costs from the budget allocated to flooding which were not used due to favourable agreement with the water management authorities. As the result of the project the site hold the highest ever number of waterbirds peaking around 30-40 thousand (video is available). On 12 April SOVS hold a field visit for journalists with participation of 25 people including representatives of major stakeholders (including 2 majors), which resulted in good media coverage including the national TV station. There are problems with producing a spare screw and SOVS suggest relocation of budget to additional repairs of sluices. They are lagging behind schedule with producing a new brochure. As a result of the project SOVS has been offered management right for the state reserve.

This project aimed to mobilise local support for the protection of the riverine habitats critical for the globally threatened Aquatic Warbler, Corncrake and large number of migratory waterbords. The project started in late October. A public opinion survey has been carried out interviewing 270 people from the region and it will be used for developing a media plan. Media opportunities have also been inventoried. The leaflet about the consevation value and the potential impact of canalisation has been produced in 1,300 copies. A moving exhibition is being held in the local schools of 17 settlements. It consists of 10 stands: photos of birds, landscapes, information about problems in region and ways of solving, UTOP's activities, announcement of competitions. The regional department of Ministry of Education has agreed to encourage the moving exhibition activity. Although, due to parliamentary elections the mass media was completely occupied by political news, through the moving exhibition UTOP managed to secure a good coverage of the issue in newspapers, the regional TV and radio stations. The round table discussion was held on 17 April in Lubashov with 14 participants including water management authorities and local municipalities. The workshop resulted in an agreement about collaboration between UTOP and the authorities responsible for flood protection to avoid damages of valuable habitats through involvement of ecological consultants.

Urgent Intervention in Poland

For many years a major part of the Bialowieza Forest has been intensively used for timber production. The Polish Government has been lobbied to establish a national park over a whole area of the forest and preserve unique forest ecosystems. This efforts has not delivered much success so far.
A present situation can be worsen by intensification of timber removal from the forest as the Regional Forest Office announced in media that they are in a bad debt which can be paid by higher production of timber. This can lead to disturbing valuable over 100-year-old forest stands which are habitats for many birds and mammals. An urgent action is needed to stop an intensive timber production and implement protection measures that can save the last lowland primeval forest in Europe.
In 2001 the Minister of Environment announced that the Bialowieza National Park is going to be enlarged over the whole Bialowieza forest. However, forthcoming elections to the Parliament stopped this process and presently the National Park covers only about 17% of the forest. Additionally, about 6% is protected as nature reserves. The remaining 77% of the forest is commercially managed and used for timber production. This includes also many forest stands with trees older than 100 and 200 years. Bialowieza Forest is the last lowland primeval forest in Europe and it holds 250 bird species were recorded including 177-180 breeding. A decision-making process in case of establishing or enlarging nature protection areas in Poland is very slow and requires a very strong public support. This project will address this important issues and will help to develop a co-operative programme that could speed up a decision-making process on including the whole Bialowieza Forest into the Natura 2000 network, enlarging the national park and implementing protection measure.
The action aims at developing a campaign for the effective protection of the whole Bialowieza Forest. As a result of this action a change of a protection status of the commercially managed part of the Bialowieza Forest is expected. The actions should lead towards enlargement of the existing national park and better conservation of forest stands and thus of habitats for birds and other animals.
The project was possible thanks to a financial support of the Nando Peretti Foundation through BirdLife International, Wageningen.

Long-term objective
Maintain the ecological integrity of the Bialowieza Forest (IBA PL 031) through enlarging national park over the whole forest.

Immediate objective
Minimise the impacts commercial management in the Bialowieza Forest by providing comments on the new management plan for the years 2002-2012 and ensuring that the whole Bialowieza Forest is included in the proposal of the Natura 2000 network.

Activities carried out during the project and their outputs:
The Bialowieza project was implemented since June to December. During the project period the following activities were carried out:

  • Meeting on future actions for the Bialowieza Forest protection
    Output: The meeting took place in Bialowieza, on the 28th and 29th June 2002. In the meeting representatives of the Bialowieza National Park, forestry administration, local commune administration and 4 NGOs took part. The meeting resulted in establishing a close cooperation between environmental NGOs that have been working on the Bialowieza Forest protection for many years. The cooperation concentrated on the commenting on the new management plan for the forest and consultations on legislative changes of the new nature protection act and of the Natura 2000 proposal which is being prepared by the government. The NGOs expressed their common position that the whole Bialowieza Forest should be included into the Natura 2000.

  • Preparation and sending a letter to the Deputy Minister of Environment with questions regarding new legislation on the Bialowieza Forest and Natura 2000, and:

  • Maintaining contacts with the Ministry of Environment to obtain actual information of the issues connected with the Bialowieza Forest
    Output: As a result of these activities OTOP has received an answer from the Deputy Minister prof. E. Symonides on the progress in legislation work on the new status of the Bialowieza Forest. Additionally, the Minister claimed that the whole Bialowieza Forest is going to be included to the final proposal of the Natura 2000 network, as the forest was identified as the Important Bird Area of international significance (due to data collected and published by BirdLife International).

  • Commenting on the new management plan for the Bialowieza Forest (for the next 10 years)
    Output: Pawel Sidlo took part in the 2nd meeting of the commission for the management plan in Bialowieza (10 October 2002). During the meeting a common position of OTOP, WWF, LESZA Initiative, Workshop for the Landscape Protection and Society for the Protection of the Bialowieza Forest was presented. In the paper we expressed our disappointment due to the fact that the final version of the plan was not sent to NGOs before the meeting and we were not able to prepare detailed comments. Additionally, we commented on the forest administration's proposal that so called "moratorium" on removal of over 100 years old trees should be cancelled. During the meeting OTOP and other NGOs were on the position that this "moratorium" along with protection of the old growth forest stands should be a basic principle in the new management plan for the next 10 years in the Bialowieza Forest.

  • Commenting on the new legal act on the special status of the Bialowieza Forest and establishing new protected areas
    Output: OTOP closely follows the development of the new legal act and hired lawyers to advise on the legal consequences of the government's proposal. The consultations covers analysis of the new legislation versus existing nature protection act and detailed regulation of the government regarding enlarging protection areas in Poland. Additionally, during the conference Natura 2000 Integration of Nature Conservation in EU Policies (12 December, Brussels) Pawel Sidlo contacted with Nicholas Hanley, Head of Unit Nature and Biodiversity (DG Environment) on the issues related to the Bialowieza Forest and its protection in the light of the Birds and Habitats Directives. Mr Hanley was explained that according to the present nature protection act in Poland all new protected areas can be established after receiving an approval of local communities. Such a situation can lead towards serious delays in implementation of the mentioned directives. Mr Hanley expressed the opinion that the Polish nature protection act seems to be in opposition to the Article 6 of the Habitat Directive. He invited Pawel Sidlo to contact him and present this issue to the lawyers who work for DG Environment.

  • Collecting materials for national and international media campaign
    Output: this is an ongoing activity and includes maintaining contacts with the Ministry of Environment, Bialowieza National Park, scientific institutions (like Mammals Research Institute, Bialowieza), other environmental NGOs and local authorities. The collected materials are used for national media campaign and press releases.

  • Sending out press releases to national and international media
    Output: during the project there was prepared and distributed a press release on the 2nd meeting of the commission for the management plan of the Bialowieza Forest and the position of NGOs regarding future of this area. The press release was sent to the most important national media in Poland. Additionally, the second press release on the importance of the old growth natural forest for birds, including Bialowieza Forest was prepared and published in the bulletin Ptasie ostoje (IBA Bulletin).

  • Providing materials for international media campaign - BirdLife International
    Output: during the project time, OTOP has collected and updated the number of articles, position papers and pictures presenting the most valuable parts of the forest (already protected) and activities of the forestry administration (outside the national park) which results in removal of over 100-year-old trees. The materials were collected (pictures scanned to the resolution that can be used for printing) and sent to the BirdLife International Secretariat, as well as to other BLI partners. The preparation of the international campaign started during the meeting of the BLI Task Forces in Bratislava (September, 2002). The OTOP's representative during this meeting was Professor Tomasz Wesolowski.

  • Meeting with other NGOs to discuss further cooperation in 2003
    Output: As a result of contacts with other NGOs involved in the protection of the Bialowieza Forest at the national and international levels the NGOs agreed on further cooperation, especially in the field of commenting legislative acts on the Bialowieza Forest and management plan. The plan will be obligatory for the next 10 years and will require updating when Poland implements the Natura 2000 network (with Bialowieza Forest included.

  • Urgent Interventions in Bulgaria

    The Strouma Motorway, part of the Trans-European Corridor No. 4, is planned to cut through the Kresna gorge that is located in the Tissata IBA (BG003). The Ministry of Environment and Water in Bulgaria should take a decision about the environmental impact assessment for the only one existing route. However, they are looking for suggestions for alternative routes, as well.

    Long-term objective
    Maintain the ecological integrity of the Kresna gorge (IBA BG003).

    Immediate objective
    Minimise the impacts of the Strouma Motorway on the valuable areas for biodiversity and for human settlements.

    Activities carried out during the project
    The project "Kresna gorge Strouma Motorway impact study" was implemented since 5 July to 15 December. During the period of implementation the following activities were carried out:

  • As a result of tender an independent engineering company was hired in order to elaborate preliminary study on alternative route of the section of Struma motorway between Simitli and Dolna Gradeshnitza. A clear terms of reference was given to them to elaborate a route with a motorway characteristics (25 m wide, and for speed of 90 km/h), according to Bulgarian standards and to avoid settlements, the mineral springs, the gas pipeline and such nature valuable areas as the "Tissata" Reserve with its Buffer zones, the "Tissata" IBA (BG003) and the CORINE area "Kresna". The engineers visited the area of the proposed route twice in order to complete the information about the landscape and recent situation of the settlements and other important features. One of the visits was organized together with ecologists. Six variants of the route were studied and discussed with NGOs in order to find the most appropriate solution for the route.

  • BSPB volunteers and experts visited the area of the proposed variants of the route three times. Pictures were made during the visits /Annex 5/. The different alternatives were checked and later on appropriate recommendations were given to the engineers.

  • A special meeting has been organized for clarification of the boundary of the CORINE area, as the maps available so far did not give accurate information about this issue.

  • Topographic maps 1:25 000 scale of Kresna Gorge area and the area of the proposed route were digitalised for the purpose of elaboration of the computerized version of the route. In addition digitalised version of the state kadaser of the land in the area was both and combined with the digitalised topographic maps.

  • Two variants of the route were elaborated and computerized on AutoCad program /Annex 1/. Full documentation on the route alternative was prepared and copied in 12 copies for the purposes of promotion of the alternative route.

  • Colorful leaflet, explaining the purposes for elaboration of the route, as well as the main characteristics and advantages for biodiversity and people was printed out in Bulgarian and English in 2000 copies (1000 per language) together with the NGO Balkani Wildlife Society and the financial contribution both from the project and the TIME Foundation.

  • The elaborated feasibility study on a alternative route of Strouma Motorway was officially presented on a special discussion meeting on 12 November 2002 in front of Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works, Ministry of Environment and Water, Executive Road Agency, Bulgarian Academy of Science, Municipalities of Kresna, Simitli, and other institutions and organisations. The presentation was followed by discussion. The meeting was followed by press conference. After the meeting the minutes were distributed to the participants. Interview was broadcasted at the national radio Hristo Botev (programme "Sustainable Development")

  • Copy of documentation on the elaborated route was officially submitted on 12 November to the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (MRDPW) and to the Executive Road Agency with the request to be accepted and EIA to be prepared for it.
    Copy of the documentation was submitted also to the Bern Convention Bureau, Ministry of Environment and Water, Delegation of the European Commission in Bulgaria, Brussels office of the BirdLife International and the partner NGOs.

  • The alternative route was presented at the National NGO Conference, where it was included in the Declaration of the conference and the signatures for support were submitted also to the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works and the Ministry of Environment and Water.

  • On 29 November 2002 Ministry of Environment and Water send official request to the MRDPW and the Executive Road Agency to include the alternative proposed by NGOs in the EIA procedure and the report.

  • The alternative was officially presented in front of the representatives of Delegation of the European Commission in Bulgaria at special meeting on 11 December 2002.

  • Meeting was organized for the partner NGOs and a common strategy on next steps of Kresna gorge campaign and particularly integration of the elaborated alternative was prepared.

  • As a result of the discussions a study and expertise of the geology of the Kresna gorge and the area of the alternative route was conducted and reports were elaborated in order to prepare arguments for the suitability of the route.

  • The elaborated alternative was presented (in 20 minutes) on the "7 days" TV during the programme "Eco-Cambana".

  • The alternative was presented by BirdLife International in front of DG Transport and DG Environment during the meetings on the European transport network. Information about the route was submitted to the EU accession officer in RSPB and to the European Division of BirdLife International.

    Results achieved

  • An independent alternative route of the Strouma motorway between Simitli and Dolna Gradeshnitza with two variants was elaborated, according to the Bulgarian Standards and on a way to avoid nature valuable areas as the "Tissata" Reserve with its Buffer zones, the "Tissata" IBA (BG003) and the CORINE area "Kresna", settlements, mineral springs and the gas pipeline passing the area. One of the variants pass though the most east part of the CORINE area as tunnel and small viaduct, which is according to the specialists not harmful for the integrity of the site. The reserve and the IBA are completely avoided. The proposed alternative saves the integrity of the nature valuable sites in the region.
  • A leaflet was produced for promotion of the alternative and distributed to the local people and the institutions involved in the issue.
  • The alternative was presented widely and was acknowledged by the Bern Convention, the Bulgarian Academy of Science and the Ministry of Environment and Water and the Bulgarian NGOs. MoEW Officially asked the MRDPW to include the proposed alternative in the EIA procedure and report.
  • A strategy for the follow up of the Kresna Gorge campaign was elaborated.


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