Our projects on the European Green Belt

Balkan Green Belt

border sign Bulgaria and Turkey

Natural cultural landscape on the Balkan Green Belt, here on the border between Bulgaria and Turkey

© Gunther Willinger

Long before the concept of the European Green Belt had come into being, EuroNatur was one of the first nature conservation organisations to campaign for the preservation of the most valuable landscapes in southeastern Europe. Over a number of years, a cross-border network of nature conservation partners was established and it still exists today. Under the European Green Belt Initiative, EuroNatur has, since 2004, been the official coordinator of conservation activities on the Balkan Green Belt - the southernmost part of the European Green Belt.

Unlike in the northern and central sections, the Green Belt in the Balkan Peninsula not only follows the former dividing line between East and West, it also forms the border between Albania and the former Yugoslavia.

Protected areas on paper only

Large parts of the Green Belt in the Balkans are already formally protected areas. But there are still significant forests, bogs and mountain landscapes along the former East-West border that are in desperate need of official protected status. A major problem is that many protected areas exist only on paper. There are not the necessary administrative bodies in place to deal with the management of these areas. At the same time, dams, ski resorts, wind farms and motorways are all due to be built along the Balkan Green Belt.

Mountain massif on the Balkan Green Belt

The Prokletije mountain massif in the border triangle between Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo is one of the pearls of the Balkan Green Belt.

© Azem Ramadani

What EuroNatur and its partners are doing to conserve nature along the Balkan Green Belt and what we have been able to achieve together:

  • Creating a network of protected areas: In southeastern Europe, EuroNatur is working along the line of the former Iron Curtain to preserve species-rich wilderness areas and cultural landscapes. It is EuroNatur’s vision that, on the Balkan green Belt, one well-managed protected area should be followed by another thus creating a biotope network linking up the entire Balkan Peninsula.
     
  • Connecting people and nature: We are striving to gain the acceptance of the people who live in the project areas along the Balkan Green Belt. It is only by working together that our nature conservation measures will achieve long lasting success. With our partners, and in close cooperation with local populations, we are working to develop sustainable development concepts for each respective region. We want to show people that they will also benefit economically from an unspoilt natural environment.
     
  • Reconciling through nature conservation: The Balkan Green Belt is a prime example of how nature conservation can be successfully conceptualised and put into practice in a way that transcends borders. With our transboundary nature conservation projects, we are playing a part in bringing people from once hostile countries together. We are also strengthening the civil society engagement of the people of the Balkans. One of these initiatives provided the crucial impetus for the Sharr Mountains becoming a transboundary national park.

The Sar Mountains – a model to follow

Glacial Lake in Sar-Mountains

Lake Bogovinsko Ezero.

© Ljubomir Stetanov

Ancient glacial lakes, endemic plant species, the endangered Balkan lynx: in the Sar Mountains you can still find the alpine beauty and species diversity which have long since disappeared in large parts of other European mountain ranges. Furthermore, transhumance, the seasonal movement of livestock between winter and summer grazing areas, still plays an positive role in the ecology of the Sar Mountains. Over the centuries a nature-friendly form of transhumance has developed here, contributing to a high level of biodiversity.  EuroNatur has been active in the border areas between North Macedonia, Kosovo and Albania for many years.

Patience is rewarded

In May 2020 the North Macedonian government finally followed the example of its neighbours in declaring a national park in its part of the Sar Mountains. This decision had been helped on its way by exerting our influence on the various governments, but above all by cooperating with our North Macedonian partner organisations.

Much work had been carried out with the local population of the Sar Mountains to explain the importance of the natural wonders on their doorstep. It was also demonstrated to them how the declaration of the national park would benefit them economically in many different ways. As a result, the attitudes of the local population quickly swung behind the project.

People are hiking in the mountains

The development of sustainable tourism is one of the model projects in the Shar Mountains.

© Jovan Bozhinovski

A model campaigning group

It was the work of the campaign alliance “Friends of the Sar Mountains” which must take credit for this positive change in attitudes. The local campaigning group, a model for similar groups in neighbouring countries, is made up of various organisations from the region. They all share the goal of protecting their region by creating a national park spanning international borders.

EuroNatur and their partner organisations, MES and the “Friends of the Sar Mountains”, will continue to play a role in the remaining stages of the creation of this national park in order to ensure a sound and effective protection of its wildlife. In addition, we will be supporting the local campaigners in creating model projects for sustainable development. Only if the local population of the Sar Mountains feel responsible for the protection of their countryside will the national park be a truly sustainable protected area.

Brochure "Shar-Korab-Koritnik Region"

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BESTbelt

Nutrient-poor meadow in front of a mountain backdrop

Unspoilt cultural landscapes along the Green Belt in Central Europe (Italy/Slovenia)

© Rete Italiana

The European Commission is financing a new pilot project along the European Green Belt between 2022 and 2026. The project has come about through the initiative of two members of the European parliament, Paulus und Nicolae Ștefănuță. A total of 1.5 million euros has been made available by the European Commission for publicity work, training, the setup of resources and the implementation of small, on the ground projects from Norway in the north all the way down to Turkey and Greece in the south.

New impetus for the European Green Belt

Initiatives are being promoted to preserve the biological diversity along the former Iron Curtain and encourage promising projects for sustainable regional development. The official contract partner for the project is EuroNatur, which chairs the European Green Belt Association and works very closely in the project team with the Green Belt section of the German environmental organisation BUND as well as BUND Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

If we want to preserve species diversity in Europe, we must preserve the precious wildlife and habitats along the European Green Belt. If we want to counter the enormous centrifugal forces we are currently experiencing in Europe, then the strengthening of cross-border cooperation is absolutely essential. This work is at its most effective when we include both the local organisations with their knowledge and the people who live along the European Green Belt.

Gabriel Schwaderer Gabriel Schwaderer, EuroNatur Executive Director

The first round of projects worthy of support has already been chosen. Here, we present a small selection of the winning projects:

  • Forgotten bunkers, abandoned meadows and disappearing ponds

    © Davide Scridel

    The foothills of the Julian Alps are a great example of diversity, both biological and cultural. Remarkable languages and traditions are still kept alive in small mountain communities. In the past the mountains of the region were the scenes of conflict. Not only did the Iron Curtain here form the border to Yugoslavia, but previously this had been the setting of a hot war from 1915-1918 when the Italians and the Austrians confronted each other along the so-called Alpine Front. Numerous bunkers still bear witness to this era. These stone relics of the war are now to be transformed into places of refuge for wildlife. A project here will convert these bunkers into hibernation and breeding roosts for bats. In recent centuries the foothills of the Julian Alps have undergone radical changes in land use and have faced the problem of considerable depopulation. This change has also affected their biodiversity. Thus, another of the important goals of the project is the restoration of abandoned dry grasslands and meadows.

  • Micro-wetlands: wells as a source of life for animal and human

    © Gemeinde Topolovgrad/BBF

    The use of so-called Cheshmas, public springs with flowing water, has a long tradition in the Balkans. These springs, found predominantly in rural regions, are important for humans, livestock and wildlife. They act as “stepping stones” for the linking of habitats, since they act as micro-wetlands. In this BESTbelt project, the Bulgarian community of Topolovgrad is renovating damaged springs in a Natura 2000 area not far from the Turkish border. Initially there will be an expert assessment which will lead to a public process to decide which Cheshmas are to be restored. Those involved in the project are local farmers, the tourist industry and volunteers from the local population who will be trained to be “spring wardens”. In this way future generations will benefit from these life-giving micro-wetlands.

  • Harmonised code of conduct for nature reserves on the Baltic coast

    © Latvian Country Tourism Association/Lauku Celotajs

    Latvia’s coastline stretches for almost 500 kilometres. Many of these Baltic beaches are popular tourist destinations. This human tide causes lots of stress for the flora and fauna of these beaches. It is even worse when the nature conservation regulations are not heeded, a frequent albeit unintentional occurrence. One of the reasons for this is lack of common regulations along each stretch of beach. The aim of this project is to develop a state-wide common code of behaviour for bathers, walkers and other beach users. Coastal communities, planning offices and tourist companies are now working closely together with the Latvian nature conservation bodies. When this project is complete there will be a well-designed and easily comprehensible code of conduct available both online and in printed form for local inhabitants and tourists. This could then act as a model for sustainable tourism in other coastal regions of Europe.

Logo BESTbelt

The third appeal for project applications is open until 4th March 2024. Click here for further information


Europe's largest nature conservation initiative

The European Green Belt plays a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity in Europe. Several thousand protected areas are located along the line of the former Iron Curtain. They are intended to provide stepping stones for animal and plant species, thereby enabling the Green Belt to make a significant contribution towards establishing a green infrastructure right across Europe.

Among the participants in Europe’s largest nature conservation initiative are EU member states, potential EU accession candidates as well as non-EU countries. Coordinating the initiative is a major challenge, especially since the number of state and non-state stakeholders is constantly growing.

In 2014, the European Green Belt Association, which represents the European Green Belt and takes on its coordination work, was established. In it, state and non-state stakeholders work closely together. With BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) acting as deputy, EuroNatur is chair of the association. 

People on the Green Belt reach out to each other

Our Green Belt partners at the 10th Pan-European Green Belt Conference at the former German-German border (15-19 October 2018 at Wartburg Castle).

© Katharina Grund

How do we and our partners provide impetus to the European Green Belt initiative?

Young women and men in traditional clothes are dancing

A highlight of the Green Belt Days: Folklore groups of the region perform traditional dances.

© Center for Environment
  • Days out on the Green Belt: Every year, in the second half of September, our partners at the European Green Belt  organise the “European Green Belt Days”. These high-profile activities focus on the natural treasures along the line of the former Iron Curtain as well as on cross-border cooperation. With excursions, cultural events and local food, the Green Belt Days attract many visitors from the region.
     
  • Strengthening political dialogue: We are committed to ensuring that the countries along the European Green Belt undertake to work closely with one another to protect the biotope network. In the northernmost section of the European Green Belt, the governments of Finland, Russia and Norway have already signed an agreement to this effect. It serves as a model for the other sections of the European Green Belt. 
Anja Siegesmund and Gabriel Schwaderer

Thuringia's Environment Minister Anja Siegesmund and EuroNatur Executive Director Gabriel Schwaderer are the first to sign the Eisenach Resolution.

© Johannes Buldmann
  • Holding politicians to their promises: Via a number of resolutions and declarations, Green Belt stakeholders have pledged to call on politicians at all levels to preserve and promote this shared natural and cultural heritage as a green infrastructure. In November 2018, Anja Siegesmund, Environment Minister for the German federal state of Thuringia, declared the Thuringian Green Belt a National Nature Monument. Other federal states have followed suit.

Join in and help us!

Join the many people getting actively involved to protect Europe’s natural treasures along the Green Belt. We are grateful for any donation or active contribution you can make! In doing so, you are supporting an independent and networked civil society in Europe, which is campaigning vigorously to protect the European Green Belt. Please help us any way you can! 

How you can help
Donation

Future needs nature. EuroNatur cares for it. Please help anyway you can. With your donation you will make an effective contribution to protect the European Green Belt.

Sustaining membership

EuroNatur focuses on long-term nature conservation projects instead of quick fixes. With your regular donations, you give us the planning security we need.

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