Shar mountains

Glacial lakes and Balkan lynxes

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Still to be found in the Šar Mountains: the critically endangered Balkan lynx.

© Christof Wermter

The Alps have been so extensively “developed” that it is becoming almost impossible to encounter the magic of a remote mountain world there. It is very different in the country along the borders between North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. The glacial lakes lie glinting in the folds of the Šar Mountains like a myriad of gray-green eyes scanning the skies of the most northern-westerly tip of North Macedonia. These lakes are embedded in one of the highest and largest mountain ranges in the Balkans and they form part of a magnificant mountain world hard to match in all Europe. In the shadow of the Iron Curtain in its day they were protected and they have remained almost untouched to the present day. Even the critically endangered Balkan lynx finds a habitat here.

Photo gallery

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In danger from overexploitation

The green idyll on the Balkan Green Belt is in danger. The greater part of the mountain ranges in Albania offer a disturbing warning of what the Šar Mountains could soon look like. Decades of overexploitation of the land and accompanying extensive clearfelling for logging in the forests have left monotonous, erosion-scarred landscapes. In many regions of Albania such arid slopes are the characteristic feature of the scenery. Already worrying signs of this process can be seen in the lower slopes of the Šar Mountains in North Macedonia where it is more densely populated. In many places the healthy oak forest is already interspersed with areas of naked earth. It is only a matter of time before the resources will have been used up and overexploitation will begin to spread into the as yet untouched natural landscape in the upper regions.

Conservation area with gaps in it

The part of the Šar Mountains that lies in Kosovo has already been put under protection. There is also talk of plans for the cross-boundary “Šar Park” between Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo. What is planned is the largest contiguous protected area in south-east Europe. But as far as North Macedonia is concerned the plans only take in the southernmost tip of the mountain range – that is the Mavrovo National Park. If discussions were to stop here it would be a farce because it would mean the very heart of the “Šar Park” would be left out.

Traditional Shepherding in the Sharr

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What actions are EuroNatur and its partners taking?

  • Lobbying for the cross-boundary National Park: Also thanks to our political lobbying, we have managed to ensure that the designation of the Shar Mountains as a National Park is finally implemented in North Macedonia, in order to preserve one of the last remaining habitats for the critically endangered Balkan Lynx and to give further strength to the European Green Belt.
  • Gaining the backing of the local population: We are setting up round table talks involving a representatives of all interests from the three countries in which the planned “Šar park” lies. Together they are to develop guidelines for the cross-boundary National Park. The goal is to gain the backing of the local population for the conservation area.
  • Firing local youth with enthusiasm for the project: In numerous projects on the environment at schools in the North Macedonian part of the Šar Mountains we are working to raise awareness in children and young people of the natural heritage of the place where they are growing up.
     
  • Transferring functioning approaches to the Šar Mountains: We are giving support to the people in the Šar Mountains, with counselling and funding, to help them set up alternative sources of income through nature protection (e.g. through nature tourism, marketing of organically produced foodstuffs etc.) In the Jablanica-Shebenik Mountains on the border between North Macedonia and Albania the idea of getting the locals on board has proved a great success. The Albanian part became a National Park in 2008, the North Macedonian part is very soon to be designated. There we are also implementing projects hand in hand with the local people to create ecologically sustainable regional development.
     
  • Making sustainable development easier to grasp: Representatives from the transboundary region picked up ideas for the implementation of their own projects for sustainable development during a study tour to the biosphere reserve Rhön. In particular possibilities offered by protected areas were shown.

Partners: MES (Macedonian Ecological Society), PPNEA (Preservation and Protection of Natural Environment in Albania), FINCH, KORA (Coordinated research projects for the conservation and management of carnivores in Switzerland)

Sponsoring: DBU (The German Federal Environmental Foundation), the MAVA Foundation, GIZ (German Society for International Cooperation), EuroNatur donors and sponsors

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EuroNatur Projects for the protection of the Balkan lynx

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EuroNatur Projects for the protection of the Balkan Green Belt

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