© Gunther Willinger

European Green Belt – from Iron Curtain to Lifeline

Nature conservation across national borders: EuroNatur executive director Gabriel Schwaderer in conversation with Albanian project partner Spase Shumka (PPNEA)
Nature conservation across national borders: EuroNatur executive director Gabriel Schwaderer in conversation with Albanian project partner Spase Shumka (PPNEA)

Across 12 500 kilometres (over 7700 miles) the Green Belt stretches along the one-time Iron Curtain forming a corridor of habitats for an exceptional diversity of species. It reaches from the North of Europe to the Black Sea in the South. In the meantime the inspiring idea of transforming the Iron Curtain into a “European Green Belt” has at least partially become reality.


Like a string of natural pearls linked one to another

For decades the Iron Curtain divided East and West. In the North of Europe it is still present between Finland and the former Soviet Union. Up to 1989 it cut across Germany running on through the Balkans right down to the Black Sea. For people the Iron Curtain was an impenetrable barrier. Nature, however, benefited from the fact that the border area was largely spared human exploitation. And so here they lie – strung out across the continent like precious natural pearls in a necklace - pristine forests and swamps, traditionally cultivated landscapes rich in species as well as wild mountain ranges and river landscapes such as can hardly be found anywhere else in Europe. Here the Green Belt provides valuable habitats for wolves, bears, lynxes, eagles and migrating birds such as the Spoonbill and Crane, to name just a few.



Photo gallery

© Gunther Willinger © Jörg Pukownik © Gunther Willinger

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What dangers are threatening Nature along the European Green Belt?

Nature's peace has been rudely disturbed since the political changes of the early 1990s. No longer protected by the Iron Curtain Nature is under threat: whether it is from roads cutting through species-rich forests in the former border area, or from chanelling projects which destroy ancient, natural river courses or again from the ravages of logging and skiing tourism in practically untouched mountain ranges. Valuable refuges for Europe's largest mammals such as Wolf, Bear and Lynx are endangered. And the wetlands with their wealth of species and resting places for migratory birds are in danger of disappearing.

The European Green Belt – Europe's largest nature conservation initiative

The goal of the “European Green Belt Initiative” along the former Iron Curtain is to secure a European natural heritage in all its diversity for coming generations. The project which was originally limited to the German-German border area and began as “The German Green Belt” was soon after its inception extended to cover Europe. The “European Green Belt” was launched as an international initiative in 2003 by EuroNatur with the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Since the “European Green Belt” stretches across many countries within Europe and numerous stakeholders work for the protection of this wildlife corridor the coordination of the initiative represents a formidable challenge. Participants are EU member states, acceding, candidate and potential candidate countries as also non-EU states (Norway and Russia).

Conservation activities carried out by the numerous actors involved are coordinated by four regional coordinators – one for each of the Green Belt’s four sections. EuroNatur is the regional coordinator of conservation activities in the Balkan Green Belt. There had not been an overall European-level coordination unit since the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) laid down this mandate in 2010. Since 2011, EuroNatur and BUND, as part of an international steering group, have been coordinating the initiative. In 2014, the European Green Belt Association was established, which represents the European Green Belt initiative and is in charge of coordination. Governmental and non-governmental stakeholders work together in the association. EuroNatur and BUND were appointed as chair and deputy chair respectively.