Apr 05, 2024

Copyright: Mak Kapetanovic

EU4Green biodiversity team kicked off their on-site activities in March with a workshop held in Podgorica, followed by a fieldwork visit to the national park Skadar Lake in Montenegro and Bjeshkët e Nemuna in Kosovo[1]. The workshop included local beneficiaries and stakeholders, while the field visit was organised for 15 various biodiversity experts from the Western Balkans region, who will in their turn, independently analyse pilot sites in their respective economies.

Europe’s rich array of biodiversity, habitats and species are under threat due to human activities and climate change. This degradation affects our well-being and economy. The EU is taking action to restore and protect the vital systems that support life on our planet.[2]

As part of those efforts, the ‘Green Agenda for the Western Balkans’ has been developed and committed to by all the political leaders of the Western Balkans six economies in Sofia in 2020.

The EU4Green project, implemented by the Environment Agency Austria, extends the support to the Western Balkans – Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia – in implementing the Green Agenda for the Western Balkans, in greening their economies in consultation with all relevant partners and in enhancing monitoring and reporting. The project includes a number of different pillars, with one of them being biodiversity.

Co-project leader Laura Hohoff describes that: “EU4Green aims to support Western Balkan in turning sustainability and resilience challenges into opportunities. We aim to catalyze processes that drive sustainability across the economy and society, ensuring a holistic approach to the green transition.
Collective action to conserve and protect biodiversity is crucial to implementing the Green Agenda of the Western Balkan and tackling the climate crisis. EU4Green is working together with Montenegro and the rest of the Western Balkans region in taking important steps to implement the Nature Directive: from high-level policy support to creating methodologies for setting up data collection and fieldwork.”

The work packages on biodiversity focus on six pilot sites (one in each economy) that are protected areas, might become proposed as Natura2000 sites, and as such host representative river ecosystems and their floodplains. Considering the needs recognized in the Western Balkans, the current EU4Green biodiversity activities focus on the compilation of relevant data for nature protection in these pilot sites, especially under the EU Nature Directives.

Workshop in Monitoring methodologies of the EU Habitats Directive

Biodiversity monitoring is an essential part of nature and biodiversity conservation. It is only through accurate, reasonable and regular monitoring, that declines in biodiversity can be detected and acted upon. Therefore, the EU demands certain monitoring activities for species and habitats of Community interest from its member states. Platforms such as BISA show how important this data is and how it is used to preserve biodiversity. As Western Balkans economies are progressing on their EU paths while being committed to the achievement of GAWB goals, alignment of monitoring methodologies is a mere necessity.

With this in mind and by gathering inputs from beneficiaries in the Western Balkans economies, the workshop Monitoring methodologies of the EU Habitats Directive was held in Montenegro, in connection to the first pilot site visits that followed right after. This workshop provided information on the legal requirements and methodological frameworks regarding the EU Habitats Directive.

During the event, Austrian experts involved in EU4Green also shared the experiences of the implementation of the monitoring concept in Austria, where it has been ongoing for many years already. Following the workshop, one of the present EU4Green biodiversity experts from the Environment Agency Austria, Thomas Ellmauer commented: “Authorities in the western Balkan economies are already on their way to prepare for EU nature conservation. Our action plan for this occasion aimed to inform authorities on data requirements for the implementation of Natura 2000 and the surveillance of the conservation status. In this respect, the project elaborates methodologies and trains for collecting those data in order to implement efficient field work campaigns in the next years.”

Fieldwork at Skadar Lake and Bjeshkët e Nemuna

As planned by the thematic coordinators for biodiversity in EU4Green, in 2024, fifteen experts engaged from the six economies will conduct fieldwork activities for the biodiversity pillar of EU4Green. This will serve two major purposes: firstly, to gather knowledge on the occurrence and condition of selected species and habitats, and secondly, to develop methodologies for the implementation of the EU Nature Directives. These insights will be valuable for aligning future conservation activities in the respective economies with the EU Nature Directives.

The joint kick-off with the fifteen expert was held to ensure that the understanding of the methodology is clear and consistent between all experts, and to enable them to carry out the EU4Green Biodiversity fieldwork at their pilot site independently, following established practices and collecting data accordingly. The pilot sites in Montenegro and Kosovo* – Skadar Lake and Bjeshkët e Nemuna – now serve as examples for all other sites in the remaining four Western Balkans economies.

At the field visit, thematic coordinator for Biodiversity from Environment Agency Austria, Katharina Huchler said: “The EU Nature Directives require Member States to carry out mapping and monitoring activities at national level, but also within the EU’s network of protected areas, known as Natura 2000 sites. EU4Green supports local biodiversity experts working in the field of nature protection with methodological know-how on mapping and monitoring. We provide training on how they are conducted and jointly adapt the EU standards to the local requirements.”

At the fieldwork kick-off, the participating regional experts were divided between both sites according to the resemblance with their own pilot sites and therefore receive training and know-how in most efficient and targeted way. The experts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro took part in the fieldwork at Skadar Lake, while the experts from Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo* attended the training at Bjeshkët e Nemuna.

Enriched with new knowledge and with support from thematic coordinators at Environment Agency Austria, experts will proceed with mapping and monitoring at their respective sites. EU4Green will keep reporting on their progress and next project phases in Biodiversity.

[1] This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and it is in line with UNSCR 1244 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo* declaration of independence.