Protected areas must be drivers of development

Leon Kebe, programme manager of the project Park Dinarides – network of protected areas of Dinarides at WWF Adria

A forester by profession, a Slovenian Leon Kebe joined WWF in 2012 and took the helm of the project “Dinaric Arc Parks" aimed to connect protected areas in the region. Today, four and a half years later, Leon admits that the said project was “a piece of cake” in comparison with the current project that he leads. Even though the "Protected Areas for Nature and People" resulted from the “Dinaric Arc Parks” it becomes a wider and more extensive project the aim of which does not seem so unreachable... 

  • The results that we have achieved through the project "Dinaric Arc Parks" are much greater than expected by all of us. The project I currently run is much greater, many more people working on it, many outdoor activities and the biggest business story that happened to me. The biggest challenge for me is to share information among members of a large team – there are over 20 of us in six countries, as well as motivate people to contribute equally to all parts of the project.

What are the main goals of the project?

  • The main goal is the protected areas to be accepted as a driver for development. Surely, protected areas are established for nature conservation, but they are essential for sustainable development for which the local community must be included in the decision-making process in protected areas. An additional challenge is that it is to raise awareness that protected areas alone should be a driver of development, but many do not realize it. We also want to reach the people who make decisions to demonstrate greater responsibility towards the preservation of nature and thus make better policy decisions related to protected areas and ecological network Nature 2000.

If you had to single out some protected areas in the region that could best serve as an example to others, which areas would you single out?

  • Every couple has something that is good and what can be used as an example of good practice for others... With a good exchange of information, we can achieve a lot in all protected areas in the region.

What is the role of the Park Dinarides in your project?

  • Park Dinarides – network of protected areas of Dinarides is a project partner through which all protected areas in the region should find out everything is being done in our project. Park Dinarides took over the communication channel from our project "Dinaric Arc Parks" and used them to forward all the information to its members. Also, they are the ones who will see if there are some parks in the protected areas in the region that could develop a project on a common theme, a cross-border cooperation and similar. After completion of the project, the association should assume the role of an organization that leads the development of protected area management in the region.

What is the biggest difference between the two projects we are talking about?

  • We researched the terrain under the "Dinaric Arc Parks" project. Protected areas among themselves have not been involved until now; the directors have not known each other... Moreover, not only at the regional level, but also in some cases within the country! After our project activities, study tours and conferences, the people met, they realized that they were not alone and that they had similar problems. The project was financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway and, in the EU countries, MAVA Foundation and I extend my gratitude to them for having enabled us to create a platform on which we are working now. Now, under the project "Protected Areas for Nature and People" we carry out smaller projects with which we can show examples of how some parks or their communities can make actions that will prove that the parks are drivers of development. I must emphasise that we include ensuring of human rights in all elements of the project whereby we include women and vulnerable groups in all our activities. This is a completely new approach to nature conservation projects.

How to measure whether you have succeeded therein?

  • It will be measured through the social and economic well-being: by the number of people in the activity and what the local people get from that - in terms of recreation, whether they are healthier, what they receive from nature, etc. In addition, people will feel the economic benefits through cooperation with the park. This is the beginning of such work and we hope that it will prove that by having a good co-operation one can benefit from the use of area in which they live. This shall apply to those parks in which we conduct our terrain work, while the focus on other parks in the region we will be on assessing the cooperation of protected areas with the local population. That is how we shall find out the involvement of local community in the protected area, or how local people are cooperating with the park. According to this assessment for each park, we will prepare an advice on how I can improve this cooperation.

What are the specificities of terrain projects and how did the WWF selected the protected areas in which you conduct them?

  • Each terrain project is different and each has a different goal. The example of the NP Una will show how, in cooperation with the Park, products can be better placed and created a new tourist offer, and lived better thanks to life in a protected area. The NP Sutjeska will point out the benefits for the local community if the Park is developing new tourist attractions, of which both the community and the Park will also have social and economic welfare. This is significantly better than the development of hydroelectric power of which the benefit might have only two or three men. In Serbia, we carry out three projects: through the forums of Park Stakeholders we help to gather interested parties who can contribute to better management of the Park while under the educational project, implemented in five protected areas, we have training for teachers in order to maximize transfer all of the importance of protected areas to children and so to influence on children at their early age. The third project in Serbia is also the cross-border with Montenegro – in the NP Tara and Biogradska gora is implemented a project that is based on observations of bears, as well as the development of a new tourism product that will benefit the local community because tourists will stay in the Park, sleep in local accommodation, eat local food, etc. The same local community needs to understand that the bear that tourists can see is a hundred times more valuable than the killed one, which should contribute to the reduction of poaching. The latest project is the Germi in Kosovo. That is a Park close to Pristina, and our work is based on social benefits: education, recreation, emphasis on the environment for the good health that reduces stress and so on. WWF has worked in the previous project analysis that showed where the greatest potential for the realization of certain activities is, that is how we chosen parks. Of course, it was important that the parks recognized the benefits of cooperation with us.

You mention only four countries, and WWF Adria, as well as the Parks Dinarides, operates in eight. What about the protected areas in Albania, Croatia, Macedonia and Slovenia?

  • Under the terrain projects, we work only in the mentioned four countries, but at the level of the whole project, we work in all countries through the aforementioned evaluation of the work of the protected area with the local community, and through our work on advocacy and policy. Donor of the project is Sida, the Swedish development agency, which does not finance activities in EU member states; however, both Croatia and Slovenia are automatically omitted. In Albania, we are preparing a project which implementation will begin in the next year, while in Macedonia, we have not found yet the right partner, and so, we do not have concrete actions. However, as I said, working with decision-makers and those who influence them is something that is the backbone of the work of WWF and certainly takes up a good part of our project. Thanks to the funds of MAVA Foundation, which supports the work of WWF Adria, we can work in EU countries. Sida has raised this project to the level of implementation, and the results will be tangible. In this project, we apply the knowledge gained in the previous project. The Protected Areas Benefit Assessment Tool (PA-BAT) which we conducted in the previous project has served us as a source of information for the design of the current project. In addition, under that project, we assisted some protected areas in the region to obtain European certification for sustainable tourism in order to reach more promotions and improve its work and cooperation with the local community.

What is the region of Dinaric Arch special for?

  • If viewing the whole Europe, it is distinguished by beautiful river, debris, numerous islands, beautiful coastline and incredible biodiversity. In addition, there are diverse cultural heritage, friendly people, excellent and varied cuisine, and a huge potential for sustainable development.

Petra Boić Petrač, WWF Adria