MedWetCoast Project for conservation of Wetlands and Coastal Ecosystems in the Mediterranean Region MedWetCoast Project for conservation of Wetlands and Coastal Ecosystems in the Mediterranean Region
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Study Tour / Visit of Albanian local stakeholders to two Croatian Ramsar Sites
Experience relevance and adaptation at Albanian local conditions
Thursday 13 October 2005, by Violeta Zuna, Eno Dodbiba

The study tour was organised and conducted by MedWetCoast under one of project outcomes: development and conduction of training and capacity building activities with special attention to enhancement of local and traditional knowledge, skills and improvement of people’s attitudes and participation to wetland management and planning actions. The study tour was organised and conducted by MedWetCoast under one of project outcomes: development and conduction of training and capacity building activities with special attention to enhancement of local and traditional knowledge, skills and improvement of people’s attitudes and participation to wetland management and planning actions.

On the other side, this activity was closely linked and perceived as contributing to one of project objectives concerned with the process of Sites Management Planning, as implementation of the most appropriate and feasible identified priority management actions.

Along with project progress, given the actual phase of establishment of site management instruments, MWC is dedicating concerted efforts to identify and promote improved local capacities either to administrative instances as well as to technical or managerial level, allowing accomplishing different training forms, as it is the study tour organised in two Croatian Ramsar Sites:


1. Park prirode “Kopački rit”; professional leader Mr. Tibor Mikuška; address: Petefi 35, 31000 Bilje; tel. 031/750855; fax. 031/750755; email:; web: 2. Park prirode “Lonjsko polje”; professional leader Mr Darko Kovačić; Director Mr. Goran Gugić, address: Trg kralja P. Svačića bb; 44324 Jasenovac; tel.: 044/672080; fax: 044/672080; email:

MWC considers very substantial that the project activities and outcomes draw on experience elsewhere in exemplar sites in the Mediterranean region, establishing in the meantime contacts with neighbour countries. In view of project document, MedWetCoast follows a continuous plan which provides for training and acquaintance of the targeted groups with most appropriate knowledge, know how and practice that regard management aspects of wetland ecosystems, conservation and protection of their habitats, monitoring issues etc.

Thus, active involvement and effective participation of the local stakeholders, local experts, user groups and local authorities, are considered as key elements to the success of the project and sustainability of results in the project sites (Narta and Orikumi ecosystems). After having produced Management Plans documents for both project targeted sites MWC intends to use variety of forms enabling local stakeholders with knowledge and experiences from exemplar site of the Mediterranean countries which have a more advanced status and experience in wetland (PA) sites management and administration.

In addition to above considerations, Croatian wetland sites, were decided to be the best choices to bring Albanian group of wetland management counterparts and respective local authorities and decision makers. After contacting Croatian authorities in charge with nature conservation and biodiversity protection, Mr. Eugen Draganovic, Ramsar focal point, Director for Nature Conservation Ministry of Culture, MWC identified two sites and has contacted respective site management authorities.

This report gives some general considerations and impressions about the study tours findings that took place from September 21 - 24 in both sites.

I. VISIT TO Kopacki Rit This visit (21st-22nd/09/2005) was organized and accomplished with assistance and support from the site administration and particularly by Ms. Biserka Vištica as Director of JUPP Kopacki Rit and Mr. Tibor Mikuška as professional leader of Kopacki Rit. Enjoying staying at Osijek city (the closest to this site-10 km) the participants knew more about the history, culture and development of that area, as well as its relevance to the status and impact to the park. Nature park of Kopacki Rit (17.700 ha), included Special Zoological Reserve (8,000 ha) and was protected by the Ramsar Convention on internationally important flood areas. It was included in the IBA list (Important Bird Area) and nominated as UNESCO - World Natural heritage.

Mr. Tibor Mikuška in the capacity of professional leader of this park made an introduction and followed with a presentation on the different aspects related to Kopacki Rit NP. He pointed out Nature Park of Kopacki Rit as one of the largest natural marshlands in Europe, situated in the north-east of Croatia in the corner made by the mouths of the Drava River into the Danube River. The basic ecological feature of Kopacki Rit was given by the flood-dynamics so that the landscape of the whole region depends on the flood intensity. The parts of the swamp land and water, arranged mosaically, change its size, form and function depending on the quantity of the risen water, namely from the Danube River and less from the Drava River. Very significant are the lakes, as well as periodically flooded areas and waterways. The channels are a link between the Danube and the Drava and here is a network of the channels which make water links within marshland. Due to its state of preservation as the rare marshland ecosystem, great biological diversity and exceptional scientific and ecological values, Kopacki Rit was protected in 1967 through the status of the Managed Natural Reserve on the area of 17,730 ha. In 1976, the proper reserve area of 7,220 ha received the status of the Special Zoological Reserve and the wide area of 10,510 ha received the status of the Nature Park. The international significance of Kopacki Rit was confirmed in 1993 by its registration in the list of internationally significant marshlands in accordance with the Ramsar Convention. All together, some forty plant communities and more than three hundred flora species indicate great vegetation diversity of Kopacki rit.. Kopacki Rit is one of the best-known habitat regions of the red deer whose numerousness is three times as much as in the best European habitats.

The bird fauna makes the basic ecological recognizability of Kopacki Rit. Even 285 bird species are recorded in Kopacki Rit out of which 141 species are the birds that nest regularly or occasionally in the marshland. During the spring and autumn migrations, Kopacki Rit represents a very significant resting place for many marshland species and there are several hundred thousands of birds in the marshland at that time. During the study tour, the participants knew about the elements which accounted for in the list of marshlands of international significance (RAMSAR) such as habitat types [river (slow - stream), fresh-water lakes within the interior, fish-ponds, fresh-water marshlands within the interior, forests], and other factors such as scientific value, economic importance [Fish rearing, hunting, tourism (bird-watching and hunting), recreational importance such as bird-watching]. He commented on the considerable importance for threatened breeding species, such as herons and egrets, Ardea cinerea, A. purpurea (up to 3% of the European population) etc.

In second presentation, he provided further insight for the participants regarding the land use, management structures, threats etc. Being a flood area, Kopacki Rit is very important for the Danube fish stock; the largest and most important spawning and nursing location in the Danube of the Pannonian Plain. However, Kopacki Rit depends on the Drava regime, too. In spring, when huge quantities of snow and ice start melting in the Alps, the water levels of these two rivers grow. The Danube is able to accommodate this flood until its crest of high water, flowing through Central Europe, reaches the junction with the Drava. Then the floodwaters merge, flowing through a channel system into Kopacki Rit. Principal human activities include tourism (bird watching), hunting and fish rearing. In 1999, management authorities of Kopacki Rit started activities to encourage active participation of local communities in the protection of the area. Thus forestry, water management, agriculture and husbandry are taking place. As for tourism it begun to develop; even though the entire flood plain is one ecological unit its different parts are managed different ways, under different degrees of nature protection. The highest level of protection which excludes all human interventions is enforced in special and strict reserves, but unfortunately a very small part of the remaining undisturbed floodplains enjoys this status. The next level of protection is the category of national parks-in this case managed by the Danube-Drava National Park Directorate. National Parks constitute a slightly lower category also managed by special authorities - here the Kopacki Rit Management Park Office, while Gornje Podunavlje Special Nature Reserve, less protected again, is managed by their main stakeholders-Vojvodina forest Authority.

He also pointed out the management authorities of Kopacki Rit have started activities to encourage active participation of local communities in the protection of area. The area is the first protected Croatian Ramsar site where a management plan is under elaboration and it has its own management authority. A Landuse Plan has already been done while zoning measures are used to regulate the activities and an educational center is operating .

Some of these harmful activities continue, especially in the places that are not protected or that have a low protection status. Intensive game management has led to excessively high population numbers of animals in the eastern and southern parts of the area, especially deer and wild boar, and this puts extreme pressure on natural habitats. Contrarily, in the south-western part, combination of factors - the war, flatworm diseases and inappropriate game management have resulted in below average numbers of animals, which also have a negative effect on the ecosystem. There are also numerous hunting facilities, feeding grounds, fences and game traps which further impair the landscape and ecological qualities. Through the construction of dykes, the excavation of channels and other drainage works, humans have managed to turn parts of the former floodplain into large expanses of agricultural fields. Commercial fishing has declined in the area but at the same time problems of fishing poaching, fishing using illegal methods (explosives, electrodes) and illegal means (blocking fish corridors, fishing in spawning areas) are increasing.

We noticed how the people of Kopacki Rit have joined efforts with some environmental NGOs in the area to inform and influence politicians decision makers and stakeholders in order to establish a single appropriate nature protection status equivalent to the of National parks across the entire area regardless of administrative borders, to designate the entire area as a Biosphere Reserve, to establish a single coordinated, integrated management system for the entire area regardless of borders, different management offices or land users etc.

Then MWC staff presented through a video documentary the main activities conducted by this office as well as main achievements in establishing management planning, implementation of some priority management actions etc. in the targeted project sites (Narta and Orikumi). The participants were interested on problems related to illegal fishing and hunting, landownership, hunting calendar, etc. This followed group discussion and exchange of experiences in such issues. It was interesting to know about law enforcement in this park through the management office established there. Also, the authority and competences provided by law to this management structure were quite satisfactory to reinforce the law and regulations. Another important element was the ownership: 60 % state owned and 40 % by the management administration. This management office was reporting and depended by the Ministry of Culture. The hunting calendar was prepared by the state hunting companies subject to constraints and compliance with park regulations. On the other side the park administration conducts continuous negotiations with those private land owners in order to reach the most possible appropriate land management and habitat protection.

The visit followed with a trip by boat in the water ways of this park. In the next day, the Croatian colleague organized a walking through the park showing and presenting other parts of that area such as laboratory and research premise (small nice traditional style villa), old traditional villas (which used to be resort of former president of Yugoslavia) which were adapted to bibliotheca and hosting premises for student conducting studies and research on site.

II. VISIT TO Ljonsko Polje PA

The organizers arranged a meeting on the way back to Ljonsko Polje NP. Even though the person in charge professional leader Mrs. Valeria Hima and the director Mr. Goran Gugić were not able to meet due to other commitments, the group made a short visit to the information center of this park and received some information of the status of the ecosystems and habitats hosted there. The main selection criteria which enabled designation of this site as RAMSAR site were shelters provided regularly for ducks, endangered bird species nesting hosted there, ecological values, scientific values, agriculture-mostly extensive cattlebreeding and soil cultivation, fish rearing at neighboring fish-ponds, tourism - basically in its beginnings - particularly the bird- watching tourism, water management. The site lies about 75 km southeast of the city of Zagreb in central Croatia. The site is one of the largest alluvial wetlands in Europe and very important for breeding birds, including 33 threatened species. Other threatened breeding birds include birds of prey Haliaeetus albicilla, Aquila pomarina, Circaetus gallicus, Pernis apivorus, Milvus migrans, Circus aeruginosus, etc. During the migration the site regularly provides shelter for waders Tringa glareola, Philomachus pugnax and terns Chlidonias leucopterus and C. niger, etc. The site is a very large alluvial wetland consisting of floodplains of the Sava, Lonja and Strug Rivers, including seasonally flooded Quercus and Populus woodlands, marshes, meadows and fishponds. It contains 236 bird species, out of which 122 to 140 are breeding species. The site includes the retention basin Lonjsko Polje (11,500 ha) and the retention areas Opeke (5,700 ha), Trstic (2,100 ha) and Mokro Polje (12,800 ha) on the north side of the Sava River. On the south side of the river the Zelenik retention area (6,900 ha) and the frequently flooded pastures and meadows along the River Sunja and near Sunjska Greda and Gradusa (Ribarsko Polje) are included. Principal human activities include forestry, angling, fish rearing at neighboring fishponds, tourism (especially bird watching) and agriculture (mostly extensive cattle breeding and cultivation). In 1999, recently established management authorities of Lonjsko Polje have started activities to encourage active participation of local communities in the protection of the area. Lonjsko Polje and Mokro Polje are a Nature Park and Krapje Dol (25 ha) is also an Ornithological Reserve. In 1994, all conservation and monitoring measures were suspended, due to substantial military, practical and political problems. Educational centers were established and opened in Lonjsko Polje. Oak forest clearing, causes serious damage to the area and threatens the Croatian population of the endangered eagle Haliaeetus albicilla.

The activity contributed and provoked, better and clearer vision, as well as, improved capacities of the local NGOs and local communities, in addressing properly the environmental concerns in their area on issues pertaining to MP process and biodiversity conservation issues. It is expected that such activity will avail Albanian participants and targeted group with experience, know-how and practicalities related to a sustained wetland site management or PA administration. Such exchange of experiences in PA management is expected to become more interesting and profitable with regard to wetland ecosystems, site administration, environmental law enforcement, collaboration of institutions, government and civil society organizations, and the private sector and their incentives for participation; results-oriented planning and monitoring relying on scientific inputs. It is excepted to allow group members to contribute substantively to improvement of the biodiversity conservation regulatory frame and particularly to it enforcement, be active and responsible actors, having the right qualification and knowledge for advocating such a legislation which appears to be difficult and very specific.

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