Ecosystem assessment of values and threats in the Bojana river basin

workshop with researchers and local people

As part of the project “Enabling environment for joint bottom up protection and sustainable development planning for Bojana river basin” in Ucinj, from 4th to 6th June, EnvPro organized a workshop “Ecosystem based assessment of values and threats in the Bojana river basin”.

The aim of the workshop was to jointly work on identifying key values (natural and social), as well as stresses, threats and causes of threats in the Bojana river basin, to assess their intensity and create solutions and strategies to work on identified problems. The workshop had 16 participants: the organizers - EnvPro team, NGOs and researchers - partners and associates of EnvPro on the project (who conducted desktop and short field research), local NGOs, associations and individuals in the environment sector who are interested in associating to achieve positive change, and representatives of Ulcinj municipality. The workshop was based on the MARISCO method, designed by the University of Eberswalde, who is a project partner, with the aim of providing a systematic overview of knowledge (scientific, local, traditional) through adaptive learning and designing of solutions and strategies.

On the first day an introduction was given through presentations of researchers about ecology, biology, threats and ecological stresses on topics: freshwater ecology, habitats and vegetation, reptiles and amphibians, invertebrates, cultural objects in the Anamajsko field, birds and eels in Bojana river. The workshop participants further jointly identified the main ecosystems of the Bojana basin, namely: sea, coastal area, hinterland, stagnant waters, running waters and high hinterland, on the basis of an already prepared ecosystem classification, and within them the main biodiversity objects.

The second day of the workshop included interactive identification of ecosystem services (such as food, water, photosynthesis, etc.), identification of human well-being that locals receive based on ecosystem services (such as health, economic well-being, cultural values such as sports and recreation, landscape enjoyment and meditation), then the work of researchers on key ecological features of ecosystems and ecological stresses, work of locals on identifying major threats, and finally joint identification of causes and root problems and linking of all relevant elements by causality.

The researchers identified 12 ecological stresses that exist in the ecosystems of the Bojana basin: reduction of biodiversity, habitat fragmentation, disturbance of species composition, population isolation, unstable nutrient influx, reduction in the number of individuals within the population, reduction of physicochemical parameters, erosion, habitat loss, hydrological changes regimes, changes in the composition and structure of communities and floods. An important conclusion of the second day of the workshop was that of the 19 main threats, 5 of them affect all 12 environmental stresses, namely: uncontrolled urbanization (legal and illegal), fires, hydropower plants in the Drim basin, sand exploitation and climate change, and commercial and intensive tourism, as the 6th threat, affects 11 environmental stresses. These results speak of the scale and criticality of the identified threats, in terms of impact on the ecosystem and mentioned environmental stresses, but also on the ecosystem services that people use and depend on, which are intensively disrupted under the influence of identified threats, which disrupt benefits that people have from nature.

While linking the threats to the causes of the threats and key issues, participants provided various examples of threats and their causes. They identified a total of 23 causes and roots problems, some of which are: lack of cross-border cooperation, inadequate planning, lack of knowledge, lack of law enforcement by relevant institutions, lack of penalty policy, lack of political will, and so on. After linking the threats to the causes of problems, a discussion on possible solutions was started. As one of the main solutions locals feel they can bring out in their capacities and have a significant impact is: The power of joint action through individual leadership. This solution, although supported by the participants, was also recognized as challenging to create and maintain in terms of joint action, due to the challenge of forming a team that will work together to solve problems and will have long-term motivation to act. Therefore, individual leadership is of great importance for endurance and keeping the focus of initiatives.

On the third day of the workshop, a field trip was organized to the Long beach, the river Bojana and settlement Donji Štoj, where the participants observed ecosystems, species and habitats identified at the workshop, as well as the existing threats and their effects. The trip was led by the macro invertebrates and freshwater ecosystems expert, to several wetland habitats. An interesting discussion among the participants was initiated several times during the trip. For example, in the hinterland of the Long beach, participants encountered the fragmentation of wetland habitats due to road construction and the drying up of wetlands due to the construction of tourist complexes. An important item that calls into question this development from the aspect of the environment is the existing formal protection of the Long beach, under the category Monument of Nature (600 ha) dating from 1976, but without yet determined boundaries of protected area, without protection studies and a management plan. This documentation would inform and determine the manner of management of these areas and define the zones in which development of intensive tourism is allowed, which can currently be seen in all zones, from the coast to the hinterland of Velika plaža. During the tour of wetland habitats near the river Bojana, the participants of the trip met with intensive construction of temporary housing objects on the right branch of the Bojana, whose pillars adversely affect the hydrological regime of the river, with clearing of roads that create habitat fragmentation, which somewhat diminished the enthusiasm for the biodiversity of the environment. Understanding of the perceived threats and environmental stresses they create was increased among the participants due to the knowledge gained at the workshop, and the visits to these sites were accompanied by a discussion on the impact on ecosystems, species, main causes of threats, etc.

The workshop gave significant results, also from the aspect of capacity building of all participants for ecosystem and participatory approaches of open standards in nature conservation and analysis of key values and risks of the wider Bojana river basin with the help of MARISCO methodology. The results of the workshop will be integrated into the study and database. Acquired motivation, knowledge, connection of participants and common vision are the foundations of further cooperation and implementation of the project in terms of support for effective environmental protection and sustainable development in this area.

Enabling environment for joint bottom up protection and sustainable development planning