Helvetas is working with its local partner Farmahem, the authorities and local communities of North Macedonia to protect and manage the landscape of the Bregalnica River catchment area. This area of mixed forests, fields and pastures is a biodiversity hotspot.
Protecting biodiversity for future generations
It is widely recognized that global biodiversity is under major threat due to a combination of changing land and sea use patterns, direct exploitation, climate change, pollution, and the spread of alien species - all caused by humans. In the more remote areas of Europe, it is changing land use that is having the greatest impact on biodiversity. In North Macedonia, the landscape is made up of a mosaic of small fields lined with dry stone walls and hedges, rough pastures and meadows, meandering streams and ponds, and mixed forests. This results in a very diverse flora and fauna. Yet the depopulation of the area, as young people move away in search of jobs, and the intensification of agriculture by farmers who remain, has meant that the once carefully managed landscape began losing its rich variety of habitats.
Although it is a small country, North Macedonia contains 70 to 90% of all plant species found in the Balkans. The Bregalnica River catchment area is known for its exceptional biodiversity and was thus selected for a nature conservation project. Now in its third phase, the project began with a wide range of studies that recorded the existing species and habitats, leading to an ecological gap analysis and a spatial plan. National level dialogue eventually resulted in one area, that of the Osogovo Mountains, being declared a Protected Area in under the category of Protected Landscape in November 2020. This was a huge achievement.
Declaring an area as protected is just the beginning of a management process. In its third phase, the project will support the development and implementation of a management plan for the Osogovo Mountains, as well as the creation of a second Protected Area in Maleshevo. This requires working with all concerned – women and men who include farmers, foresters, scientists, planners, policy makers in different government agencies and many others. A biosphere can only be preserved if its inhabitants can still derive their livelihood from it. Opportunities in this regard include ecotourism and the commercialisation of products produced in harmony with nature, using minimal qualities of pesticides and fertilizers. Sustainably grown rice and honey from local bees are amongst the wholesome foods from the region that are being promoted.
The Nature Conservation Project (NCP) of North Macedonia is a Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) mandate. In its first phase, it was implemented by Helvetas and our local partner, Farmahem. In the second and third phases, Farmahem is the implementer, whilst Helvetas is providing advice, monitoring and analysis. In this we also work with the School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences of the Bern University of Applied Sciences.
The multiple-awarded film Honeyland was shot with partial support from the Nature Conservation Project. Through the story of one woman honey collector, it shows the importance of sustainable resource management for conserving biodiversity.