PONT provides much of the financing for Society for the Protection of Prespa’s (SPP) 5-year strategic framework (2018-2022), supporting its core financial and administration operations as well as co-funding its projects and activities, highlights of which for 2019 are mentioned below.
Active wetland management – vegetation and streams
Now in its third year, the LIFE Prespa Waterbirds project, co-funded by the EU, Stavros Niarchos Foundation and PONT, saw large-scale interventions in the wetlands of Prespa in 2019. From summer to late autumn, 83 ha of lakeside vegetation were managed by the project, in collaboration with the Management Body for the Prespa National Park (MBPNP) and local stockbreeders, creating vital open areas that may flood in spring and create places for waterbirds to feed and fish to reproduce in spring and summer. In addition, extensive firebreaks were cut in the reedbeds in nine different places, in order to protect vulnerable bird colonies from wildfires. In 2019 there was increased interest from local stockbreeders, who independently managed around 40% of the work of cutting littoral vegetation, with some 240 tons of biomass removed from the wetlands and used mainly for cattle fodder, as well as experimentally as soil conditioner in three selected bean fields. In addition, the SPP implemented river restoration works in the Mikrolimni stream, and vegetation management in both the Mikrolimni and Lefkona streams, as part of a programme of actions aiming to ensure passage upstream for breeding fish and further expand feeding grounds for waterbirds.
Biodiversity monitoring and scientific work
The LIFE Prespa Waterbirds project, as its name implies, aims to contribute to the conservation of nine rare waterbird species. These species are monitored every year, along with the habitats being managed, in order to understand the effects of the management being carried out. Monitoring is vitally important for conservation work, both as a means of learning about the potential problems that different species face, as well as to measure the effectiveness of any interventions that may be necessary, and PONT’s core funding enables this crucial core work to be implemented consistently year on year. The SPP also publishes much of this scientific data, either as articles in peer-reviewed journals or as presentations at specialised conferences, both nationally and abroad; last year the society published 6 articles, while 5 presentations were made at conferences in Greece and the USA.
Collaborations for pelicans and other waterbirds
Collaboration is essential to the SPP’s activities, across the full range of its work, but particularly for a species such as the Dalmatian pelican, which ranges well beyond Prespa. For this reason, the SPP exchanges knowledge through an expert network of scientists working on these species and also supports management bodies in areas of Greece where pelicans are found, as well as collaborating closely with the MBPNP for the protection of this and many other species. Likewise, the SPP also shares its ornithological experience at a transboundary level in the Prespa basin, supporting fellow PONT grantees Galičica National Park and the Macedonian Ecological Society (MES) to monitor waterbirds on Golem Grad island and across Great Prespa Lake.
Together for water and river management in Prespa and beyond
Transboundary collaboration is also evident in the SPP’s work for water, recognising the need to reach beyond the national sphere in order protect such a valuable shared resource. In this framework, the second workshop for scientists who monitor the basin’s lake water quality was held at the Stenje monitoring station last autumn, strengthening interaction and co-operation in this crucial field. The meeting saw water monitoring demonstrations in the field and good progress in the work for the harmonisation of water quality monitoring systems. The scientists regularly communicate and interact through an e-forum set up and facilitated by the SPP, reinforcing this important collaboration. Further afield, the SPP added its voice to many others in order to participate in the ultimately successful fitness check of the EU’s water related directives, particularly the Water Framework Directive, the principle EU-wide directive for Europe’s waters, which provides protection for water bodies like Prespa and a firm footing for cross-border collaboration. Moreover, the SPP also participates in the implementation of the MAVA Foundation Outcome Action Plan for freshwater, which aims to contribute to integrated management of river basins and reverse the significant threats that freshwater ecosystems face. Lastly, and closer to home, the SPP advanced its technical and policy toolbox on river functions and management, so as to better address threats to these delicate ecosystems and protect them.
Prespa Park Agreement enters into force
2019 saw a landmark moment for conservation in transboundary conservation in Prespa, with the entry into force of the Prespa Park agreement, just under a year before the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the park, the first cross-border protected area in the Balkans. This was a significant milestone on the path of transboundary collaboration in the basin and a cause for celebration for all the stakeholders in the three countries, and beyond, who have been committed to this joint endeavour for conservation and sustainable development. The SPP has worked steadfastly towards this goal for over two decades, and will continue to support this hugely important platform for cross-border dialogue and joint actions in the years to come; essential and long-term policy work that is made possible by many years of consistent support from the MAVA Foundation, and now PONT. The SPP is closely collaborating with the MBPNP in order to establish the organs of the park and prepare for their first meetings. This co-operation is just a small part of the extensive work the SPP carries out with the management body, providing technical support to the mandated manager of the national park, whilst also offering further advice and sharing knowledge through the society’s participation in the MBPNP board.
Transboundary co-operation with PrespaNet
The SPP collaborates with MES and PPNEA too, its PrespaNet partners in the environmental NGO network established seven years ago to co-operate for transboundary conservation. PONT is supporting a 3-year PrespaNet project that has enabled MES and PPNEA to open local offices in Prespa, firmly underpinning the network’s efforts. The partners have also been carrying out mapping of Natura 2000 shoreline habitat-types in the basin, focussing on the Albanian side in 2019, with the SPP sharing expertise gained from this work in Greece. The work will be completed this year with a synthesis report on wetland habitats on all three sides by the SPP. In the same project the partners have also been carrying out a series of studies on large mammals in the basin, hoping to learn more about these animals and their ecology in Prespa. The SPP has been implementing these studies on the Greek side with a team of young local volunteers and the MBPNP wardens, who are helping to check trap-cameras for images of large mammals, as well as collecting scat samples for a study on the diet of brown bears.
PoliPrespa working with the local community
The local community is also closely involved in the SPP’s PoliPrespa project, funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and PONT. Amongst other activities this year the project has supported educational school trips, sports clubs and events, put on local festivals, bought sporting equipment and musical instruments and re-stocked the library shelves. Moreover, PoliPrespa has brought architecture students to Prespa to prepare plans for restoring old houses, promoted Prespa tourism at Athens airport with the Fly Me to the Moon programme, and held a seminar for farmers on new challenges and prospects for creating added value to their products. This social-capital-building project brings together all the stakeholders in Greek Prespa to jointly work on a range of social, environmental and cultural activities, and has also established a Local Action Group in order to manage the collaboration and provide a platform for dialogue and consultation, following in the footsteps of other innovative participatory governance initiatives from the SPP, such as the Wetland Management Committee, now in its 12th year of operation.
Young Prespa in action
Young people are the focus of other aspects of the SPP’s work too, in addition to the PoliPrespa activities above. The LIFE Prespa Waterbirds project hosts the Presplorers club for teens and the regular meetings bring the kids out and about to explore the work of the project, the amazing wetlands of Lesser Prespa and the vulnerable waterbirds at their heart. Meanwhile, PrespaNet have been teaching children throughout the basin about the values and ecology of wild plants, in a programme developed by the SPP and highlighting the incredible floristic diversity of the region. A trilateral summer camp for students of the life sciences brought young people from all three sides of the basin together in Pelister National Park for an intensive course in fieldwork, offering valuable, hard-to-get experience of this important facet of conservation work. Likewise, the PoliPrespa project played host to the innovative Thess-Pres cultural journey for youngsters from Prespa and Thessaloniki, using the train line between the two as a starting point to foster exchange and dialogue.
Making connections, sharing ideas
A common theme in the SPP’s work is that of forging links and encouraging the sharing of different perspectives, whether in conservation partnerships or work with local communities, and whether in activities for children and young people or collaboration with a wide range of organisations, public bodies and institutions. Initiatives like Presplorers bring youngsters together, proving a fertile ground for creativity from nature, which a terrific exhibition of the club’s photographs demonstrated in the summer. The SPP has shared these experiences in its communications and outreach work, in a wide variety of formats from the reusable canvas Prespa bag, to highlight the damage caused to wetlands and rivers by rubbish and single-use plastics, to the PrespaNet social media video promoting the hidden world of Prespa’s extraordinary large mammals and the great efforts of our volunteer team to help uncover their secrets.
PONT would like to congratulate the SPP for the successes achieved in 2019 and is looking forward to seeing what exciting developments 2020 will bring.