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Critically Endangered Species under Concrete?

Proposed alpine ski resort threatens Serbia’s largest IBA…

Stara Planina Nature Park in Serbia is not only the highest mountain in Serbia, but also the last remaining high mountain free of development. For decades, this mountain, which is along the border with Bulgaria, was protected by politics and the Iron Curtain. Nowadays, this Important Bird Area is protected as a Nature Park – but only on paper!

For instance, the Critically Endangered bluish-violet Winged Bellflower Campanula calycialata is one of 160 endemic plants found there. In 1991, a dozen flowers were discovered for the first time at a site that is covered with a concrete viewing deck today. No botanist has found Winged Bellflower for several years and it may well be already Extinct because of the unauthorized development.Ski Resort

Despite the threat of climate change, its location deep in the south of Europe and the fact that only one peak is higher than 2,000 metres, the Serbian Government has decided to build a mega ski resort with hotel beds to accommodate 28,000 guests, 80km of ski lifts, 200km of ski slopes and skiing infrastructure for 40,000 skiers at a same time.

Alpine skiing resorts treat mountains like tropical strangler figs treat their host trees, covering it with their curling roots until their final asphyxiation. 1,700 ha of indigenous vegetation, including large complexes of beech and conifer forests, would have to be cleared for ski lifts and slopes alone, not to mention four planned dams for artificial snow production, new roads, car parks and several tourist villages planned in endangered habitat types such as mountain peat meadows.

This alpine resort would not only threaten rare and endangered species, as well as irrevocably destroying and disturbing sensitive ecosystems, but would also decrease the quality of life of local people.People

“If the plans for the mega ski resort go ahead, the greatest looser will be the nature of the Nature Park, because it cannot move anywhere else,” explains Dragan Simic of the League for Ornithological Action of Serbia http://www.ptica.org “and local rural population because there will not be many jobs for them. Tourism requires skilled workers. Even construction companies will bring experienced workers. Once built, the ski centre becomes a closed system: accommodation, ski lifts, services, shops, entertainment; all leaving locals aside”.

Birds

Among the total of 5000 species recorded at Stara Planina so far, 213 of them are birds. This IBA has greater avian diversity than any other mountain in Serbia. With its 155 breeding species, Stara Planina has almost 30 species more than the richest Serbian national park, the Iron Gates.

Horned Lark (endemic race balcanica) and Alpine Accentor (Balkan race subalpine) both breed on Stara Planina’s mountain tops and only a few other places in Serbia. The forests are the last stronghold of Capercaillie in eastern Serbia. Stara Planina is the single most important stronghold for Eurasian Woodcock in Serbia, as well as the only breeding site for Eurasian Dotterel in the Balkans. A plethora of species protected by both the Bern Convention and the Serbian Decree on the Protection of Natural Rarities includes the globally Endangered Saker Falcon and Near Threatened Corncrake, as well as Black Stork, Golden Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Rock Partridge, Tawny Pipit, etc. Out of the total 213, 141 are protected as Natural Rarities and 92 of those are also SPEC species. The number of Natural Rarities that would be directly affected by the development is 63 – nearly every third bird species in the Nature Park. If the plans for the mega ski resort go ahead, the decrease in numbers and ranges of Stara Planina birds will be at least by 50%, or more in cases of some more sensitive species.Status

Besides being an Important Bird Area, Stara Planina holds the international status of Important Plant Area (IPA - PlantaEuropa, 2005) and Prime Butterfly Area of Europe. Furthermore, it is on the preliminary list of Cross-border Man and Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO), on the Emerald list (sites significant for conserving the European ecological network), on the list of cross-border protected regions placed in the European programme Green Belt (IUCN) and on the list of ProGEO geological heritage sites under The European Association for the Conservation of the Geological Heritage.

Laws and Violations

National and International status of Stara Planina results from ratified international agreements such as Convention on Biological Diversity, Bonn, Bern and Ramsar conventions, and many other agreements. Yet, the State owned Serbia Skiing Enterprise constructed the first ski lift at Stara Planina without a prior Environmental Impact Assessment study, violating Serbian law. The first ski lift was opened in December 2006 at the Babin Zub peak, starting land slides and erosion processes.

On that occasion, six Serbian laws were violated: the Law on Planning and Construction, the Law on Forests, the Law on Surface Waters, the Decree on the Protection of Nature Park Stara Planina, the Law on Protection of Environment and the Decree on Protection of Natural Rarities. Action

In response, 60 environmental NGOs, including League for Ornithological Action of Serbia and Bird Study and Protection Society of Vojvodina among them, have joined forces to form the Association for Preservation and Sustainable Development of Stara Planina http://www.savestaraplanina.info By the end of 2007, APSD has held two well attended public debates in southern towns of Pirot and Nis, and has plans for the next meeting in the capital Belgrade. Strong public support of the campaign is of utmost importance and thus the online petition is accessible through this link: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/save-staraplanina-petition .In January 2008, letters were sent to the President, Mr. Boris Tadic; the Prime Minister, Mr. Vojislav Kostunica; the Deputy PM, Mr. Bozidar Djelic and the Minister of Environmental Protection, Mr. Sasa Dragin, requesting that laws must be respected and further works stopped until the proper Environmental Impact Assessment is made. Only after the EIA is produced, various development options may be considered, having the wellbeing of both local people and environment in mind.

In addition, APSD has submitted more than 50 objections to the proposed Spatial Plan and Environmental Impact Assessment. The proposed Spatial Plan would allow fragmentation and clear felling of 1700 ha of forests as well as tourist village at endangered habitat types (peat meadow Jabucko Ravniste); all of it against the existing Decree on the Protection of Nature Park Stara Planina which forbids tree felling near upper forest limit, as well as harming the basic natural values of the Park. Out of 120 pages of the proposed Environmental Impact Assessment, only half a page is devoted to biodiversity richness of 5000 recorded species. Public debate on both documents is expected in early February 2008.

Finally, APSD has sent the court appeal to the Constitutional Court questioning Constitution violations at Stara Planina. Biodiversity at Stake

The Serbian part of Stara Planina has at least 1742 growing plant species (including 41 indigenous orchids), of which 160 (9.2%) are locally or regionally endemic. Endemics are the most threatened category and also the most important floristic element of the biodiversity. Legislation: 40 Natural Rarities, two species listed in the Bern Convention. Only Lilium jankae is protected by both of them.

Mammal checklist of Stara Planina is 60 species long and includes the largest carnivore of Europe, Brown Bear. Legislation: 19 Natural Rarities, 18 species listed in the Bern Convention. Lynx and Otter, as well as the Snow Vole, a rare living fossil of Tertiary origin, are among the species protected by both. There are 136 species of butterflies, twice as many as in the whole of Britain. Legislation: four Natural Rarities, three species listed in the Bern Convention. Only Clouded Apollo and Mountain Apollo are protected by both. Furthermore, there are 26 species of fishes (one Natural Rarity, six listed in the Bern Convention) and 18 species of amphibians and reptiles (eight Natural Rarities, 10 listed in the Bern Convention).

Beside the living species, there is also one very important dinosaurian track fossil site from lower Triassic, one of the oldest dinosaur sites in the World. Intensive research is necessary but, if the ski resort goes on, this site will also be affected and possibly destroyed.Vision of Sustainable Development

Dragan Simic continues “If the aim of tourism development at Stara Planina is to increase the quality of life of local people, the project should focus on a longer summer season, with lower costs and risks. Regional tourism studies show that the main profit in the Alps is made in summer when number of tourists reaches its annual peak. Therefore, the purpose of ski lifts is to prolong the season into winter, when accommodation capacities would otherwise remain empty.

The Association for Preservation and Sustainable Development of Stara Planina proposes a different approach to tourism development, mainly eco and rural tourism activities that would directly benefit the local people. Thus, the offer of summer activities should be well developed and diverse, while skiing infrastructure should not harm both ecological and visual experience of the landscape,”
concludes Simic.

(Source: Association for Preservation and Sustainable Development of Stara Planina)

4th July 2014