Tapping the potential of Croatia’s biodiversity


PHOTO: NATURE PARK MEDVEDNICA/ UNDP CROATIA

“The future for Croatia’s beautiful nature parks is looking a lot brighter with this new project,” says Tajana Ban Curic, a 37-year-old conservation manager employed in the Medvednica Nature Park. “It’s a huge investment and we’re all hopeful it’s going to transform the way our country manages these precious protected areas.”

Tajana has worked for 10 years at the Medvednica Nature Park, one of some 420 protected areas in Croatia that cover 12% of the nation’s inland territory and 2% of its seacoast. “We’ve been waiting a long time for such a change,” she says, “And now this project is committed to solving the most fundamental problems that face our parks—pulling them together into one integrated system of management. That’s crucial because a lot of the problems stemmed from the way our parks were disconnected from each other, with huge disparities in revenues and access to funding, lots of duplicated tasks and no savings from economies of scale. The way things are now, some of the popular parks have enough money to offer different activities and carry out research while many others struggle just to survive—especially the ones that depend on the state budget. These big differences in income don’t leave the majority of parks with many opportunities for development and investment.”

Resolving the current disparities in the funding and staffing of Croatia’s protected areas is one of the key aims of a major new project launched in Zagreb on 4 June this year.

Over the next four years, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will be implementing the PARCS project in partnership with the Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection to strengthen the management of the country’s 19 most important parks. The project has been made possible due to generous funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), worth USD 4.9 million, as well as USD 500,000 in direct funding from UNDP Croatia. The GEF investment has catalyzed another USD 18 million in investment from various government sources.

“To preserve our most valuable resources and biodiversity for future generations it is essential to invest in the development of protected areas,” says Valentina Futac, UNDP’s Project Manager. “With the PARCS project we have a great opportunity to improve the infrastructure of the parks and make the whole system financially self-sufficient and sustainable, while also improving the skills and development capacities for staff currently employed in the parks. The country’s protected areas are much more than preserves of breathtaking nature—they are vital to all the species that live in them and to the human population. The changes we are implementing will give these areas equal opportunities for development.”

Highlights

  • Crotia has 420 protected areas that cover 12% of the nation’s inland territory and 2% of its seacoast
  • The project has been made possible due to generous funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), worth USD 4.9 million, as well as USD 500,000 in direct funding from UNDP Croatia.

The project has been designed to help the entire national system of protected areas self-sustainable, by introducing redistribution mechanisms to achieve even distribution of resources. It will also introduce a uniform ticketing system and standardization of some joint functions through a shared service centre. Park staff will receive specialized financial and administrative trainings.

“We want to strengthen our 19 national and nature parks and enable them to fulfil their development potential,” said Mihael Zmajlovic, the Minister of Environmental and Nature Protection, speaking at a press conference held to mark World Environmental Protection Day. “To accomplish this goal,” he added, “it is necessary to improve the model of protected areas management and investment in infrastructure. This is exactly what will be done through the PARCS project.”

The PARCS project will further cut costs by piloting energy-efficient technologies in parks, including the introduction of electric boats and the replacement of oil and diesel fuel with energy from renewable sources, as well as by increasing energy efficiency in buildings located in protected areas in order to reduce the high costs of water and energy supply.

To improve visitors’ experiences of the parks, the new ticketing system being introduced in protected areas will serve to prevent the build-up of long queues at the entrances to the parks in peak season.  And as another way of ensuring a better experience for visitors and of increasing the length of time they stay in parks, the project aims to interconnect many of the currently isolated attractions and destinations in protected areas.

Croatia is one of the richest territories in Europe in terms of biodiversity. The country’s wealth of natural resources is crucial not only to the health of the environment but also to human wellbeing. Clean water and healthy food, as well as protection against natural disasters and the impacts of climate change, all depend upon biodiversity. Preserving this biodiversity has thus been a key priority for the country and a major long-term commitment of UNDP in Croatia. The PARCS project will build on the experience of two previous UNDP projects funded by the GEF: one on energy efficiency in public-sector buildings, and the other promoting eco-friendly “green businesses” in Dalmatia.