Croatia’s parks to benefit from new USD 5.4 million UNDP project

04 Jun 2014

Focus is on improved financial management, enhanced visitor experience and energy efficiency 

Improved management of Croatia’s 19 most important parks will be the result of a new USD 5.4 million project that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched in Zagreb on 4 June 2014. The project, known by the acronym PARCS, will be implemented over four years in partnership with the Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection, thanks to a USD 4.9 million grant from the Global Environment Facility and USD 500,000 in direct funding from UNDP Croatia. The GEF investment has catalyzed another USD 18 million in investment from various government sources.

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

Croatia has 420 different protected areas, which cover 12 percent of the country’s land area and 2 percent of its seacoast. The most important of these, 8 national parks and 11 nature parks, account for 60 percent of Croatia’s total protected areas. These reflect only a tiny sliver of Croatia’s potential as an oasis of biodiversity and natural beauty. Under the Natura 2000 system, the European Union’s network for habitat conservation, 40 percent of Croatia’s total land area and 17 percent of its seacoast are earmarked for protection. This is the highest share for any of the 28 EU member states.

Protected areas are often misunderstood as areas where human activity is completely banned. This is a misconception. “Protected areas are not about keeping people out and nature in,” said UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton. “On the contrary, they are about striking a balance that protects the natural environment in all of its richness while creating a gateway for a large number of people to experience nature firsthand.” In fact, Vinton argued, protected areas could serve as the heart of a “green tourism” option aimed at generating growth and livelihoods for local communities.

Although rich in flora and fauna and spectacular landscapes, Croatia’s parks present a dramatically skewed financial picture. The three best-known national parks – Plitvice Lakes, Krka and the Brijuni Islands – attract the lion’s share of visitors and in 2011 accounted for 82 percent (or USD 55 million) of the total of USD 67 million in revenues collected by all 19 of the major national and nature parks. So while a few parks are financially self-sufficient, most depend heavily on the state budget. In a time of prolonged fiscal crisis, this is bad news for the investments that are crucial to protect the natural environment and also attract visitors in a number that would guarantee self-sufficiency.

Part of the problem is that each Croatian park is a self-contained economic unit, a structure that discourages efficiencies of scale, encourages duplication of functions and promotes overstaffing at the richer parks. The project is thus designed to help make the entire park system self-financing, including by introducing redistribution mechanisms to channel funds from “rich” parks to “poor” ones. It will also introduce a uniform ticketing system, standardization of functions and a shared service center. Park staff will receive specialized financial training. And the project will help cut costs by introducing energy-efficient practices and technologies, such as exchange fuel oil from parks with renewable energy sources, introduction of electric boats and vehicles and increasing energy efficiency in parks's buildings.

"Parks with higher levels of quality content and standards of products and services, parks using new green technology, parks actively involving local people in their work, will be a powerful driving force for rising awareness about the importance of preserving natural beauty, “said Sandra Vlasic, UNDP's Environmental Programme Officer. A short video presented at the press conference illustrated the pride that Croatians feel in their parks, and also their hope for more effective promotion.