The project “Strengthening NGO-led Collaboration to the Transboundary Prespa Basin” was implemented between 2018 and 2021 by the partners of the PrespaNet network (SPP, Macedonian Ecological Society – MES, Protection and Preservation of the Natural Environment of Albania – PPNEA) with the funding of the Prespa-Ohrid Nature Trust (PONT) and the Aage V. Jensen Charity Foundation and support by EuroNatur.
Against of background of long-term efforts to foster transboundary collaboration in the basin, the PrespaNet NGO network was established in 2013. The network aims to strengthen transboundary co-operation between NGOs, as well as with protected area management authorities, acknowledging the fundamental principle that such co-operation is essential for the success of conservation efforts, reflecting the integrity of the catchment basin, its eco-hydrological functions and management needs. The network partners recognised that in order to achieve these aims the local NGO presence should be strengthened in order to better facilitate collaboration, engagement and the active participation of stakeholders in conservation issues, as well as establishing closer contact with civil society in the other two countries of the basin, as PPNEA and MES are national organisations, though they have worked in Prespa for many years.
The project aimed to establish the network partners in the region with local offices in Albania and North Macedonia, strengthen the network’s collaboration through concrete conservation activities in the region, building their respective capacities through sharing knowledge and expertise, deepen stakeholder engagement through volunteer activities, also bolstering the connection of the region’s young people from all three countries with each other and with conservation, and lastly to build a paradigm for integrated cross-border co-operation on biodiversity protection.
The project had three main pillars of action: Pillar 1: The partners carried out NATURA 2000 habitat-type mapping of shoreline wetlands around the lakes basin, and developed recommendations for the management of important habitats in a synthesis report. In addition, a variety of communications activities promoted the project, disseminating the knowledge gained under its activities while education programmes sought to educate junior-school age children on the environmental values of the basin. In Pillar 2: MES carried out a 3-year ‘People, plants and Prespa’ programme, aiming to build support for plant conservation, protect specific species and develop a volunteer community on their side of the basin. In addition, the partners held a summer school in each country to attract young people to Prespa and exchange ideas with young local residents. In 2018, PPNEA hosted a summer school on environmental education and interpretation, while in 2019 MES held a summer research field camp in Pelister National Park. In 2020, hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the SPP carried out a virtual summer school on wetland and water management and monitoring, in partnership with its LIFE Prespa Waterbirds project.
In Pillar 3 the project included actions to monitor the populations and movement of large mammals, but also species-specific studies, such as the study of the genetic analysis and diet of the brown bear, as well as an assessment of the damage caused by the wild boar to livestock and agriculture in Greece. The purpose of these activities was to propose and implement pilot measures aiming to reduce conflict between humans and wildlife. The monitoring actions also provided important information on the ecology of the large mammals, and shed light on the mysterious presence of the Balkan lynx in the region.