Relevance of biodiversity in the Western Balkans

Factsheet


Biodiversity is nature in all its forms. It includes forests, grasslands, water (rivers, streams, lakes) as well as plants and animals. It encompasses the mushrooms and herbs that are collected in the forests and grasslands, the fish in the lakes and rivers, the bears in the mountains, the bats in the forests and the butterflies in the meadows. It includes the animals we rear for food and the crops we cultivate in our fields. We are also part of biodiversity and together we form the fabric of life.

As you might have already concluded from the above explanation, biodiversity is more than just the nature that surrounds us. Biodiversity is everything and we are dependent on it for our very existence. Biodiversity is our livelihood. Humanity is fully dependent on the goods and services that are provided by nature, and the loss of biodiversity, through our own failure to take proper care of it, will result in a loss of the precious ecosystem services we need.

Biodiversity matters to us because:

  • it increases human health and well-being by providing healthy food, clean air and water and decreasing the negative effects caused by industries;
  • it provides a source for cultural and spiritual development, local (and national) pride and heritage, and local customs and traditions;
  • it improves the economy by providing local products, tourism opportunities and cultural activities.

Biodiversity and Western Balkan countries

The Western Balkans region harbours an exceptional wealth of plants and animals, with a great number of species that are found nowhere else, especially in the remote mountain areas. Many of these species are therefore of either global or European conservation importance. The vast majority of the area is covered by the Dinaric mountain range with Mt. Korabi in Albania the highest peak at 2,764 m. A small part of the area in the northeast belongs to the Carpathian mountain range and in the southeast to the Rhodope Mountains. Lowlands are to be found only in the far north of the area in the Danube, Sava, Tisa and Morava river valleys in the territories of Serbia and Bosnia, and close to the Adriatic coast in Herzegovina, Montenegro and Albania. The Western Balkans region belongs to the water catchment basins of three seas – the Adriatic, Black and Aegean. Other important features of the area are the three big lakes shared by neighbouring countries:

  • Ohrid Lake (Albania and Macedonia)
  • Prespa Lake (Albania, Greece and Macedonia)
  • Shkodra Lake (Albania and Montenegro).

The Western Balkans region is characterized by many borders that cut across ecosystems and areas of high natural value, usually dividing the area along natural barriers. Nowadays these natural barriers provide new opportunities for international cooperation for the protection of shared natural areas.

Biodiversity is under serious threat in the Western Balkans region, particularly in farmland, mountain regions and coastal zones. The loss of biodiversity occurs primarily because of land-use changes, urban sprawl, infrastructure development, acidification, eutrophication, desertification, overexploitation, the intensification or abandonment of agriculture, and climate change. Coastal zones, rivers and wetlands face the most threats in the short term; in the long term, mountain meadow ecosystems are also vulnerable. The root causes of these threats are: changes in economic activities, socio-political factors, failure of conventional economics to recognize economic values of natural capital and of ecosystem services. Biodiversity is an important asset that the region is bringing to the EU, but it is threatened by the rapid economic development and societal changes of the last decade.

Conservation of biodiversity

Although large-scale international programmes and campaigns raise global awareness and provide a case for the protection of biodiversity among the public, it has been agreed that biodiversity conservation goals can most effectively be achieved through action at the local level.