The "Land of Eagles and Castles"

Follow CEPF Med:



Home News | The Hotspot | Best Practices Video | Resources | The Team

Discover Albania © zbulo

How to engage local communities in a vision of nature-based tourism

Albania: a magnificent landscape rich in wildlife and ancient historical monuments. Yet, in a land not so rich economically, the Albanian coast is fast facing many threats from unregulated tourism development. Much of Albania has a lack of waste disposal infrastructure and there is limited understanding amongst the people of other nature-related issues including conservation, organic agriculture and sustainable tourism. There are funds for environmental work, but they are hard to access locally by grass roots organisations and their effects not often felt by local people.

PPNEA and BSPB have a vision for the sustainable development of this landscape, based around three Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs): imagine a coastline where people and nature live in harmony, where there is no litter, and local creative NGOs and communities protect nature because they value it and it brings them direct benefits from nature-based “eco” tourism. Welcome to the future ecotourism hotspot on the Adriatic coast: “Land of Eagles and Castles”.

How? An injection of environmentalism using micro-grants.

“Local communities are the ones with the strongest ties to the environments in which they live, and success or fail in conservation often depends to a large extent on them.”Mirjan Topi

Vjosë-Nartë Protected Landscape signage, Albania © Borut Rubinič / CEPF Med



Where: Adriatic coastline, Albania

Key habitat: Three coastal Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs): 1. Vjosë-Nartë; 2. Vlora Bay, Karaburun & Çika Mountain; 3. Butrinti & surrounding area

Project partners: Association for the Protection and Preservation of Natural Environment in Albania (PPNEA) & Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB, BirdLife in Bulgaria)


Community-driven nature-based tourism


A “micro-grants” scheme starts a chain reaction for the environment through community “micro-projects”





Created at local school, involving “Recycling Day” when children bring in waste from their homes and sell it to a recycling company – revenues reinvested in outdoor educational trips, books, etc.


An eco-business employs 10 local women selling traditional food products to tourists at KBA. Stall space very competitive.


Ten existing local homes transformed into tourist guesthouses near the entrances to KBAs.



Site monitoring, socio-economic research, questionnaires, data analysis, bird identification.


All three KBAs equipped with information boards, marked trails, birdwatching towers, and one new tourism office.


First ever complete field guide for Albania’s 351 bird species created.


Local “one man NGO” guide is set to bring birdwatchers to an inaccessible island, instead of hunting/fishing.




local NGOs granted to implement their own ideas (10% of project budget), and also help distribute further calls for proposals for micro-grants in the community.


people receive ‘fellowships’ for on-the-job conservation training.


hundreds of local people involved in different activities over three years.




Overall benefits

›  A kick-start of sustainable development of the area by showing people the value of alternative livelihoods, with the creation of new nature-friendly sustainable jobs.

›  Brand new in-depth socio-economic research on birds has been carried out by community members.

›  Local NGOs strengthened with funds that previously they could not access due to language constraints and lack of experience.

›  Young people engaged who can continue to contribute in the future.

›  By using micro-grants to catalyse change, the overall reach of the project is far greater, and more cost-effective, than it would be if PPNEA and BSPB had tried an environmental awareness campaign themselves.

›  Local NGOs help reach deep into the heart of communities, especially to people who would never see micro-grants advertised on a website.

›  Micro-grants given directly to community members creates a sense of involvement, ownership and genuine responsibility to guarantee the completion of “their” work.

›  Local NGOs work better in their communities than larger NGOs, because they know the right people and have the connections.

›  Environment in much better condition – better for wildlife and for attracting ecotourists.




"Nature-based tourism is bringing revenue to the local communities, who are proud and aware of their local natural heritage, and are changing their attitudes and behavior towards conserving the environment.”

Mirjan Topi, PPNEA




Mirjan Topi |




Sign up to the CEPF Med quarterly newsletter



The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement (AFD), Conservation International (CI), the European Union, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. Additional support in the Mediterranean Basin is provided by the MAVA Foundation. More information on CEPF can be found at

A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.



CEPF is more than just a funding provider

A dedicated Regional Implementation Team (RIT) (expert officers on the ground) guides funding to the most important areas and to even the smallest of organisations, helps build civil society in the region, and shares learned lessons and best practices. In the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot, the RIT is entrusted to BirdLife International, including its Middle East office and the BirdLife Partners DOPPS/BirdLife Slovenia and LPO/BirdLife France.