Europe and Central Asia
2 Aug 2016

Learn by Doing: Young Volunteers in Macedonia Monitor Bird Migration

Young volunteers learn about bird migration. Photo by the Macedonian Ecological Society.
Young volunteers learn about bird migration. Photo by the Macedonian Ecological Society.
By Ksenija Putilin


Local Macedonian conservation groups received capacity development micro-grants to train students and volunteers to monitor migratory stop-over sites and raise awareness about migratory birds and flyways in the region. Danka Uzunova, from the Macedonian Ecological Society (BirdLife Macedonia), tells us more about how small sums of money can generate big knowledge for conservation.


While working on exploring the flyways in Macedonia, the Macedonian Ecological Society (MES) – BirdLife’s partner in Macedonia – is continually faced with this problem: the distribution and diversity of species depends on the distribution and diversity of people who are interested in them. Locals and volunteers are passionate about nature frequently provide outstanding new observations and insights. MES tries to streamline their efforts and involve them in its ongoing activities. Under the Capacity Development for Flyway Conservation in the Mediterranean Project, MES has been able to implement innovative ways to cooperate with local conservation groups and volunteers, which brought forth outstanding results.

MES has been focusing on better understanding what the volunteers need and how it can help them to fulfill those needs. After many meetings and joint activities with the most active volunteers, MES developed a list of trainings that the volunteers need to become more effective in what they do. The most common needs were field research methodologies and project cycle management. To address these needs MES came up with a micro-grant scheme for MES volunteers, which provided 20 of them with the opportunity to learn by doing while still making an impact locally.

Three €400 micro-grants were awarded to local conservation groups from Skopje, the famous lake Ohrid and Demir Hisar. Two of these grants were made possible by the Capacity Development for Flyway Conservation in the Mediterranean project and one by the Balkan Lynx Recovery Programme.

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According to Danka Uzunova, MES Project Manager for Capacity Development for Flyway Conservation in the Mediterranean, “All three micro-grant recipients implemented their projects successfully and achieved local impact well beyond our expectations. They completed all project cycle phases on time and with good results, which is very encouraging.”



The volunteer group from Skopje consisted of students who are members of the Biology Student Research Society (BSRS). Six of them were teamed-up under the Birds of Skopje project, which explored urban migratory stopover sites and raised awareness for migratory birds. They conducted systematic monitoring of six stopover sites after receiving training from MES staff and finalized their effort by producing reports on the monitoring. They were especially successful in promoting its work via social media and it also inspired the annual bio-photo student competition. 

Birds of Skopje Co-coordinator Bisera Vlahova said: “Our scientific education does not prepare us for some of the practical issues of working on projects and understanding budgets and time-management, so this opportunity to learn by doing with the support for MES has been very welcome.”

Lake Ohrid is one of the most important migratory stopover sites in Macedonia and the eastern Mediterranean flyway. For many years, MES has struggled to establish a good local base for comprehensive conservation efforts. MES was therefore delighted to work with the Ohrid Pioneer Scouts Club, which conducted awareness raising activities in its region, targeting young people. The club gave a presentation on regional migratory birds in ten regional schools. The presentations were supported by video and photo materials, as well as information boards. This local group was especially successful in securing long-term influence by creating the information boards for schools and ensuring that the schools incorporate them in their future teaching plans. 

Nikolce Kostoski, from the Pioneer Scouts Club in Ohrid, said about this program that “Talking to scouts and students about migratory birds rustled many feathers and opened lively debates about the dangers they face during migration. We are especially happy that their teachers are also interested and want to keep using our materials in the future.”

 The Bigla Ilinca Mountaineering Society of Demir Hisar was active in the region of the Ilinska Mountain, which is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA). They organized two-day flyway monitoring training sessions for local volunteers, training them to spot the birds when they travel to Africa. These volunteers will later assist MES in monitoring flyways as part of our regular efforts.

Antonio Pavlovski, from the Bigla Ilinica Mountaineering Society of Demir Hisar, writes:  “We have created a group of young people which are falling in love with birds and they are very eager to learn! With more training, I am certain that they will become the true guardians of migratory birds in their region.”    

By strengthening the local groups, the Macedonian Ecological Society gets a better understanding of the nature in Macedonia, ensuring a safe passage for migratory birds. Local conservation groups are vital in monitoring and standing up for Important Bird Areas, and together with them BirdLife can save these precious sites in Macedonia and beyond.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.