Europe and Central Asia
18 Jun 2020

Save the Mountains: the uphill battle to protect Šar and Osogovo

By Jeremy Herry

Have you ever caught a glimpse of a chamois dashing through the snowy mugo pine trees of the Šar mountains? Have you tasted the wild strawberries that grow in the foothills of the Osogovo range? Šar and Osogovo, two mesmerizing, transboundary mountain ranges in the Balkans, are bursting with biodiversity. Unfortunately, they’re under threat: land-use change, illegal logging and poaching are draining the life out of these beautiful places.

Hope exists, however: in a historic move, the North Macedonian government designated the Šar mountains as a national park, and proclaimed part of the Osogovo mountains a protected landscape.

There’s a still a long way to go until these places are fully protected from harm, but it’s definitely a great step in the right direction. Making the mountains protected areas should help reduce illegal logging and poaching, and establish management for land-use in a way to enable real biodiversity conservation and protection of natural ecosystems.

Our partner in North Macedonia, the Macedonian Ecological Society (MES), has been fighting an uphill battle to protect mountain life for over two decades. They initiated trilateral meetings between environmental ministers from Kosovo, North Macedonia and Albania. MES also helped launch the “Friends of Šar” platform, run by local grassroots organisations. On top of that, they led scientific studies, organised debates, and co-created a 30-year vision for the region with the local population.

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Saving the mountains opens up a whole new world of opportunities for the economic development of local communities. Locally grown food, such as blueberries and mushrooms, will obtain a new protected branding status. And from the gates of Prizren to the Polog valley, the breath-taking landscape naturally lends itself to ecological tourism.

Moreover, protecting nature is the will of the people: 83% of the local population in the foothills of Šar want a protected area.

Keeping these mountains safe from harm protects North Macedonia’s natural heritage. However, Šar and Osogovo are more than national issues. They will form one of Europe’s biggest transboundary protected areas, reminding us that biodiversity knows no borders. To truly protect nature, partnerships are the way to go!

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.