23 Oct 2019

A big boost for grassroots conservation in the Balkans

A newly announced partnership and additional funding will empower local, grassroots organisations to achieve conservation success where it is needed most in the Balkans

Grantees recording endemic plants on Orjen Mountain © Borut Rubinic
Grantees recording endemic plants on Orjen Mountain © Borut Rubinic
By Liz Smith

The Balkans are bursting with some of Europe’s last remaining pockets of rare and unique biodiversity. Many of the remaining species are in out-of-reach and unstudied areas, such as on mountain tops or in underground caves. Others are desperately holding on to their habitats in a quickly changing world, like those in wetland lagoons or coastal areas. All of them are under pressure from a myriad of threats, from climate change to poor urban planning, but to really address these issues we need to understand how each species interacts with its environment, and it’s the people who live and work in these areas who hold the answers. As well as truly understanding the area’s biodiversity, local people possess the neighbourhood know-how such as issues the community is facing and how to manage a project in terms of who to work with, how to gain their support and how to ensure the work is sustained in the long-term.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) has been investing in civil society in the Balkans since 2012, as part of the wider Mediterranean Basin Hotspot programme. Over US $5million has been granted so far for conservation projects in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia*, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Just recently, the fund has been boosted by a $400,000 contribution from the MAVA Foundation to the small grant programme in the Balkans, which will be used to extend CEPF’s reach and further empower the smaller grassroots organizations. CEPF funding will continue to be distributed through Calls for Proposals and within CEPF’s investment strategy for the hotspot.

And that’s not the only fresh development. As part of this extended and focused function, BirdLife International, in its role of Regional Implementation Team for the Mediterranean Hotspot, has gained a new partner: the Bird Protection and Study Society of Serbia (BPSSS/BirdLifeSerbia). BPSSS have created a new position of Small Grant Coordinator for the Balkans, and Milica Mišković is eager about the potential impact she can achieve in this role.

“Complex in physical and social geography, and rich in biodiversity, the Balkan region is a challenge! But what I find unique and exciting about CEPF work is the opportunity for a bottom-up approach, tailored support, reaching out to smaller grassroots organizations, and providing help where it is needed the most, and where the work makes the biggest and most direct impact.” Milica Mišković, Small Grant Coordinator for the Balkans

This year marks the 30th anniversary of BPSSS, making it one of the oldest nature-oriented civil society organisations (CSOs) in Serbia. The protection of birds locally and regionally is the main aspect of BPSSS’s work, as well as strengthening national CSO networks, and developing new cooperation opportunities with the governmental and private sectors. BPSSS also has ongoing and previous collaborations on many regional programs, networks and projects, such as PannonEagle LIFE for the Carpathian basin, and the Adriatic Flyway programme, Balkan Green Belt, Wings across the Balkans, Champions of the Flyway, BioNET and the Balkan Anti-Poisoning Project. BPSSS joins DOPPS (BirdLife Slovenia) to oversee the CEPF investment in the Balkans. The Programme Officers for North Africa and the Middle East also continue to act as the stewards of their regions, through LPO (BirdLife France) and the Jordan BirdLife office. A new Small Grants Manager, Salwa Elhalwani, also joins the team to provide additional support to the whole Mediterranean hotspot.  

With this additional funding from MAVA and a strengthened team, BirdLife aims to grant more projects in the Balkans and to reach out in local languages to smaller grassroots organizations and the many other key stakeholders in each country. Supporting civil society is our core function, with the people on the ground making the difference - their skill, dedication and expertise behind each project is the real driver of change.

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Milica Mišković, Small Grant Coordinator & Borut Rubinič, Programme Officer for the Balkans             © Liz Smith

*Croatia: CEPF funded one project in Croatia before its ascension to the EU in 2013.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) is a joint initiative of l’Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. Additional small grant funding to the Balkans sub-region has been provided by the MAVA Foundation.

CEPF is more than just a funding provider
A dedicated Regional Implementation Team (RIT) (expert officers on the ground) guide funding to the most important areas and to even the smallest of organisations; building civil society capacities, improving conservation outcomes, strengthening networks and sharing best practices. In the Mediterranean Basin Biodiversity Hotspot, the RIT is entrusted to BirdLife International and its Partners LPO (BirdLife France), DOPPS (BirdLife Slovenia) and BPSSS (BirdLife Serbia).