26 Aug 2020

New wave of plant conservationists supported in the Balkans

The Prespa region contains several understudied endemic plant species. New funding is enabling the next generation of young plant conservationists to assess the Red List status of these species using innovative conservation technology and techniques.

Plant surveying by Prespa Lake © Dejan Dimidzieski
Plant surveying by Prespa Lake © Dejan Dimidzieski
By Oliver Avramoski, PONT

PONT and CEPF awarded two complementary grants to the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Art (MASA) and ILIRIA – Protection and the Social & Environmental Development Association concerning the conservation of endemic plants restricted to the Galicica/Mali i Thatë mountain, spanning the borders of Galicica National Park, in North Macedonia, and Prespa National Park in Albania.

Both grants implement actions designed to foster a new generation of young professionals in plant conservation by helping university students and protected area staff to develop skills to identify plants, carry out surveys and other practical field work and implement in situ and ex situ protection actions.

The MASA team developed guidelines for application of the IUCN Red List Criteria at regional and national levels, that also included a chapter on the taxonomy, biology and ecology of six endemic species that will be assessed with the grant: Centaurea galicicae, Dianthus galicicae, Edraianthus horvatii, Festuca galicicae, Laserpitium ochridanum and Sempervivum galicicum. The methods and procedure for collecting field data for the Red List assessment were demonstrated to a group of young professionals during field trips in the park carried out between 20-29 July. The trainees included seven undergraduate and two graduate students at the Institute of Biology of the St. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, three Bachelor of Science Biology students from the Prespa – Ohrid region, and four staff of Galicica National Park. The training took place in several locations in Galicica National Park and involved identification of the endemic species of concern, estimation of the number of mature individuals, the extent of occurrence, area of occupancy, subpopulations, locations, and the threats these species are facing.

At the same time, the team of experts of ILIRIA conducted three field investigations in Prespa National Park in Albania to collect new data concerning the occurrence of several endemic species:  Centaurea galicicae, Centaurea soskae, Centaurea shumkana, Dianthus galicicae, Edraianthus horvatii, Laserpitium ochridanum, Sempervivum galicicum, Chamaecytisus pseudojankae and Oxytropis dinarica subsp. weberi. A PhD student at the University of Tirana and two master students at the Fan S. Noli University of Korca also participated in research on these species in pursuit of their doctoral and master degrees. In addition, two park staff joined the team in the field improving their skills in identifying the endemic species concerned and the threats they are facing, such as overgrazing and wildfires. The experts deployed a drone to locate and count individuals of Centaurea soskae and Centaurea galicicae growing at the steep cliffs along the shores of Lake Prespa. This was the first time the experts had used this new technology to collect high-resolution spatial data, acquiring new technical skills in plant conservation. 

The work will continue through December 2021, with MASA and ILIRIA involving the young professionals and park staff through all stages of the IUCN Red List assessments at both national and regional levels.


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PONT is a foundation established under German Law, supporting Protected Areas and Environmental Actors in the Wider Prespa Area in North Macedonia, Greece and Albania, with the mission to “provide long term financing for the conservation and sustainable management of biological diversity, natural processes and ecosystem services in Prespa and its wider area for the benefit of nature and people in the region”. For more information about PONT, its mission, approach and programme please visit: www.pont.org.

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, for more information please visit: www.cepf.net.

Additional funding to the CEPF small grant programme in the Balkans is provided by the MAVA Foundation, which will be used to extend CEPF’s reach and further empower the smaller grassroots organizations.


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).