The Eco Karst project was initiated by the Global Nature Fund, an international foundation that campaigns on behalf of animals, nature, and the environment. Eco Karst is making an important contribution to the sustainable development of the karst bioregions — the mountain ranges called the Dinaric alps, the Alps, and the Carpathians.
The karst regions play a key role in preserving the following economically important benefits of ecosystems: water for drinking and irrigation, forest and agricultural products, tourism, and recreational values. Biodiversity in Europe can also be safeguarded by preserving a gene pool in the karst bioregions. Daimler is helping by supporting the Eco Karst project and the Global Nature Fund with a donation in order to preserve the natural environment in the karst regions for future generations as well.
What is the main goal of Eco Karst?
The Eco Karst project safeguards the natural values of seven protected areas in the karst region of the Danube River Basin through the sustainable use of resources. The partners within the project are seven national and nature park institutions that pursue different goals and address different challenges in the areas of nature conservation and land use. Also participating in the project are various institutions at all levels from the areas of nature conservation, forestry, rural development, and natural resource management. As part of the project, a survey of the regions’ ecosystem services (ES) was made for the first time. These services include useful plants, wood and wood products, farm animals, pollination by insects, water purification, and many more. The medium-term goal is to encourage small and medium enterprises whose operations help to protect biodiversity — called pro-biodiversity businesses (PBBs) — to settle in these areas. Such businesses can benefit from the vast know-how of the partners from the national park organizations and from their validated technical methods and field experience.
How is the Eco Karst project being implemented?
The Dinaric Parks network and other partners focus in particular on the advantages of networks that cross national boundaries. People living in the pilot areas in the Danube region are being sensitized to this theme, and training courses are conducted in order to make it easier to have a dialogue with the stakeholders. Follow-up measures are determined in order to preserve the ecosystem services in the protected karst regions and beyond them. This is how the project is creating the preconditions for a new perspective on economic development in these bioregions. The challenge is to establish the right balance between conservation, protection, and economic development.
How is the project being evaluated?
The project’s mapping and valorization of ecosystem services is unique in Europe, especially in the Danube region and in all of the selected pilot areas. The goal of the Danube Transnational Programme, of which Eco Karst is a part, is to identify local ecosystem services and increase people’s appreciation of them in order to achieve sustainable management. Only if the local people see what valuable services nature is providing to them, and how dependent they are on these services, can they adequately help to protect these services.
These goals are being achieved step by step. Beginning with a SWOT analysis of the natural regions, the local ES (ecosystem services) evaluation will be based on existing methods and well-known networks. The methodology for the socioeconomic evaluation of ecosystem services is based on techniques of economic assessment that determine the economic utility of conservation measures. The methodology for identifying PBBs and economic opportunities in connection with ecosystem services is based on documents such as “Förderung von Zahlungen für Ökosystemleistungen im Donaubecken (DANUBE Watch 3/2010),” the UN Global Platform on Business and Biodiversity, the EU Business and Biodiversity Initiative, and the Austrian project LIFE + EcoBusiness – Nature and Business. Pro-Biodiversity Investment Opportunity Maps (BIO maps) are based on the maps of the estimated ecosystem services in every pilot area.
Discussions of how the ecosystem services can be used are held in workshops with local stakeholders such as associations, companies, local authorities, local residents etc. Existing and potential local entrepreneurs and stakeholders (ministries, chambers of trade and industry, business associations etc.) are inspired by examples of pro-biodiversity businesses (PBBs) and support models that they learn about through local workshops, personal talks, and study trips to PBB companies in Austria.
The following goals are being reached through Eco Karst
Development of a methodology for evaluating and mapping ecosystem services in karst regions.
Promotion of PBB models (Pro Biodiversity Businesses) in order to support local development and help to create a sustainable basis for local people’s livelihoods.
Application of ES (Ecosystem Services) evaluation in pilot areas in order to identify and classify the most important ecosystem services that are specific to each protected area, keeping in mind the values and perceptions of local stakeholders.
Finding compromises between various ecosystem services that contribute to research on how to preserve karst areas that are at risk, while at the same time helping local people to benefit from their existing natural and cultural heritage.
Use of the ES evaluation to develop plans of action and to show how the evaluated ecosystem services can be included in decision-making about the management of protected karst regions.
Development of a shared strategy that takes into account the complexity of the karst macroregion and makes provisions for regional conservation measures for improving biodiversity.
Eco Karst depends on public and private players who conduct a local evaluation of ecosystem services and cooperatively develop plans of action and a strategy to ensure that the natural environment of the Danube region can be preserved over the long term. The result will be better management and a more sustainable development of karst bioregions through an intensified awareness of ecosystem services.