From the Danube basin to the Carpathian Mountains, our region, the Green Heart of Europe
, includes many of the continent’s greatest natural treasures. 2016 was another challenging year for the region as for much of the rest of the world. But there was also a lot of progress. Take a glimpse at some of the highlights from the past year:
In August 2016, WWF-Hungary and WWF-Austria received new wolf footage from camera traps placed at Aggtelek National Park in Northern Hungary and at the Allentsteig military training area in Austria's northeastern province. It was the first documentation of wolves in Austria since 1882.
A total ban on trophy hunting in Romania
A significant step was taken toward conserving wild animals in the Carpathians in 2016. Romania’s Ministry of Environment announced that it will not sign any quotas for hunting large carnivores. The announcement came after 10 years of hunting of bears, wolves, wildcats and lynxes through an ill-advised trophy hunting programme that resulted in killing the most dominant animals instead of the most problematic ones. Over 5,000 people sent a message to the minister and the Romanian Ministry withdrew its draft order to slaughter almost 1,700 wild protected animals. The era of collective quotas and trophy hunting in Romania is over.
Thousands of people worldwide stood up to protect Pirin National Park and World Heritage Site in Bulgaria this year Pirin is threatened to be added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger as a new draft management plan of the park threatens construction on an area that is 12.5-times bigger territory compared to the current area, and could lead to commercial logging on nearly 60 per cent of its territory. The threat persists -- add your voice and send a letter to the Bulgarian Prime Minister in support of Pirin at: https://makeyourmark.panda.org/pirin
A UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Caves of Aggtelek in Hungary and the Slovak Karst, which was threatened by coal mining, was saved thanks to the efforts of WWF-Hungary, local communities and authorities.
A huge step was taken in 2016 toward protection of old-growth forests in Bulgaria, as the Ministry of Agriculture and Food officially designated 109,000 ha of state-owned woodlands as old-growth forests. The valuable forests are located within Natura 2000, the EU's network of protected sites. According to the national guidelines for sustainable management of forests in Natura 2000 sites, 10 per cent of forest habitats should be strictly protected with all human interventions prohibited.
New areas of virgin forest identified for protection in Ukraine and Romania
New evaluations estimated more than 6,000 ha of potential virgin forests and old-growth forests in Ukraine and 30,000 ha of virgin and old-growth forest in Romania. These areas were nominated as an extension of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Property "Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe" with decisions to be taken in 2017. In Slovakia, WWF sought to strengthen protection of 3,000 ha of old growth forests.
Another important step toward biodiversity protection was taken in 2016 as. Bulgaria and Romania extended the full sturgeon fishing ban in the Danube River for another five years. This means that sturgeon fishing in the Danube will be prohibited until at least 2021. Both countries list Russian sturgeon (Acipenser gueldenstaedtii), sterlet (Acipenser ruthenus), stellate sturgeon (Acipenser stellatus) and beluga (Huso huso) species, and ship sturgeon (Acipenser nudiventris) is mentioned only in the Romanian ban as it is considered extinct in Bulgaria.
In 2016, WWF stepped up its efforts to stop illegal logging in the Carpathian Mountains by enlisting local volunteers to monitor and control the forest areas. In Ukraine, there is a large number of violations in the forests due to lack of consistency and poor enforcement of forestry laws. The trained "Forest Watch" volunteers will watch for and report violations to relevant authorities.
With a third bison release in 2016, we are a step closer toward establishing a viable population of bison in the wilderness area of the Southwest Carpathians in Romania. After 3,000 km of travel, ten more European bison from Belgian and German zoos and wildlife centers arrived to the Țarcu Mountains in the southern part of Romania. They joined previous bison brought to the area by WWF and Rewilding Europe in 2014 and 2015. Also, the biggest "holodeck" holographic projection in Europe
was created to present scientific data about bison reintroduction in Romania and inform people about their habitat.
In 2016 a Dalmatian pelican hatched on Persina (Belene) Island in the Danube River in Bulgaria for the first time in 60 years. Until then, the only breeding site of the bird, considered Critically Endangered in Bulgaria and Vulnerable worldwide, was Srebarna Lake, further east on the Danube. The new Dalmatian pelican colony is accompanied by the reappearance also of the great white pelican nesting there.
In 2016, the only bear cub orphanage in Europe was at risk of closing down for lack of funds. WWF-Romania launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to save the orphanage. Every year, dozens of bear cubs remain orphans in the forests of Romania. The Bear Orphanage aims to raise the cubs in a natural way, with a minimum of human intervention, and after 2 years set them free to return to the forest. Over the past 10 years, the orphanage has successfully rescued over 100 bear cubs. Thanks to the generous support of donors from across Europe, it can continue its work. You can support the orphanage here: wwf.ro/orfelinat
Buffalos return to the Danube Delta
In 2016 WWF, in cooperation with local organisations and communities in the Danube Delta, introduced a herd of buffaloes in the Danube Delta. The pilot project aimed to enrich the ecosystems in the area, to provide new economic opportunities for the local communities in the unproductive territories, and to improve the state of the Danube Delta wetlands and lakes as buffaloes can provide many ecosystem services.
We celebrated a quarter century of WWF and nature conservation in Hungary in 2016. Accompanying the celebrations and looking to future activities, WWF conducted a national survey
in which they asked Hungarians about their engagement in nature conservation and climate action.
On 19th March between 20:30 - 21:30pm, the lights were turned off in the Slovak capital, one of hundreds of Earth Hour celebrations that took place across our region as part of the global campaign for our planet's future. Earth Hour
is a chance to put the spotlight on the issues facing the planet, to inspire millions across the world to live more sustainably, and to call for action to protect our brilliant planet. Watch the video:
At the very end of the year, the EU Commission published its conclusions on the 'Fitness Check' evaluation of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives, confirming that they were “fit for purpose” to protect Europe’s nature. This ended almost three years of uncertainty over the laws’ future and prepares the basis for much needed improvements, and came with the support of over half a million people from across Europe who supported the EU legislation -- the largest public participation in an EU consultation ever. WWF strongly welcomes this decision and calls on the Commission to quickly present an Action Plan to better implement and enforce the Nature Directives and tackle the drivers of nature loss in 2017.
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