World Heritage supports millions, but threatened worldwide

Posted on April, 06 2016

Sites in Central and South-Eastern Europe, protected by national and EU laws, are at risk
Gland/ Brussels/ Vienna - Nearly half of all natural World Heritage sites are threatened by harmful industrial activities, according to a new WWF report. These sites provide vital services to people and the environment, but are at risk worldwide from activities including oil and gas exploration, mining, illegal logging, unsustainable transport and tourism infrastructure.
The report, produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, shows how natural World Heritage sites contribute to economic and social development through the protection of the environment, but also details global failures to protect these areas of outstanding universal value.
According to the study, 114 natural and mixed World Heritage sites out of 229 either have oil, gas or mining concessions overlapping them or are under threat from at least one other harmful industrial activity. Five of them are in Central and Southeastern Europe and are protected also by the EU Nature Directives.
“World Heritage sites should receive the highest levels of protection, yet we are often unable to safeguard even this important fraction of the Earth’s surface,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “We all agree that these are some of the most valuable and unique places on the planet, now we need to work together to let these sites provide for the well-being of people and nature.”
More than eleven million people – greater than the population of Hungary – depend on World Heritage sites for food, water, shelter and medicine, and could be negatively affected by the impacts of harmful industrial activities conducted at large-scale.
Within Central and Southeastern Europe – which WWF calls the Green Heart of Europe - at least five World Heritage sites are currently threatened by mines, unsustainable water use, transport and tourism infrastructures or deforestation. “Among the sites are the caves of Aggtelek in Hungary, the old-growth forests of Pirin National Park and the bird sanctuary Srebarna Lake in Bulgaria, the Danube Delta, and the primeval beech forests of the Carpathian Mountains”, said Andreas Beckmann, Director of WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme.

“They are protected also by national and European legislation like the EU Birds and Habitats Directives that need to be fully respected and implemented to stop damaging activities or the further permitting of such initiatives. These unique natural sites belong to all of us and if sustainably and properly managed can deliver enormous benefits to local communities and businesses.”
World Heritage sites could play a key role for these people and communities worldwide in achieving the global sustainable development goals agreed last year by UN member states. According to the report, 90 per cent of natural World Heritage sites provide jobs and benefits that extend far beyond their boundaries.
“We need to wake up to the fact that people don’t just protect these sites, these sites protect people. Governments and businesses need to prioritize long-term value over short-term revenue and respect the status of these incredible places,” said Lambertini. “We need to turn away from harmful industrial activities and focus on sustainable alternatives that enhance World Heritage sites, their values and the benefits they provide.”

Which are the UNESCO World Heritage Sites threatened by harmful industrial activities in Central and Southeastern Europe?

All of them are also protected by the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and are part of the EU Natura 2000 network of protected areas. The current threat is a signal of lack of proper implementation of the existing legislation. WWF is currently campaigning to ensure that the current laws are maintained and effectively implemented against harmful industrial activities, like unsustainable agriculture, energy and transport infrastructures (#NatureAlert, #SavePirin)
- The Caves of Aggtelek in Hungary: the only natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country consists of a variety of unique and concentrated limestone formations. They also provide drinking water for many settlements in the area.
Main threat: plans for a lignite mine.
- Pirin National Park in Bulgaria: the site comprises diverse limestone mountain landscapes with glacial lakes, waterfalls, caves and predominantly coniferous forests. It is part of Natura 2000 network for its unique natural resources such as centuries old pine forests.
Main threat: logging and ski infrastructure built in breach of legislation.
- Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians: represent examples of on-going post-glacial biological and ecological evolution of terrestrial ecosystems.
Main threat: oil/gas concessions.
- The Danube Delta in Romania and Ukraine: the largest and best preserved of Europe's deltas. The Danube Delta hosts over 300 species of birds as well as 45 freshwater fish species in its numerous lakes and marshes. It is the largest Natura 2000 site in Romania.
Main threat: oil/gas concessions and transport infrastructure.
- Srebarna Nature Reserve in Bulgaria: a freshwater lake adjacent to the Danube and extending over 600 ha. It is the breeding ground of almost 100 species of birds, many of which are rare or endangered. Among the most interesting bird species are the Dalmatian pelican, great egret, night heron, purple heron, glossy ibis and white spoonbill. The reserve is also included in two Natura 2000 sites.
Main threat: dams and unsustainable water use.
Pirin National Park in Bulgaria is threatened by the enlargement of Bansko Ski Zone, built in breach of law
© Димитър Граматиков
Dalberg finds that 114 natural World Heritage sites are under threat.
A young two- or three-year-old has been photographed in the wooded hills and mountains of the Aggtelek National Park in Hungary
Great white pelicans are elegant and high-stamina gliders. They are sociable birds, which mate in large colonies and hunt in groups. 70% of all Great white pelicans worldwide live in the summer in the Danube Delta.
© Anton Vorauer WWF
Езерото Сребърна
Srebarna Nature Reserve in Bulgaria is also under threat
© Alexander Ivanov
Some 300,000 hectares of old growth or primeval forest are thought to exist in the Carpathian Mountains.
Some 300,000 hectares of old growth or primeval forest are thought to exist in the Carpathian Mountains.
© Juraj Visoky