Birdwatching on a fairy lake | WeBalkans | EU Projects in the Western Balkans

Birdwatching on a fairy lake

An EU-funded project promotes birdwatching for tourists as part of a cross-border cooperation project.

Legend has it that Skadar Lake was created from the tears shed by a Montenegrin fairy, whose wish for her eyes to be turned from blue to black was refused by God, who instead blinded her. The fairy cried so much that her tears created a lake. Astonished by its beauty, God restored her sight. Indeed, those who have been there would agree that the Skadar Lake is one of the most beautiful natural locations in the Western Balkans and a natural playground for lovers of outdoor adventures, with 400 square kilometres of spectacular national park to explore. However, this fairyland still does not receive the attention it deserves, either from local or international tourists. At least this is what people at the Montenegrin NGO CZIP believe.

CZIP stands for Centar za Zaštitu i proučavanje Ptica (“Centre for Protection and Research of Birds”) and the organisation has been working for over 20 years on the protection of birds and the environment, and the promotion of natural and cultural heritage in Montenegro. Last year, with partner organisations from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, they launched the “Pannonia-Adria Connection” or PA.CON project with EU funding to promote tourism at sites in all three countries: Nijemci in Croatia, Tuzla in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Skadar Lake in Montenegro.

“Currently most of the visitors to Skadar Lake are attracted to what we call mass tourism: coming to the lake, having coffee or lunch, a bit of sightseeing, and then leaving. We wanted to change this habit for the better.”

Zoran Popović, project coordinator, CZIP

Increasing tourism perspectives

Zoran Popović from CZIP is one of the coordinators of this project and he explains that the idea behind the project is the better use of the resources in all three countries for tourism promotion. “Currently most of the visitors of Skadar lake are attracted to what we call mass tourism: coming to the lake, having coffee or lunch, a bit of sightseeing, and then leaving. We wanted to change this habit for the better,” says Zoran.

Zoran says that they wanted to turn the lake into a destination where tourists stayed longer, but for this to happen, the tourists needed more attractions and opportunities. This led to discovery activities such as birdwatching, hiking, cycling, boat trips and other elements of eco and adventure tourism.

The PA.CON project works on developing birdwatching sites in all three countries – a tourist information house at Sopotac, a playground and bird-watching towers in Croatia, renovation of the nature park house at Ilinčica and installation of LED lights along the road as well as arranging 16 micro-picnic sites in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The project will also invest in the reconstruction of the old railway embankment in Virpazar, turning it into a hiking path, and the purchase of a solar-powered boat, electric bicycles and accompanying solar charging stations, all with the aim of promoting tourism activities with low environmental impact.

Without this level of financial support from the EU, it would not be possible to implement this significant project.”

Zoran Popović, project coordinator, CZIP

The total value of the project for all three countries is €1.8 million, while about €280,000 will be invested to improve the tourist infrastructure on Skadar Lake. “Without this level of financial support of this scale from the EU, it would not be possible to implement this significant project,” says Zoran.

Apart from direct interventions in infrastructure and promotion activities, the project also includes capacity building for ensuring that the project’s impact is sustained. Through a series of six educational courses in all three countries and a study visit, the project partners and target group representatives will have the opportunity to improve their own capacity and the quality of their services.

According to Zoran, the project will have a significant long-term impact on the local population, economy and preservation of the natural environment. “But what is more important, I think, is that it is going to shift the mindsets of many people and many institutions, and show them what is possible and how easily things can be accomplished with proper planning and implementation,” says Zoran.

About the project

The PA.CON project is supported by the European Union within the IPA Cross-border Cooperation Programme Croatia – Bosnia and Herzegovina – Montenegro 2014-2020. The lead partner on the PA.CON project is the Municipality of Nijemci from Croatia; the partners from Bosnia and Herzegovina are the City of Tuzla and the Association for Development NERDA from Tuzla, while the partners in Montenegro are the Centre for Protection and Research of Birds and the Public Enterprise for Montenegro’s National Parks. The implementation of the PA.CON project officially began in October 2020 and will last a total of 24 months.

Photo credits:CZIP

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