Greater Basque flower (Pulsatilla grandis) © Ewa Bujalska

 

Centralparks in the Polish Carpathians

The Carpathian region differs significantly from the other geographic regions of Poland, also due to the higher share of forests (approx. 46% vs. the country average of 34%), which are mostly state-owned, and predominantly classified as ‘protective mountain forests’ (between 83.7% and 90.3%, depending on the State Forests Directorate). This means that such forests are not available for commercial timber harvesting (the majority of forests in Poland grows in the lowlands where forestry management is profitable, and brings revenues which allow to subsidize protective measures applied in mountain forests). 

Furthermore, this region constitutes one of the most important refuges for large animals of primeval habitats of Europe, including all native carnivores like the brown bear, wolf, lynx, wildcat and golden eagle as well as all native herbivores like the red deer, roe deer, chamois, and reintroduced beaver, primitive Hucul horse, and the free-roaming European bison. The latter species was saved from extinction and restored in Poland, which later allowed its reintroduction to all other countries, including the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. 

The Polish part of the Carpathian region preserves also elements of rich cultural heritage such as 278 Roman Catholic or Evangelical wooden churches and over 160 Greek Catholic or Orthodox wooden tserkvas (many of them inscribed on the World Heritage list), the 13th century Wieliczka Royal Salt Mine, the World’s first crude oil mine and petroleum refinery, as well as still cultivated traditional arts and handicraft, land-use patterns, agricultural and pastoralism practices.

Orthodox wooden tserkva © Ewa Bujalska

Orthodox wooden tserkva © Ewa Bujalska

 

Since 2014 the geographic scope of application of the Carpathian Convention in Poland encompasses 18,612.48 km2 (which accounts for approx. 6% of the terrestrial area of the country) in its three administrative provinces: Śląskie (westernmost), Małopolskie (centrally located), and Podkarpackie (easternmost). It has recently been extended upon the request of five local communities, and currently includes 200 municipalities (4 cities, 15 urban municipalities, 37 urban-rural and 144 rural communities). 

One of the facts, which is of great importance for the implementation of the Centralparks project, is that the above three administrative provinces have the highest rural population density among all 16 provinces of Poland. Furthermore, this indicator for Śląskie and Małopolskie is twice the country average, and five times higher than for the least densely populated provinces in the north and northeast of the country. This adversely influences the quality of rural landscapes in the Polish part of the Carpathian region, as the settlements and farms often follow a scattered pattern, due to land ownership reasons. Unlike in the other Carpathian countries, the vast majority (some 73 %) of agricultural land has never been collectivized, not even under the pro-Soviet regime.

Moreover, over a half of the area is under at least one form of legal nature protection. Almost 50 % of the Polish part of the Carpathian Mountains are designated as Natura 2000 sites. Over 28 % are located inside 6 national parks and 13 landscape parks (Polish members of the Carpathian Network of Protected Areas), and further 12 % in their external buffer zones.

Therefore, effective conservation and maintenance of high natural and landscape values is not possible without the support and involvement of the local stakeholders. 

The exceptionally high values of nature and landscape are simultaneously a treasure and a curse of the Carpathians, in particular in protected areas. The higher and better preserved these values are, the higher is their level of attractiveness regarding different forms of tourism and recreation, which can lead to tourism and development pressures. 

For instance, if several flagship native large carnivore species are present within a specific protected area, it automatically becomes more attractive for visiting than any other area. Regardless of the fact that visitors will probably never encounter a brown bear or a lynx when hiking there, such a bait may have a strong influence on choosing the site as a holiday destination by hundreds of thousands of tourists.

Therefore, several of the most popular mountain tourism destinations and scenic protected areas in the Polish part of the Carpathians are already flooded by mass tourism well over the acceptable, much less sustainable limits. Needless to say, the quality of visitor experience in such overcrowded destinations (including protected areas) declines, and as a result, other tourists tend to avoid such places, at least during the high seasons. 

Simultaneously, many other municipalities in the Carpathian region (some of them quite rich in natural and cultural heritage) are either neglected, or even not yet discovered as potential tourist destinations. As a result, their local economies are in decline and are additionally affected by the adverse effects of current demographic trends, such as the depopulation of rural areas (in particular affecting less-favored areas, such as mountain regions) and ageing of the society.

Photo above: Dog sled racing in Lutowiska; photo below: Valley of the non-existent village of Caryńskie © Ewa Bujalska

Integrating biodiversity conservation and sustainable development

Ekopsychology Society (PP4) is leading the Centralparks project thematic work package  Nr. 1 (WPT1).

The basic assumption within the WPT1 is that reconciling and linking the conservation of biological/landscape diversity with sustainable local socio-economic development as well as and raising the support of local communities for protected area operations is possible

  • well protected natural and landscape values which distinguish communities located inside, around, or nearby protected areas from thousands of other municipalities 
  • perceived as a location factor and unique asset, which provide important competitive advantages for the local sustainable tourism development
  • while the nature and landscape conservation objectives and benefits arising from the above synergy are effectivelycommunicated to the local stakeholders.

For this reason, three thematic transnational task forces (TTTFs) were established under WPT1 in the following themes: biodiversity and landscape conservation, local sustainable tourism development and communication between protected areas and local communities.

Currently these TTTFs are drafting three policy support tools:

  • strategy for enhancing biodiversity and landscape conservation, 
  • strategy for local sustainable tourism development based on natural and cultural heritage of the Carpathians
  • guidelines for protected area managers on effective communication with their local communities.

Prior to the expected endorsement of these strategies and guidelines under the Carpathian Convention, the above tools shall first be tested under pilot actions, which will be carried out in 2021 in Hungary, Poland and Slovakia

Photo above: Dwarf Periwinkle (Vinca minor); photo below: Snake´s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) Krowniki near Przemysł © Ewa Bujalska

Pilot actions

Due to the above described local context in the Polish part of the Carpathian region, the WPT1 pilot actions in Poland shall mostly focus on the involvement and cooperation with the local community authorities and stakeholders, which influenced the selection of the most relevant pilot action areas.

The implementation of the strategy for enhancing biodiversity and landscape conservation should have the most significant positive impact on nature conservation and can therefore be most beneficial for a small-sized protected area, as these types of areas are often most affected by possible negative developments in their surroundings. The second criteria for the selection is the level of natural habitat fragmentation outside of protected area boundaries (incl. their external buffer zone), determining the need for the enhanced maintenance or restoration of ecological corridors in municipalities surrounding the protected area, with the support and involvement of local stakeholders. 

The implementation of the strategy for local sustainable tourism development would be most beneficial for local communities situated in the surroundings of a protected area, currently being less economically developed and less explored by tourism (thus potentially threatened by high unemployment and an intensified rural depopulation process), but having sufficient potential to absorb and accommodate part of the tourism traffic of the protected areas nearby. The latter could then mitigate adverse impacts of tourism related pressures on the natural values of such protected areas. 

Spring snowflake (Leucojum vernal) Studenne © Ewa Bujalska

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