Lighting the Way to Sustainability
Turkey is well known as one of the cradles of human civilization, bridging Europe and Asia. But it is also home to a rich array of plant, animal and other species, with three globally recognized biodiversity hotspots. Caring for its natural resources, in the face of a worldwide decline in species, is a national and global priority.
Turkey has had a system of protected natural areas in place, but their management has not always been adequate. Half its forests are considered degraded as a result of encroachment, overgrazing and illegal logging. Some destruction occurs when local communities turn to forests for basic necessities, such as wood for fuel.
With UNDP support, Turkey has begun to turn the decline around. The Government has not only extended the coverage of protected natural areas, but also engaged local communities in developing comprehensive plans for long-term, sustainable management.
- Creation of the Kure Mountains National Park, covering nearly 38,000 hectares and surrounded by a buffer zone of over 134,000 hectares.
- In 2012, the park became the first in Turkey and the 13th in Europe to be granted an elite PAN Parks certificate.
- Turkey’s first ecotourism centre has spurred business growth, including nourishing inns and hotels, in the town of Pınarbası.
- New infrastructure for the park includes visitor centres, entrance gates, trails and signs. A monitoring tool gauging effectiveness in administration rated a 132 percent improvement since the project began.
- Intensive tree-cutting practices have stopped in the buffer zone, and over 15,000 trees have been planted to rehabilitate degraded areas.
- Being selected one of the 24 best practices on sustainable development and green economy implementations to represent Turkey in the United Nations Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20).
“This national park is a torch in our hands, lighting our way forward!” exults 76-year old Galip Arslan, a community activist in Asagicerci village near the Kure Mountains National Park. He runs an NGO dedicated to teaching local people about nature conservation.
Over a decade ago, he and his neighbours played key roles in defining the boundaries of the park. Today, they have an integral role in its management. The process marked the first time that ordinary citizens and the central Government worked together to protect their common environment.
Says Arslan, broad participation “increased the number of people who care about local people’s livelihoods as well as the unique nature here.”
A park is formed
Changes in the management of Turkey’s natural resources are taking place amid growing concern about environmental threats, and the country’s shift towards decentralized governance and greater local democracy. Momentum began to gather in 1998, when the Ministry of Forestry started working with UNDP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on a programme to both protect biological diversity and encourage rural development. One immediate focus of attention was the Kure Mountains. At the time, they were not under protection, but a growing body of evidence suggested they should be.
Considered one of the 100 forest hotspots in Europe, the mountains contain some of the best remaining examples of the type of forests that once ringed the Black Sea. The area features spectacular rocky cliffs and waterfalls, canyons and caves, and hundreds of species of plants and animals.
Recognizing that long-term protection would need to engage local communities, UNDP and FAO made a proposal to the ministry: conduct a participatory process to delineate the boundaries of a new national park in the Kure Mountains, including a buffer zone where people could continue to live and use resources, albeit in a way that would sustain the forest.
The ministry agreed on this approach, and a two-year process of consultation began, involving local NGOs, villagers and government staff. They eventually agreed that a new park would cover nearly 38,000 hectares, surrounded by a buffer zone of over 134,000 hectares. Local communities consented to restricting activities such as grazing and wood-cutting to the buffer zone, where they would continue to live and manage their farms and orchards.
In 2000, the Kure Mountains National Park was officially created. In 2012, the park became the first in Turkey and the 13th in Europe to be granted an elite PAN Parks certificate, recognizing its high value as a protected natural area and destination for ecotourism.
Under new management
As the park was being created, UNDP also helped the Ministry of Forestry develop an initial plan to manage it. But within a few years, implementation of the plan stalled, having run into a lack of coordination, staff and capacities.
Some progress was made. Local and national park authorities worked with NGOs to develop projects on ecotourism and sustainable natural resource usage, including through a series of small grants from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Gradually, the park began to attract attention as a tourist destination. With the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)-Turkey, one project set up Turkey’s first ecotourism centre, including a bed and breakfast inn. This attracted visitors and sparked the interest of entrepreneurs in the nearby town of Pınarbası. Today, the town can accommodate 200 guests in small inns and hotels. Ten years ago, it had no such facilities.
By 2008, a more orchestrated approach to managing the park was needed. With assistance from the GEF, UNDP and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry began working together with WWF-Turkey. It not only has extensive expertise on local environmental issues, but is linked to WWF Global, a founder of the PAN Parks certificate.
The initial aims of the project were to develop comprehensive plans to manage and conserve the park, and ensure a balanced use of natural resources in the buffer zone. Building on earlier experience with creating the park, the project established participatory working groups involving government staff, NGOs, community members and academic experts. Initial training equipped national authorities with a new understanding of conservation management and ecotourism.
The consultations fed into the development of both a park management plan and a plan for sustainable tourism, the first of its kind in Turkey. Based on these, the ministry has initiated measures to demarcate the boundaries of the park and strengthen systems for patrolling it. New infrastructure includes two visitor centres, an information centre, entrance gates, trails and signs. A monitoring tool gauges effectiveness in administration, such as overseeing equipment and managing visitors. It uses a scale that has shown a 132 percent improvement since the project began.
In the buffer zone, which is mostly covered with forests, the project encouraged 17 different local forestry units to involve local people in planning forest management to better protect the landscape and wildlife. Intensive tree-cutting practices have stopped and over 15,000 trees have been planted to rehabilitate degraded areas. To begin reducing demand for wood, the project highlighted the zone to a national programme for installing solar panels for water heating. It prioritized installations there, and 300 families now have the panels on their homes.
Change takes root
One of the objectives in the Kure Mountains National Park project was to establish a management model that could be adopted by other parks and natural areas in Turkey. The Government has already begun applying the monitoring tool to 41 national parks. The Yenice Forest is developing plans for sustainable tourism. A PAN Parks group has been formed, bringing together government staff, local NGOs and tourism businesses to develop ecotourism training courses.
Another important outcome has been the new working relationship between the government and non-governmental interests, coming against a historical backdrop where public participation was generally marginal. Local NGOs continue to hold formal positions on bodies overseeing the Kure Mountains National Park. They have been part of consultations identifying three new forestry functions—landscape conservation, wildlife conservation and wildlife development—that have been added to the responsibilities of forestry officials across the country. Their successful and sustained involvement sets an important precedent for Turkey’s eventual decentralization of governance structures, where functions now performed by the central Government will shift to local authorities.
As Galip Arslan says, “An organized society is a powerful society. We will have a better vision and hope for the future.”
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