Communities help manage Turkey's national parks

national park
Women from the Kure Mountains pick plants from the national park. Residents play a key role in management of the park, which has become a centre for ecotourism. (Photo: UNDP Turkey)

Turkey is home to three globally recognized biodiversity hotspots and has a system of protected natural areas in place, but half its forests are considered degraded as a result of encroachment, overgrazing and illegal logging. Forests are among the most significant of Turkey’s ecosystems in terms of biodiversity, but have been underrepresented in the system of protected areas.

With support from UNDP and funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Turkey is starting to turn the decline around. Through a parks project, the Government has not only extended coverage of protected areas, but also engaged local communities to develop plans for long-term, sustainable management.

Highlights

  • The Kure Mountains National Park was the first in Turkey to be granted a PAN Parks certificate in recognition of its value as a protected natural area.
  • In the park's buffer zone, intensive forestry practices have stopped and more than 15,000 trees have been planted to rehabilitate degraded areas.
  • A monitoring tool that measures the effectiveness of park administration has registered a 132 percent improvement since the project began.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the total area of 9 forest hotspots is now under legal protection or sustainable forest management.
  • With the completion of sustainable forest management plans for the Kure Mountains and Yenice Forest Hotspots, the surface of globally significant habitats under conservation management – 603,452 hectares – has already surpassed the project’s target.

In 2012, Kure Mountains National Park became the first in Turkey and the thirteenth in Europe to be granted an elite PAN Parks certificate, recognizing its value as a protected natural area and destination for ecotourism.

"This national park is a torch in our hands, lighting our way forward!" says 76-year-old Galip Arslan, a community activist in Asagicerci village who helped define the boundaries of the park over a decade ago.

Mr. Arslan and his neighbours play a key role in the management of the park, and he now runs an NGO dedicated to teaching local people about nature conservation.

Turkey’s first ecotourism centre helped spur local business, and the park has new visitor centres, entrance gates, trails and signs. Park managers have adopted a monitoring tool that measures the effectiveness of park management; the most recent application of that tool revealed an impressive 132 percent improvement since the project began. Following the examples set by the project in KMNP,  41 national parks across the country have recently starting applying this tool.

The Kure park grew out of a partnership between the Ministry of Forestry, UNDP and the food and Agriculture Organization. In 1998, the groups began working together to protect biological diversity and encourage rural development. The Government wanted to engage local communities, so the project proposed that citizens help define the boundaries of a new national park in the Kure Mountains.

Together, they agreed that the park would cover nearly 38,000 hectares and be surrounded by a buffer zone of over 134,000 hectares where people could continue to live and sustainably use resources.

In 2000, the Kure Mountains National Park was officially created.

By 2008, with a grant from the GEF, the Ministry of Forestry began working with World Wildlife Fund in Turkey to develop plans to manage and conserve the park, and ensure a balanced use of natural resources in the buffer zone.

Local NGOs, which hold formal positions to oversee day-to-day operations and provide strategic guidance, helped encourage a new national directive requiring public consultation as part of official forest management planning.

Three new forest functions identified through consultations—landscape conservation, wildlife conservation and wildlife development—have been added to the responsibilities of forestry officials across the country.

In the buffer zone, intensive forestry practices have stopped and more than 15,000 trees have been planted to rehabilitate degraded areas. To begin reducing demands for wood, the project was included in a national solar energy programme, and 8 percent of the population living in the buffer zone now has solar energy heating systems. As a result, 1,444 tons of carbon dioxide emissions were avoided in two years by preventing the cutting of 96 hectares of forest.