Nature conservation through local eyes

How to bring local communities, nature specialists and outdoor enthusiasts from different regions of Europe together to promote local development, solidarity and safeguarding of local nature? With the support of the Interreg Volunteer Youth, this week, various Bulgarian locals and interested public had a chance to exchange ideas, experiences and knowledge on nature conservation both in an indoor and outdoor environment, while also learning about the different ways in which the European Cohesion Policy supports local development.

Please also read: Respect Nature

Citizens’ awareness and perception of the EU Cohesion policy

In March 2017, the European Comission carried out a set of surveys and interviews Europe-wide, about the awareness of European citizens of the EU regional policy. Of the 27000 interviewees, about 1000 were Bulgarian citizens. Only 40% of the asked citizens have heard about any EU-funded projects taking place in the area they live. However, 85 % of these people confirmed, that the support had a significantly positive impact on local development. Most people who’ve heard about the Cohesion policy were informed through the internet or national TV channels. However, only a few percent has heard about this topic from local or regional TV. radio or newspapers.

This shows that citizens have a generally positive opinion about the EU Cohesion policy and would prefer to see the continuation of these funds. Awareness rates are nevertheless still low, mostly due to the lack of communication about EU regional funding in local and regional media.

To read more about the general results and country-specific factsheets, visit the Public Opinion website of the European Commission.

Engage locally in Bulgaria

In the following week, Bulgarian nature lovers, experts and the general public participated in an outdoor workshop, where they could explore and experience local nature. Throughout the workshop, nature guides shared their enthusiasm about wild nature and natural processes with the focus on the last wild rivers of Europe. They also examined EU-funded projects that have in the past, or are currently focusing on nature conservation and sustainable development and identify current threats and issues on a local level, that could be addressed with the support of the EU Cohesion policy.

WILDRivers of Europe are under threat

Rivers and streams that have remained untouched and escaped any major changes to their natural shape are extremely rare in Europe. Being close to human activities, rivers are subject to various negative anthropogenic impacts. Their protection is crucial, however, under the current regulations, not sufficient. Anthropogenic changes in river corridors, such as river straightening, embankments, gravel extraction, water pollution, removal of riparian vegetation, dams, artificial lakes, hydropower stations and so on have serious impact on the aquatic ecosystem and the hydrological regime of the river. The Balkan Peninsula is home to the last WILDRivers in Europe, some of them are already facing a worrisome future. At present, around 3,000 hydropower plants are planned or under construction in the region, more than 1,000 of them in protected areas. The unique rivers of the Balkans shall be preserved for the benefit of biodiversity, and of the local communities, as well as for those coming from farer distance seeking to experience the last untouched rivers in Europe. This activity, bringing together locals and international visitors along the Struma river, focused on getting a better understanding about natural systems, such as rivers and riparian habitats and explore the drastic effects that human alterations can do for these diverse river habitats.

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