First two Albanian natural sites get UNESCO protection

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 10, 2017 14:02
Gashi River. Photo: Lulezim Shuka

Gashi River. Photo: Lulezim Shuka

TIRANA, July 10 – The first two Albanian natural sites have received UNESCO protection as an extension of the World Heritage site of the Primeval Beech Forests.

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has inscribed Albania's Gashi River and Rrajce, two locally protected areas, on the World Heritage List as an extension of the World Heritage site of the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany. The decision was made last weekend at the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee in Krakow, Poland.

The protected area now stretches over 12 countries including Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine.

"Since the end of the last Ice Age, European beech spread from a few isolated refuges in the Alps, Carpathians, Mediterranean and Pyrenees over a short period of a few thousand years in a process that is still ongoing. This successful expansion is related to the tree’s flexibility and tolerance of different climatic, geographical and physical conditions," says the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Albanian experts who worked on the UNESCO application had described the newly inscribed areas as the last 'islands' of virgin woods remaining in Albania where 10-year wood cutting moratorium has been in place since 2016 in bid to protect remaining woods after decades of illegal logging and clearing for agriculture.

The Gashi River is located in northeastern Albania in the border zone with Montenegro and Kosovo in the area of the European Green Belt.

"The integrity of the Gashi river is expressed by the structure of the forests (old trees and high deadwood share) and by the occurrence of the primeval forest indicator lichen Lobaria pulmonata, which is growing on the stems of old beech trees," say Albanian environment experts, who compiled the UNESCO application.

Rrajca forest. Photo: Fatmir Brazhda

Rrajca forest. Photo: Fatmir Brazhda

Rrajca is located in the upper Bustrica valley within the borders of Shebenik­ Jablanica National Park in the north-eastern part of Librazhd in the Elbasan region, central Albania.

"The average stand age of the Rrajca component part is 180 years. On steep slopes in remote areas primary forest remnants survived," Albanian experts say in their statement of authenticity.

Experts says the area of Rrajca with its primary forest complexes has been conserved due to its isolation under communism "in the former border zone (,kloni") of the iron curtain and due to its remoteness with very difficult access." The area is also an important habitat for the endangered Balkan Lynx.

"Albania is blessed with a wonderful landscape, but has been punished by neglect and mismanagement for years. Only in the past four years, our vision on environment and especially protected areas bore its first fruit, registering qualitative international achievement," commented outgoing Environment Minister Lefter Koka on the two new inscriptions.

The new inscriptions, Albania’s first natural sites to get UNESCO protection, also serve the country’s emerging tourism industry and efforts to develop sustainable tourism.

Albania already boasts three UNESCO World Heritage sites, intangible heritage such as iso-polyphony music and material cultural heritage dating back ancient times.

The Butrint archaeological park and the historic towns of Gjirokastra and Berat, in southern Albania unveil the rich cultural heritage in Albania, a gateway to the Mediterranean boasting a mix of Illyrian, Roman, Greek and Ottoman civilizations.

The country’s authorities are also working to include Albania’s part of Lake Ohrid join that of neighboring Macedonia as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Since 2014, Albania has been part of an EU-funded project with Macedonia aimed at improving the transboundary cooperation and management effectiveness for the protection of the natural and cultural heritage in Lake Ohrid.

Two-thirds of Lake Ohrid located in Macedonia has already been inscribed on the World Heritage List, but the integrity of this World Heritage property would be significantly reinforced by extending it to the remaining one-third of Lake Ohrid located in Albania, says UNESCO.

Earlier this year, Albanian authorities also submitted an application to include the Venetian Bashtova castle in central Albania under UNESCO protection.

Located only 4 km from the Adriatic shoreline, the 15th century castle was built at a strategic point along the Albanian section of Via Egnatia that connected ports on the Adriatic to Byzantium.

Albania has another three pending applications lingering on UNESCO's Tentative List. They include the 1996 applications for the Illyrian tombs of Selca e Poshtme and the ancient Durres Amphitheater as well as the 2014 application on the ancient city of Apollonia, the country's second largest archaeological park.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 10, 2017 14:02