The Carpathian Mountains are one of Europe’s largest mountain ranges, extending over 1,500 kilometres across Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine, with smaller branches reaching into Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary and Serbia. They form a green backbone between Central and Eastern Europe, sustaining the continent’s largest remaining tracts of primeval forest and harbouring nearly half of its large carnivores.
The forests and associated habitats of the Carpathians are some of the most species-rich in the temperate zone, showing influences from the alpine, arctic-alpine, Mediterranean, and Asian regions. There are several reasons for the development of such a great biodiversity. One of them is the fact that the Carpathians remained largely free of permanent ice during the last ice age, making them a refuge for many species. The heterogeneity of habitats and geology and the isolation from other mountain ranges facilitated the evolution of many endemic taxa, especially in plants.
In the large tracts of primeval forest that still remain in the Carpathians, this diversity of species can persist. Many other areas already lost much of their biodiversity due to human impact. Pristine forests contain up to 20 times more dead wood than managed forests. This is of high importance to the fauna and flora, as about one third of the species living in these ecosystems are reliant on dead wood to a certain extent. Furthermore, the Carpathian forests are also home to significant populations of large carnivores: approximately 8,000 bears, 4,000 wolves and 3,000 lynx are living here.
- cover an area of 209,000 km2
- 10 million hectares of forest remain
- home to 3,988 plant species; 1/3 of Europe’s flora
- support 45 % of Europe’s large carnivore population
- hotspot for amphibian and bird diversity
Currently, unprecedented changes occur in the Carpathians. They are related to the integration of Ukraine into the world economy and the transition from the post-Soviet system to a democratic model and a free market. Extremely rich natural resources of the Ukrainian Carpathians are still in a relatively good condition, but many threats such as illegal logging, fragmentation, habitat destruction by changing land use practices, climate change, unsustainable forestry and unplanned infrastructure development are increasing rapidly. Among the most dangerous indirect factors are insufficient development of social infrastructure in rural areas, unbalanced tourism and the lack of financial and technical support for the development of sustainable alternative models.
Nature protected areas are not only a means to meet international and national obligations in terms of protecting the natural heritage of the Carpathian region. Beyond that, they offer great potential for the sustainable development of local communities and for international cooperation. However, being in crisis for a long time, the Ukrainian nature reserves are beginning to lose their unique values. In a detailed analysis of the nature protected areas, we found that the full implementation of all the required tasks by the responsible administrations are prevented by the following factors:
- Absence / low quality of equipment, infrastructure and transportation etc.;
- Poor work conditions in some units;
- Lack of funding (only little more available than necessary to cover the basic salaries);
- Low level (insufficient) of training of nature protected areas personnel;
- Insufficient (weak) cooperation with local stakeholders (including authorities and forestry);
- Poor environmental management of particular types of biotypes (lack of knowledge and skills to perform certain key tasks);
- Ineffective communication in the field and practical environmental management;
- Lack of attention to the cultural heritage both inside and outside of nature protected areas;
- Almost complete absence of knowledge about the ecosystem services of nature protected areas.
Our project is specifically directed to alleviating the above-mentioned factors. In this way, the project will help to preserve the region’s unique and irreplaceable nature. The primeval and old-growth forests of the Ukrainian Carpathians are the largest of their kind in Europe. As they remained almost untouched for hundreds of years, many rare and endemic species could persist in these ecosystems, making them a natural treasure of global importance.
Important aspects of the project are to facilitate income opportunities for local communities, to implement sustainable management practices and ultimately to establish sustainable financing mechanism for nature protected areas.
The German Government through the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), has allocated a grant of 14 million euros for the project “Support to Nature Protected Areas in Ukraine” It aims at supporting the preservation of unique natural resources in Ukraine by improving the management of selected nature protected areas and their appreciation by local communities.
- 11 nature protected areas of higher level categories with a total area of 202,552.8 ha, including 61,046.4 ha of conservation area, 102,170.1 ha of managed recreational area, 19,646.3 ha used for permanent recreational facilities and 112,480.1 ha of economic area.
- More than 20,000 invertebrate, 68 mammal, 275 bird, 10 reptile, 17 amphibian and 75 fish species. Out of these, 20 species are endemic. 193 are listed in the Red Book of Ukraine (2009), 42 in the European Red List, 45 in the IUCN Red List and 116 in the list of the Bern Convention.
- The highest peak is Mount Hoverla with 2,061 m.
- About 48,000 ha are confirmed to be covered with primeval and old-growth forests. Further 35,000 ha were described as virgin and old-growth forests during a forest inventory, they still require field identification. Approximately 30,000 ha of these forests belong to nature reserves and are protected by law; about 53,000 ha are located in silvicultural areas.