For the first time in 40 years, Serbia will declare two national parks – Mt. Stara planina and the Kučaj-Beljanica mountains. The Institute for Nature Conservation prepared the studies for protection and started procedures for the areas, both located in the eastern part of the country. The documents are posted on the website of the Ministry of Environmental Protection. The measures of protection of the highest degree are already in place.
Minister of Environmental Protection Irena Vujović said Mt. Stara planina had the status of a nature park so far and that by becoming a national park it would receive the maximum degree of protection. The Kučaj-Beljanica area is now under protection for the first time, the minister added.
The Mt. Stara planina national park covers 116,000 hectares, and the Kučaj-Beljanica national park has over 45,000 hectares. Both are located in eastern Serbia.
The government’s decision means a natural area would be declared a national park for the first time since 1981. Serbia now has 7.66 percent of its territory in Serbia under some kind of protection.
Stara planina is protected by the locals, too
In the study, the Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia marks the boundaries of the Stara planina national park. The western borders are the valley of rivers Beli Timok and Trgoviški Timok rivers, the Zaječar basin and Knjaževac valley. To the southwest, the area reaches the valley of the Temštica river downstream from the town of Temska, and river Nišava including the Pirot valley. To the east, along the central mountain ridge, the national park borders Bulgaria. The area belongs to the Carpathian-Balkan mountains region.
In addition to its natural beauties, Mt. Stara planina has been at the center of public attention – ever since the fight against small hydroelectric power plants started. The Defend the Rivers of Mt. Stara Planina (ORSP) initiative, river conservationist groups and activists are persistent in the struggle. They mobilized locals and gained support from all over the country.
The rivers of Stara planina are in jeopardy over minimal quantities of energy
Small hydropower plants with derivation produce “indecently” weak volumes of power and disrupt ecosystems – there are other ways for energy security, the Dean of the Faculty of Forestry in Belgrade Ratko Ristić said at one of the numerous protests. The ORSP initiative wants the construction of small hydropower plants on rivers and watercourses to be banned in Stara planina and throughout Serbia and the Balkans. Small hydropower plant projects must be outlawed everywhere, not just in protected areas, ORSP activists point out.
Small hydropower plants must be banned everywhere, activists point out
At the height of the struggle, in 2019, the Association of Local Communities of Stara Planina declared a state of emergency in the mountain range because of small hydropower plants. Environmental activist Aleksandar Jovanovic Ćuta called out the authorities for not complying with environmental regulations which they introduced themselves.
In any case, the fight for the rivers of Stara planina may get support with the upcoming legislation that should result in the proclamation of a national park.
Kučaj-Beljanica mountain area
The planned national park Kučaj-Beljanica is set to get the top category of protection. It is an area of international, national and exceptional importance. It spreads over a part of the mountainous area of eastern Serbia. It reaches the Žagubička river valley to the north and the Bor-Zaječar depression to the east. Mt. Rtanj and the Čestobrodica pass are its southern boundaries and the Great Morava river is to its west.
Kučaj-Beljanica is the habitat of various endangered plant and animal species. It is an area of international importance for birds and butterflies. The region has not been under state protection so far.
A part of Kučaj-Beljanica national park would overlap a zone marked for gold exploration within the Potaj Čuka – Tisnica mining area.
The highest level of protection preserves biodiversity and helps wildlife. In the legislation of Serbia, a national park is an area intended for the preservation of natural values and resources where only the actions and activities that do not endanger the authenticity of nature are allowed.
There are five more national parks in Serbia: Mt. Fruška gora, Šar Mountains (Šar planina), Mt. Tara, Mt. Kopaonik. and the Đerdap gorge with the eponymous lake on the Danube and the adjacent mountains.
According to data from the European Environment Agency cited by the Save on Energy portal, the shares of protected areas vary in Southeastern European countries. Bosnia and Herzegovina ranks the worst in Europe with 4% of its territory under some kind of protection. compared to 13% in Montenegro, Albania and Croatia, and 9% in North Macedonia. Slovenia is at the top of the list in the region, with 72% of its territory under protection. Only 6% of Romania has such a status. Bulgaria protects 16% and Greece has 20% of its territory protected.