Montenegro to Save Precious Habitat for Birds

25 Aug 15
Montenegro to Save Precious Habitat for Birds

Urged by the EU and numerous environmental watchdogs, the Montenegrin government has taken over management of the Ulcinj salt pans, to preserve one of the most important habitats for birds in Europe.

Dusica Tomovic

Ulcinj Salina is a precious habitat for the Greater Flamingo | Photo by the Municipality of Ulcinj.

Montenegro’s government and the public enterprise National Parks on Monday took over the bankrupt private salt company in the coastal town of Ulcinj in a move to save an important habitat for about 250 bird species that live and nest in the abandoned salt plantations.

After months of pressure from the international community and environmental organizations, the National Parks and the board of trustees of the salt pans signed a one-year contract by which the state is obliged to protect the environment and its biodiversity.

Daliboorka Pejovic, of the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism, on Monday said the government was involved solely in order to protect the environment but did not exclude the possibility of restarting the production of salt.

“It is clear for us that sustainable saline areas cannot be based only on preservation or for eco tourism, there must be some economic activities,” she said.

The salt marsh is an important birding area and a major site for nesting, wintering and roosting on the east coast of the Adriatic. It has the status of IBA (Important Bird Area).

The whole area belonged once to the state-owned salt company Bajo Sekulic, which was privatized in 2002 .

After bankruptcy in 2012, the salt pans stopped pumping out fresh water and pumping in salt water, and with it, food for the birds. That endangered the habitat of around 250 bird species, including numerous rare species such as the Dalmatian pelicans and flamingos as well as spoonbills.

The owner of the company last year announced a plan to convert 15 square kilometres of the ponds, channels and banks into a touristic development complex with hotels and golf course.

Contrary to expectations and in spite of sharp criticism from enviromental groups, the government gave approval for this plan.

But the cabinet led by the Prime Minister changed its mind after a dramatic intervention by the ambassadors of France, Germany and Poland, Veronica Brumo, Gudrun Stainaker and Grażyna Sikorska.

In March, they requested the revival of the area’s biodiversity, which requires the Ulcinj salt pans being put back into operation. They even said the issue could jeopardise the international reputation of Montenegro and its accession negotiations with the EU.

The ambassdors also sent a letter to the Council of Europe and the European Parliament saying that Montenegro is “obliged to protect the area”.

In a letter to Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in April, Anneliese Dodds, member of European Parliament and head of the parliamentary committee for Stabilisation and Association, also urged the government to come up with a better solution.

“If this is not done during the next few weeks, the birds will lose this year for reproduction and many of them will die. We urge you to intervene so that we don’t lose time,” Dodds pointed out in her letter to the Montenegrin PM.

Following these prompts, the authorities took immediate steps. The government announced in May that it will alocate 165,000 euro to the repair of the pumps pumping fresh and salt water into the salt pools in Ulcinj.

Source: Balkan Insight (Montenegro)