Introducing ‘Leave No Trace’ in Macedonia

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As part of the Regional Economic Growth project, the Western Balkans Geotourism Network gave a ‘Leave No Trace’ trainers seminar in Macedonia for 5 directors/managers working in Outdoor Tourism and the National Park Service.

Emilija Fildishevska
Kiril Ruzhinov
Katarina Georgievska
Aleksandr Klenov
Valeria Klenova
Jovan Jovanov

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The training took place deep in the back country close to Demir Kapija, at a disused hunting lodge. The location was suggested by Emilijia Fildisevska from Macedonia Travel and was perfect for our purposes. The surrounding forest and a nearby river were pristine. The immediate vicinity of the lodge showed the effects of careless visitors, trash and campfire rings. Before we began we cleared up the worst of the rubbish.

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To become recognised LNT trainers, the delegates had to complete a two day, one night training program in which they taught the 7 principles of outdoor ethics:

Plan Ahead and Prepare
Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
Visit in small groups when possible. Consider splitting larger groups into smaller groups.
Repackage food to minimize waste.
Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
Good campsites are found, not made. Altering a site is not necessary.
In popular areas:
Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
Keep campsites small. Focus activity in areas where vegetation is absent.
In pristine areas:
Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

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Dispose of Waste Properly
Pack it in, pack it out. Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods. Pack out all trash, leftover food and litter.
Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find
Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

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Minimize Campfire Impacts
Campfires can cause lasting impacts to the backcountry. Use a lightweight stove for cooking and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
Keep fires small. Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife
Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
Never feed animals. Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

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Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
Be courteous. Yield to other users on the trail.
Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

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All the delegates completed the training and their certificates ‘are in the post’.

If you would like to find out more about how R.E.G. and the Western Balkans Network are raising standards in new tourism in the Balkans – join our group on Linked In at: http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Western-Balkans-Geotourism-Network – or contact me on jack@montenegroholiday.com

You can find out more about Leave No Trace outdoor ethics: https://lnt.org

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Creating new tourism attractions in the Western Balkans

How do we create the best travel experiences in Europe’s most diverse destination – The Western Balkans?

Albanian Mountains at Gjirokastra

Lake Orhid in Macedonia

Lake Orhid in Macedonia

This week marks the launch of a new project and an entirely new approach to tourism development in the Western Balkans region.  Already more than 130 companies and experts from across the region are collaborating to promote a new image for travelers. We want to tell the world about this region’s incredible diversity:

Cultural diversity – In a relatively small area we see Europe’s greatest range of  languages, religions, traditions, cuisine, customs and dress.

Serbian Dancers

Serbian Dancers

Biodiversity  – More than 75% of Europe’s bird species, the highest plant species to land area diversity in Europe, the last truly wild un-fenced populations of Europe’s ‘BIG 5’ Mammals, the Lynx, Brown bear, Wolf, Chamois and Wild Boar.

Hiking the Coastal Transversal Montenegro

Hiking the Coastal Transversal Montenegro

Diversity of Activities – The landscape ranges from lakes and deltas to high mountain peaks, the climate ranges from Mediterranean semi-topical to temperate continental and Alpine. The region can boast a full range of winter sports, outdoor recreation, water and sea based activities, (from paragliding to pot-holing, from mountaineering to scuba diving),  in some of Europe’s most dramatic locations, surrounded by amazing culture.

Jajce Bosnia

Jajce Bosnia

In association with the Western Balkans Geotourism Network, the USAID funded Regional Economic Growth project wants to identify, fine tune and then promote world class travel experiences.

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During the next 5 months I will visit 6 countries, identify at least 5 companies in each and link them up with partners in the neighboring countries, to create regional routes, framework  tours of the best themes , attractions and activities available there.

I am looking forward to working with all interested businesses to help them create sustainable, life changing and unforgettable travel experiences. We have the people and we have the potential attractions in this incredible region.

As this is a new approach, based on empowerment, mentoring and marketing – I shall be using this blog to keep an online record of our ideas, of the people we meet and the places we visit.  After each set of meetings I will post details of ideas and opportunities so that I can easily share with our network and with other businesses who can help.

I am also hoping that if anyone should read these journals, you would be happy to share your ideas, feedback, comments and criticisms.

Please also feel free to contact me if you wish to take part in the project.

Jack  – 8th April 2014

“One of our Land Rovers isn’t coming back … ever”

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‘110’ in happier times 😦

One of our client instructors, parked a 110 Defender,  facing downhill, not in gear, didn’t turn the wheel. It rolled, then fell 450 m and is now caught in a tree, about 1,200 m above a popular white water rafting route, in Europe’s deepest canyon. Two of our guides have abseiled down to it , and checked that the fuel tank is intact, thankfully. The debris trail and the cliff above suggest that the car was airborne quite a bit. With fire season coming on, we had to notify the police who are happy for us to devise our own retrieval solution. ‘Good luck’ they said.

One suggestion was to anchor it now, then leave it free, for the winter snows to carry lower, it maybe possible to navigate a log raft closer to it, but that will mean pollution of the site. The 4×4 club of Montenegro have a plan to lift the lot, in return for all the salvage, its a good deal, on condition the site is left ‘pristine’.  Probably using some big machinery/tractor, we can create a safe working area, where a mechanic can double click on, then dismantle the best and most detachable parts, to lighten the eventual load.

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Its the way land rovers should die, not rusting behind a hobby shed.

I visited the site and saw his last ever tracks in the grass,  as he started downhill. I did worry that he managed to swerve through so many trees before reaching the cliff edge, it looked almost deliberate. I hope we didn’t overwork him too much this summer.

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Janko realises that much of his CD collection is inside.

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The car and mechanics will all have to be anchored to the rock before we begin to dismantle.


The value of cooperation and ‘adventure travel’ tourism in Montenegro.

Innovation at its simplest is the introduction of something new. New ideas, new products, or a new approach. In 2006, ‘Black Mountain’ was founded because we felt that Montenegro, as a tourist destination, was falling far short of it’s potential. Montenegro was marketing a homogenous product which was vulnerable to changes in demand. We believed that Montenegro needed new tourist offers to play to its strengths, to differentiate it in the market and to increase tourism revenue in a way that minimised harmful impacts for the country’s wild beauty and unique culture.

Official destination branding

In recent years the rise of ‘Adventure Tourism’ has created a new demand which Montenegro is very well placed to meet. Adventure Travel includes any 2 out of three aspects; nature based experience, cultural education and an activity. The sector now accounts for 25% of European ‘outbound’ holidays, and worldwide is worth 64 Billion Euros and growing.

Inland Montenegro -Black Lake

Montenegro is spectacularly beautiful, very mountainous, rugged and sparsely populated. Of the 660,000 population, more than 3 quarters live along the coast or in the three largest towns. In the winter 50% of Montenegro is uninhabited and during the summer 25% remains unpopulated. Local customs and a traditional way of life still exist,exist; many families move their flocks up to the high pastures and live in the Katuns, without amenities. Add to all this, the deepest canyon in Europe, numerous white water river courses, primary forest and surviving wild populations of large mammals including brown bear, 3 national parks and 2 UNESCO protected areas.

Despite this richness, the Tourist master plan for Montenegro until 2008 took no account of this potential. The stated aim of Montenegrin tourist development was to become ‘a high quality Majorca!’ The antithesis of innovation, to copy, not to develop a new approach.

We determined to make the most of this incredible potential and launched some very innovative products. For corporate and academic training we have developed unique programs such as a 3 day ‘earthquake survival exercise, titled “Escape from Mount Orijen” or the team building program on an offshore island, modeled on the TV show ‘Lost’. We have produced a range of unique hiking, biking and multi-activity tours geared for any level of ability. All of our activity programs contain authentic cultural elements, and we allow our customers to modify each itinerary to suit their own tastes.

'Escape from Mount Orijen'

In order to survive the private sector SME’s who wanted to develop new adventure travel offers had to cooperate to form clusters and to lead change themselves, to find ways to promote Montenegro’s unique offer and to develop their own product.To deliver new product, we needed local partners who are ready to embrace change, who were innovative and able to take risks. Motivation was the key. A number of aid sponsored ‘adventure travel businesses’ existed, but were motivated more by aid funding than the desire to generate tourist income. We discovered that the less vocal, more active businesses made the best partners. The number of customers they serviced told us most about their willingness to adapt. Many outdoor clubs and associations exist; their passion for their sport keeps them informed of the latest developments. They were less motivated by profit but wanted more exchange with international enthusiasts.

Adventure Race Montenegro - 'cluster'

We have sought to bring these two groups together, to form informal clusters which cooperate, share information, joint marketing initiatives and ultimately develop new product. We launched the Montenegro Adventure Race with the voluntary unpaid help of these organisations. This is a charity race has involved SME’s, sports clubs and municipalities. We have all learned through shared experience, and now offer tours based on events. We have been working to establish a leave no trace program and part funded the training of 24 educators among Tourism businesses, National Parks and clubs and clubs.

During the past 10 years Montenegro has been among the fastest growing tourist destinations, inward investments has poured in to the country to develop new hotels, marinas and villas and apartments. Tourism revenue is expected to be 620 million in 2010. But there are still problems.

The tourist season is extremely short,short; July and August account for 70% of overnights, June and September a further 20%. The wealth created by tourism was very localised, 95% of tourist visits are to the coast, one resort Budva, accounts for 47% of visits. The concentration of tourism into such a small area in a short season inevitably lead to capacity bottlenecks on beaches and in high end accommodation.

The opportunities to offer high end accommodation and spa retreats in the mountains are limited, journey times from the arrival airport are longer than in other hiking destinations like Portugal, or Italy. However adventure tourists will accept more limited tourism infrastructure if they gain a more authentic experience.  ‘Adventure travelers’ almost by definition are not seeking sunshine and beaches. They want to travel ‘off the beaten’ tourist track and away from the congestion which can be seen in some coastal areas in peak season.

Projected location of Hydro power station ?

And finally… by attaching an economic value to  un-spoilt natural beauty and traditional culture, Adventure travelers can demonstrate to legislators and locals alike that both should be conserved.

Jack Delf

(…Extracts from a presentation to the European Parliament Conference of Innovation in Tourism- 2010.)

Black Mountain will be the first to support the ‘Turtle of Change’

The Turtle has Landed !! Or more precisely it has swum ashore in the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro for its first stop on what promises to be a very exciting journey indeed for Turtle ‘Black Mountain’ – the very first ‘Turtle of Change’ !

Turtle – ‘Black Mountain’

At Black Mountain we are extremely excited and proud to be tasked with the Turtle’s first journey. This is a big responsibility and we have given a lot of thought to how we can use the Turtle as a catalyst for change. Even after the Turtle leaves our hands we will continuing promoting our message and the messages promoted by blueturtle.com,  through our business and our activities here in Montenegro.

Who are we and where do we work ? We are located in Herceg Novi, which is a small resort town on the shores of the beautiful Bay of Kotor, Montenegro, on the Adriatic coastline. Montenegro is a country which has seen huge changes in the last few years and which is still undergoing immense change. Some of these changes are for the better, but others are environmentally damaging and will sadly never be reversed. Montenegro is a spectacular country, and although it may look small on the map, it is anything but small where its topography is concerned. With mountains and canyons, rivers and lakes, caves and forests, not to mention a stunning coastal area stretching along the Adriatic coast, no visitor to Montenegro can fail to be impressed. The country relies principally on tourism for its income. This tourism needs to be carefully managed to be a sustainable business for future generations and to be sustainable for the environment here.

Overbuilding and over development in some areas have already spoiled this plan. However  there is still time. Much of Montenegro is uninhabited wilderness. This is one of the last places in Europe where the bears and wolves still roam free, but they are also under threat and need protection. Our business Black Mountain, specialises in adventure, cultural and activity tours in Montenegro. Established in 2006, our company is based in Montenegro and the UK, and our aim is to promote sustainable and low impact tourism wherever possible. We are realistic. It is very difficult to be green in everything we do, change takes time and education. Small scale sustainable tourism initiatives have already been set up here in some areas and we take care to promote those and prefer to send our clients to local accommodation providers, show them the traditional Montenegrin way of life, the real culture and environment. We use local guides and local companies for the services we require. This allows our guests to have a closer understanding of the people and culture in the country they are visiting.

Rubbish / trash is a big problem here, as in many places. Black Mountain introduced and promotes the Leave No Trace (www.lnt.org) principles and organises workshops to promote the message to young people.  We are excited about the Blue Turtle Handshake initiative and will be delighted to support this as another way to promote significant change through small actions.

At the end of our week with the Turtle we will show you in words and with photos, what actions we have taken to support the Blue Turtle challenge. We are also discussing now about the handover of the Turtle to the next group of people who will take care of it. We will follow its progress with great interest, continue to spread the message and work on new ways to bring the Turtle message to everyone we meet !

Long Live the Blue Turtle !

Hayley

Keeping Montenegro’s hiking trails open.

There are thousands of kilometers of mountain hiking trails in Montenegro. The trails were created by local farmers, hiking and mountaineering clubs and by the Austro-Hungarian army in the late 19th Century.  In fact there are so many trails, and they are so rarely visited by tourists that even during the peak summer months it is unusual to meet other hikers on most of them.  Even along the coastal transversal there are so few hikers that in 2 – 3 years the trails would become overgrown and impassable.

Montenegro is now promoting these trails through the government’s Hiking and Biking program for tourism, and yet there is no systematic funding to keep the trails open.  Despite this, the paths are maintained and usually well signed and easy to follow.  How so?  Well last week I found out.

My friend Vlatko is a mountain guide and he asked if I wanted to join an ‘action’ on Mount Rumija, 1800m high overlooking Bar and Lake Skadar. I first met Vlatko through the ‘Leave No Trace’ program, we both trained together as instructors, so I naturally assumed that we would be collecting litter and taking a packed lunch to the summit. Janko who guides for Black Mountain joined us with another of Vlatko’s friends – Marin. I did wonder why they all wore old clothes and brought heavy duty gloves.  The penny dropped when I was handed a machete and given a fuel can to carry for the chainsaw.

Mnt Rumija - 1800m

 

An ‘action’ as I found out, is the term used by the volunteers who work year round to keep the trails open. They are rarely paid, and have to meet all the expenses themselves. The trail we started to clear had not been repaired in years and the work was hard.   Yet no one flagged and by the end of the day we had climbed about 300m up the trail clearing heavy thorn and fallen trees as we went.

Without repairs trails can vanish in 2 years.

When the light failed we had to finish for the day. Vlatko and Marin pitched camp for the night and passed around a very welcome bottle of Rakija.  Unfortunately I had business commitments the next day (honest),  so Janko and I had to leave them to continue the work. To be honest, I could hardly move the following morning, so I would have been little use.  I have promised to join them for future ‘actions’.

Vlatko sharpens the chainsaw, the Rakija came later!

The day had been great fun and a good work out. Working outside with friends is not the only reward, grateful local farmers provided pancakes and cheese. The scenery was magnificent and the afternoon sun lighting up Lake Skadar below us was spectacular. We had been lucky with the weather today but in the mountains conditions can change in minutes.  I now realise what an enormous task faces these volunteers each year. They do this work in all weathers. They deserve better recognition.

The ‘real’ ecological state of Montenegro

Montenegro prides itself on being the world’s ‘first ecological state’.

Montenegro signed ‘the Declaration of ecological state’ in Zabljak on 20th September 1991. According to the declaration: “by establishing the state relation with the nature, the Montenegrin Assembly committed all generations to refer to nature as to the health source and inspiration for freedom, as well as to devote to its preservation in the name of their own survival and future descendants.” The document was represented at the UN Conference on environment and development, in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and was included in documents of the Conference.
Unfortunately in Montenegro, it is one thing to pass the statutes and issue the announcements, quite another to implement them. So often the reality falls far short of the ideals. In 2011 – twenty years after the declaration, there are serious problems with pollution, habitat destruction and declining bio-diversity. Some of Montenegro’s major species are threatened with extinction. 

euronatur are working to convince government to preserve Ada Bojana and Skadar

-Lake Skadar in the south of the country is a vital migratory ‘stop over’ for an enormous number of north east European birds. The largest fresh water lake in the Balkans is home to some very rare species. In 2009 we helped host the Adriatic Flyway conference, (www.adriaticflyway.com). In one half day trip, 10 endangered bird species were identified.  A government ornithologist told me  that only 24 nesting pairs of Dalmation Pelican remain, and almost none of these successfully raised young that year. The area is particularly threatened by plans to build large hotel complexes along Velika Plaza (Big Beach), 13km of fine sandy beach separating the lake from the Adriatic.
– Plastic and refuse pollution is still a problem, although at the state level, steps are being taken to re-site landfills and recycle waste. Unfortunately many beauty spots in the busiest areas are quickly polluted each day by casually discarded trash. A major public education program is needed,  starting with schools. There have been Leave No Trace training seminars but it is still difficult to organise community clean ups. When a local school suggested that the pupils learn about Leave No Trace and clean the school grounds, angry parents complained that ‘their children should not be used for refuse collection.’ I see where they are coming from, but these are just the sweet wrappers their children dropped in the first place.
– Illegal hunting is one of the most serious problems. Laws were only introduced recently and seldom enforced. When anglers stand along the bridges in the center of Mojkovac fishing outside of the season, you know that in the mountains anything goes. Young and nursing female bears were protected only 3 years ago. The Dinaric Pindus Brown Bear is such a rarity here, no one really knows how many exist.  The last scientific survey of numbers was more than 30 years ago. On the Orijen Massif close to Kotor,  local rumour said that there were 3 bears. Just last week hunters claimed that they killed a juvenile bear on Orijen, although this is illegal, they posted the image on Facebook and were congratulated by their friends.
I was told that last year another bear was found beheaded near Plav. Last September, one of our guides met hunters on Orijen who claimed they had just killed a Lynx. If their claim could be proven, it would be the first confirmed sighting of a Lynx in Montenegro in 3 years…and they shot it!!  No action was taken by the authorities in any  of these cases. These are isolated examples but for the species involved the results could very well be catastrophic.  As with casually discarded trash, the over hunting problem is probably one of education. Montenegrins are passionate about their heritage, natural as well as cultural – the two cannot be separated in national mythology. Most Montenegrins have a great love for the outdoors and take no part in hunting. Others hunt but would never shoot a bear or lynx. The irresponsible hunters themselves don’t seem to realise that they may be doing irreparable damage to Montenegro’s ‘wild beauty.’  They are leading the charge to destroy what it is about Montenegro that they cherish so dearly. I asked one hunter if enough wolves were left to survive in the long term, his response was “…enough…I think”  From his reaction I am sure it was the first time he had even considered the question.

Its still possible to drink from the Tara in Europe's deepest canyon

Montenegro is an ecological state. It contains old growth forest, 25% of its land area is unpopulated (by man) , river water is still drinkable and bears, wolves still roam. ..this is the last place in Europe where all the big 5 mammals still exist in the wild. But government, tour operators and visitors should not be complacent about the future. If we are to preserve Montenegro, much still needs to change and now!
March 7th 2011

To help us protect the large mammals in Montenegro - click 'like'

Adventure Race Montenegro is a non profit organisation which seeks to raise awareness about the plight of Montenegro’s large mammals. All profits from the ARMeX 48 hour endurance race will go to fund a scientific survey of the animals numbers and distribution, the first step in an ambitious plan to protect them. For more information follow: Adventure Race Montenegro on facebook. or visit http://www.montenegroexpeditionchallenge.com