Sava River Commission promotes ecotourism with the help of Ramsar Sites

31/07/2012

An international workshop on the “development of ecotourism in the context of crossborder cooperation” took place on 20-21 June 2012 at the shores of the Sava river in Slavonski Brod (Croatia). It was organised by the International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC), with support from the Regional Environment Center (REC) in Croatia, the US Embassy in Zagreb, and the Coca-Cola Ltd. company.

With the dissolution of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the Sava became suddenly an important international river, linking upstream Slovenia, where the Sava takes its sources in the Julian Alps, with Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia, where the Sava enters the Danube. The four countries rapidly understood the crucial need to cooperate for the sustainable use of the Sava river resources to raise the living conditions for the populations in the basin. They concluded a framework agreement that lead to the establishment of the Sava Commission at the end of 2004 (www.savacommission.org). The work of the Commission is much inspired by the innovative work of the Danube Commission (www.icpdr.org) - rightly so, as the Sava is one of the major tributaries to the Danube.

The Sava Commission initially focused more on the establishment of an international navigation regime on the Sava, but realised soon that this can only be achieved in a wider environmental and societal context, working towards the integrated and sustainable water management in the entire river basin. This lead rapidly to the elaboration of a Sava River Basin Management Plan (following the model of the European Union Water Framework Directive) and the cooperation with additional partner organisations, such as the Global Water Partnership for Central and Eastern Europe, and now the Ramsar Convention.

Under the banner “landscape, biodiversity, economy – values and potentials in the Sava basin”, the workshop brought together more than 60 participants from the Sava countries and beyond. Managers of four prominent Ramsar Sites within the Sava basin briefly summarised their experiences with the establishment of ecotourism activities as part of a sustainable “business model” for the management of their protected areas, to create local income and jobs, and to assure the maintenance and restoration of their areas’ outstanding biodiversity values: Goran Gugić from the “Lonjsko Polje” Sava river floodplain and border villages in Croatia; Mihajlo Marković from the “Bardača” Vrbas river floodplain with its fishponds in Bosnia & Herzegovina; Gordana Beltram from the “Škocjan” caves, underground river and karst park in Slovenia; and Slobodan Simić from the “Zasavica” Drina river floodplain and agritourism complex in Serbia.

On the second day, the participants split into three working groups to develop concrete ideas to raise public awareness on advantages of ecotourism in wetlands, on how to coordinate ecotourism within and between different Ramsar Sites, and on how to develop specific skills needed for ecotourism in sensitive areas. A report of the workshop can be found here. Further meetings will follow soon in the Sava basin as part of the 2011-2015 ISRBC Action Plan. Based on its work with the regional chambers of commerce to develop a master plan for nautical tourism, the Sava Commission would now like to elaborate operational guidelines for ecotourism in the Sava river basin, based on best practices in Ramsar Sites, and is focusing on crossborder cooperation. Indeed, promising work in progress.

Finally, the Sava workshop reflects ideally the motto of Ramsar’s COP11 “wetlands: home and destination” focusing on the links between wetlands, tourism and recreation. The joint publication with the UN World Tourism Organisation, presented by the Ramsar Convention Secretariat at the Sava workshop (download PDF here) does feature among its 14 case studies from all parts of the world one from the Sava basin: the Škocjan Caves Ramsar Site. Take a look and see for yourself.

Report by Tobias Salathé, Senior Regional Advisor for Europe

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