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mountains > newsfile > carpathian treaty to protect europe's remaining wilderness

Carpathian treaty to protect Europe's remaining wilderness

Posted: 30 May 2003

Ministers from Central and Eastern Europe have adopted and signed a major new environmental agreement in Kiev to conserve Europe's greatest reserve of untouched forests and large carnivores in the Carpathian region, while benefiting isolated mountain communities.

The Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians aims to strengthen regional co-operation and support local projects in the mountain areas of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovakia and Ukraine. The region is home to some 16 to 18 million people united by their cultural heritage.

Retezat National Park, Carpathians::� WWF-Canon / Elisabeth Samec
Retezat National Park, Carpathians
� WWF-Canon / Elisabeth Samec

Unique species

Spread over some 200,000 square kilometres (an area 10 per cent larger than the Alps), the Carpathians region contains vast tracts of forest that function as a bridge between Europe's northern forests and those in the south and west. This allows large carnivores and other species to migrate and remain healthy through genetic exchange. One third of all European plant species grow here, including 481 species that can be found nowhere else in the world.

The Carpathians also shelter large populations of brown bear, wolf, lynx and other animals that are rare elsewhere in Europe. For example, some 45 per cent of Europe's wolves outside of Russia - over 4,000 animals - live in the region.

Once widespread throughout the continent, these and other carnivores have declined dramatically during recent centuries due to conflicts with human development. Other rare animals finding refuge here include the reintroduced European bison, chamois and the globally threatened Imperial eagle.

Environmental threats

Key threats to the Carpathians include growing unemployment and poverty, which have worsened since the transition from Communism began over a decade ago. Unsustainable development patterns - over-exploitation of natural resources, pollution, deforestation, excessive hunting, and habitat fragmentation - are all taking their toll in the region.

The new Convention, sponsored by the Government of Italy, the UN Environment Programme and WWF, the conservation agency, is seeking to boost environmental protection while bringing benefits to the local population through sustainable development.

People-centred goals on the agenda include: sustainable tourism; improving the management of water resources and river basins; promoting sustainable agriculture, forestry, transport, industry and infrastructure; and preserving the region's cultural heritage.

The Carpathians Convention will also promote environmental "best practices". These include the application of the 'polluter pays' principle, an emphasis on public participation, transboundary co-operation and the ecosystem approach (by which biodiversity is managed in a way that meets human needs while maintaining ecosystem integrity).

"The Carpathians are not an isolated wilderness untouched by human activity. Fortunately there is room enough here for both wildlife and a modern economy - as long as strong and effective measures are taken now to preserve the region's unique biological heritage for the long term," said Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International.

Related links:

WWF International

-->UNEP's website -->

Carpathians Ecoregion Initiative's website (includes a photo gallery)

UNEP has also prepared background material about the situation of large carnivores in the Carpathians entitled "Where man and beasts share the mountains". This is part of a package called "virtual environmental media tour" featuring four areas of special environmental interest in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. For further information, please contact: .

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