Transboundary: Prespa Basin National Park (#258)

The Prespa basin was affected by over-abstraction and diversion of water, wetland drainage, deforestation and overgrazing, leading to danger for human livelihoods and ecosystems. Action was taken by WWF through the creation of the Society for the Protection of Prespa, eventually culminating in the creation of Prespa National Park. The lesson drawn is that to change the perspective of local stakeholders to ensure that they share a common vision is vital for success.


The Prespa basin, covering a total area of 2,519 km2, contains the lakes Mikri (small) Prespa and Megali (large) Prespa and is situated in the Balkans, straddling the borders of Albania, Greece, and FYR of Macedonia. Significant parts of the lakes and adjoining wetlands in the territories of Greece and FYR of Macedonia are designated as Ramsar Sites. More than 20,000 people in rely heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods in this region of high biodiversity value. There are more than 1,500 plant species, and endangered mammals including brown bears, wolves, chamois and otters.

The area is especially important for water birds, notably the largest breeding colony of Dalmatian pelicans in the world. Since the 1960s human interventions such as over-abstraction and diversion of water, wetland drainage, deforestation and overgrazing have adversely affected the hydrological regime of the area and consequently its ecological functions. However, the people are under strong pressure to further overexploit the area for their economic survival. 

Action taken

In 1990, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was instrumental in the creation of the Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP). SPP is locally based and works at grass-roots level, undertaking a wide spectrum of initiatives including conservation research, habitat management, institutional development, local capacity building and public awareness-raising. Over time SPP and WWF began to work with government officials from Albania, Greece and the FYR of Macedonia.

This cooperation culminated in the creation in 1999 of Prespa National Park, a trans-boundary protected area. The objectives of the park’s action plan for sustainable management include habitat conservation and renewal, water management, enhancement of socio-economic development for communities, and the required institutional reform to promote these goals.

The park’s coordination committee (consisting of environmental ministries, local authorities and NGOs from all countries) has been successful in obtaining funding for work from the United Nations Development Programme, the German Bank of Reconstruction and the EU LIFE programme. 

Lessons learned

Changing the perspective of local stakeholders to ensure that they share a common vision is vital, for instance in this case, where the opposition against EU agricultural politics was turned into common visions and actions in order to change the conditions in Prespa. 

By having a focus on identifying and pursuing key objectives and the necessity of seizing political momentum, the basin partners were able to secure the designation of the trilateral protected area. 

To achieve public support for the project it was necessary to use other drivers than conservation. Focus was placed on rural development issues, especially water allocation, and business/income development opportunities. 

It is necessary to understand the driving forces influencing land management decisions. Stakeholders and decision makers are landowners, occupiers and water users. 

It is essential to get the technical information and science base right to demonstrate what conservation bodies are advocating. Gather information and select partners who know how to obtain the information required. 

Importance of the case for IWRM

This case demonstrates how trans-boundary, cross-sector participation can promote sustainable economic development in a vulnerable environment. People who have mistrusted each other for decades are being brought together.

By cooperating and utilizing the strengths of NGOs, national governments andlocal people, integrated aims can be agreed, funding can be found and theresulting work carried out to the benefit of all concerned.

Photo credit: Joanna Papanikolaou