Q&A with the experts – Ana Čolović Lesoska (North Macedonia)

Dec 17, 2021

Our biodiversity expert from North Macedonia is the incredible Ana Čolović Lesoska – a renowned biologist, passionate activist, and Goldman Environmental Prize Winner of 2019. Ana dedicated her life to wildlife conservation and protection, and together with the Eko-svest team, she has been successfully fighting against the destruction of Mavrovo National Park, convincing the North Macedonian government to suspend plans for hydropower plants within the protected area and withdraw World Bank and EBRD loans. Without further ado, here’s a snippet of her vast experience.

1. We’ve heard a lot about biodiversity loss in North Macedonia over the last couple of decades, but little about the specific consequences for ecosystems, the economy, and the quality of life. Can you tell us the primary outcomes of biodiversity loss in North Macedonia and how they affect its citizens?

The consequences of loss of habitats and, as a result- biodiversity loss are closely connected to inadequate treatment of nature. In Macedonia, we have a cruel example of a devastating landslide with casualties due to the massive exploitation of the forests. There are also other examples, such as the case of hydropower development that leads to the drastic decrease of water flows in the rivers, causing a drop in fish population and drinking water deprivation of local communities. So, often, the destruction of nature causes damage to society.

2. What are the most significant threats to biodiversity and the biggest obstacles to environmental conservation in North Macedonia?

Naturally, the biggest threat to biodiversity is humans and their activities. Large infrastructure development, especially in pristine areas, has proven to be devastating not only to biodiversity and habitats but often also to human settlements. Highways and roads contribute to the fragmentation of already fragile habitats used by large carnivores, and we have witnessed many casualties on the construction sites caused by the loss of forests used by the species. Often when these constructions happen in already established bio-corridors, the damage can be significant. Mentioning the construction sector, it is of great importance that sectoral plans for developing tourism, energy, and transport all correlate with the plans for protecting natural habitats. That is exactly the biggest challenge- coordinating different plans and prioritising nature protection because once lost, nature can not be simply re-built.

3. What is the current number of protected areas in North Macedonia? Is their number growing or decreasing?

The number of protected areas in the country is growing, as well as the territory under protection. Currently, 81 protected areas cover 13,47% of the overall territory. This number increased recently due to the proclamation of Shar Mountain as a national park.

4. How active is your country in international negotiations, i.e., the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and what is the current situation with national action plans and their implementation? 

The country submitted the national report on the CBD implementation, which was completed via a consultative process with various stakeholders. What can be noticed is that there is great progress in the area of designation of new areas, but at the same time, we have significant challenges with ensuring the protection of existing ones. For example, the role of national parks is to protect the species in habitats designated as protected by the state, but because there is no state funding for them in place, they are forced to finance their work through commercial woodcutting- which is in contrast with their primary role. So it is really questionable how we can implement the ambitious plans on paper without the proper funding by the state and needed mechanisms to ensure true species and habitat protection.

5. Solving these serious problems requires awareness and action of the entire community, so how can citizens of North Macedonia get involved and contribute to biodiversity conservation? 

First and foremost, citizens can contribute greatly to nature protection by limiting their own impact in nature- Leave no trace is a great campaign that shows us how we can responsibly spend time in nature, enjoying its beauties but leaving no harm to it. So, every time you go to visit your favourite mountain, riverside or meadow, pick up your litter and leave nature clear as it should be. Making sure not to set fire and report when noticing an illegal practice is also an act of being responsible to others and nature.

6. Can you tell us about some projects, initiatives, or discoveries that have moved biodiversity conservation forward in North Macedonia in the previous decade? 

The proclamation of Shar Mountain as a national park is a remarkable initiative that once again proves that if all interested parties- institutions, local people and civil society organisations work together- they can achieve a lot. For the first time, the state is allocating a budget to start the operation of a new entity to manage the protected area. This initiative opens the door for other protected areas that have waited for state financing for decades to become a reality. In addition, the local communities that live on Jablanica mountain have initiated the proclamation of their mountain as the next national park. The Government has decided to start the process of proclamation. This shows local people’s awareness about the importance of living in a natural area, abundant in resources and sustainable economic opportunities. It also shows deep respect of people towards nature which is indeed heartwarming. I am proud to be a part of that initiative, and I live to see the day we proclaim another national park!