CAUCASUS ECO-REGIONAL CORRIDORS
A crossroads of biodiversity and culture
At the crossroad of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, the Southern Caucasus Region is a mosaic of biodiversity. The Greater Caucasus mountain range forms a natural barrier between the two continents, pressed between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. Running parallel to this great range is the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. The Caucasus is shared by Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia and Turkey.
A landscape composed of high mountain ecosystems, deep gorges, forests, wetlands, steppes and semi-deserts with drastic variation in altitudes – from sea level to 5,000 meter peaks – the region hosts an array of climatic zones and thus a unique variety of species. Identified as one of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world, the Caucasus is home to 9 of the 11 climatic zones recognized worldwide.
From high mountain plateaus to lush humid forests, ancient fortresses and cave monasteries, this rich landscape is where human, plant, animal and ecological systems of Europe, Asia and Africa interact, creating landscapes of origin for many domestic plants, farming practices and legends, representing a common heritage of the humanity.
WHAT IS ECF?
A partnership for Living Landscapes
Eco-Corridor Fund for the Caucasus (ECF) is a financial instrument to support biodiversity conservation in the diverse landscapes of Southern Caucasus through contractual nature conservation. By funding ecologically sustainable land use in selected eco-corridors in the Caucasus the fund is actively contributing to connecting protected areas and enhancing ecological sustainability while ensuring the socio-economic status of the community is not harmed and in many cases is improved.
The vision of ECF balances natural and anthropogenic point of view. The programme aims to preserve large, sustainably used landscapes which connect various protected areas of the Southern Caucasus. These ‘living landscapes’ will be maintained by local people through active landscape management, providing habitats and corridors large enough to sustain healthy populations of plants and animals without impeding local economics and traditional way of living. The result will be an interconnected mosaic of managed and unmanaged habitats under various land categories and management providing diverse ecosystem services. These services include biodiversity conservation, adaptation to climate change, supply of agricultural and forest products, nature based tourism, and cultural heritage conservation.
The Eco-corridors Programme in the Southern Caucasus started in 2015 and is implemented in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Essentially the Eco-corridors Programme is the set up phase of operation and the Eco-corridors Fund is the initiation of the work
WHY WAS ECF CREATED
Approaching nature conservations as an overlapping venture
that must exist harmoniously with local land use and traditional practices
The Caucasus is an ecoregion of global importance with many diverse ecosystems, cultures, communities and industries. Biodiversity doesn’t follow political or national boundaries and the need for an organized approach to conservation was identified by WWF in the early nineties. Since then, WWF has been working to protect nature in Caucasus. In partnership with the governments of the region and international donors, WWF has succeeded to strengthen and expand the network of protected areas in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to a total of 112 legally established protected areas of different categories.
For biodiversity to be maintained, it needs to be preserved inside and outside protected areas. The Ecoregional Conservation Plan (ECP) for the Caucasus was prepared as a collaborative effort by experts from all Caucasus countries in 2006 and updated in 2012, with another update in progress. The ECP outlines the ecological network of protected areas, priority conservation areas and interconnecting corridors for the entire Caucasus.
The role of ECF is to secure biodiversity conservation outside protected areas by safeguarding the ecologically significant species and their habitats while maintaining local culture and economy. Nature conservation should not mean that communities experience a loss in income or a negative effect on livelihoods. ECF puts local people in control of conservation action with sustainability as a part of the culture, economy and decision-making, with the intention that these ideas ultimately lead to a more prosperous local economy and increase the strength of local communities and protected areas.
Using community-based participatory approaches in parallel with landscape models, the actions that preserve nature and local culture over a long term (up to 10 years) are agreed and funding is to provide local, community-based conservation organizations to sustainably manage their lands.
WHO BENEFITS FROM ECF?
The benefits on a local and global level.
The intention of ECF is that everyone from local farmers to international community benefit from conservation efforts in the Caucasus.
On a local level, the protection of key threatened mammal species and sustainable resource management will ensure long-term environmental, social and economic sustainability and resilience of priority ecosystems, natural resources and communities.
At the national level ECF actions are a part of meeting the Global Development Goals and implementation of existing and emerging policies, legislation and international commitments, contributing to overall Green Development of the countries.
At the international level, ECF contributes to the conservation of globally threatened species like Caucasian Leopard and globally important ecosystems.
Within the Caucasus Eco-region, ECF is a pilot effort contributing also to the development of scientific knowledge and understanding of the interaction between humans and nature as well as practical examples and tools that can be learned from by local communities, NGOs and governments elsewhere.
HOW DOES ECF WORK?
ECF aims at building a bridge between several traditional development cooperation approaches that focus on nature protection, agriculture, rural development and poverty alleviation with an emphasis on either promoting the conservation of biodiversity or economic development.
Therefore ECF is taking an approach where biodiversity conservation and rural development are practiced simultaneously as involved and mutually supporting practices in the framework of long-term conservation agreements.
The process of identifying geographic and thematic priorities for action, negotiating the conservation and its implementation involves the following steps:
PROCESS OF CREATING AN ECO-CORRIDOR
Identifying Ecological Networks in the Caucasus
Using research conducted by WWF and other conservation organizations in the Caucasus, eco-regional corridors were determined in the framework of the Eco-regional Conservation Plan connecting the network of priority conservation areas. During it inception, ECF in agreement with the ministry responsible for nature conservation selected one pilot project corridor in each country as the preliminary step to determining specific areas of programme implementation.
In each corridor target species and habitats were studied using remote sensing and field data. The result of these studies was a map of suitable habitats and pressures centred on the target species. Based on these maps, conservation priorities were identified to take advantage of opportunities for expansion and protection of species populations and their habitats, or to remove main bottlenecks or missing links in the habitats.
Financial Participatory Approach
The Financial Participatory Approach (FPA) was initiated in each eco-corridor to establish relationship and support collective learning within local communities using important habitats. FPA is a participatory process that uses financial incentive for planning and taking actions by communities themselves.
The FPA process aims to:
empower local communities to become decision makers and stewards of their natural resources
develop conservation measures and build the capacity to implement them based on existing knowledge in the community
foster a positive, trust-based relationship between ECF and community members
identify which communities are ready – from a district level, to community level – to enter into Conservation Agreements
The results of the first two steps are taken into account when selecting the specific areas and communities that ECF will focus on. If the priority for conservation was high (based on habitat suitability studies) and the community was open to cooperation and demonstrated initiative (based on site visits, meeting with locals and the FPA process), then steps are taken to commence developing Conservation Agreements.
A conservation agreement is a progressive mix of science and conservation with community involvement. On a more technical level, Conservation Agreements are contracts with clear conservation objective that a selected community commits to. These contracts assist traditional land users to use and yet preserve the landscape in a sustainable way while interconnecting communities over the common goal of protecting threatened species and their habitats.
Phases to creation of a Conservation Agreement:
Develop Long-term Land Use or Wildlife Habitat Management Plans
Based strongly on community knowledge and involvement, long-term land use plans are created in dialogue with local people and support of conservation experts with the guidance of ECF.
identify key threatened mammal species and measures for their protection.
provide measures for proper management of the habitats of these threatened species
determine the protection and ecologically sound use of natural resources
are tailored to the identified needs in the target communities
provide the foundation for conservation agreements
specify the incentives for sustainable land use and covering the costs associated for a biodiversity-focused land management
The plans may take the form of an agreement on rules of land use within the local community or the form of a legally regulated plan such as forest management plan.
Formation of Conservation Agreement
A Conservation Agreements is a binding conservation contract that has been agreed upon by the local communities. By establishing clear, attainable and realistic conservation objectives they determine the scope of conservation measures to be implemented.
Conservation Agreements include:
a. wildlife habitat management plan
b. management map of community for up to 10 years
c. action plan
d. estimated budget to implement the management plan
Administration and Disbursement of Funds
The conservation agreement is based on the savings account approach. This means that the sum for the entire duration of the Conservation Agreement is deposited in the bank account of the community organization upon the signature of the agreement. The community can then withdraw the funds according to an agreed schedule as long as it performs the activities agreed upon in the conservation agreement. As long as all the elements of the management plan are implemented, the community may use the proceeds according to their priorities, e.g. for investment in economic activities or in public infrastructure, as long as this is not in conflict with nature conservation.
In case of lack of performance, the payments may be suspended until performance is re-established. In case of termination of the agreement, ECF has the right to withdraw the funds that have not yet been released.
Progress Reports and Monitoring
As outlined in the Conservation Agreements, each community or community-based organization must submit annual technical reports on their activities and progress towards the agreed upon conservation objectives.
Annual reports include:
- a comparison of targeted and actual values for the planned measures
- developments in the time frame
- use of ECF funds and mobilization of other funding
- information on any problems and identification of possible solutions
Each year a sample of conservation agreements will be selected for independent verification of performance or auditing by a third party. Periodically external evaluation of ECF will be conducted.
Putting communities in charge of conservation
Community involvement is key to the success and impact of a conservation program. Wildlife can only be protected part of local land use practices, cultural values and economic industries and not separate from them.
The following strategies outline how community involvement is key to the ECF’s sustainable wildlife conservation:
Participatory Approach - Gives communities tools, financing and control over decision making. Ensures they have the people, motivation and initiative to make the project successful and sustainable. ECF provides support. Communities take action.
Developing Trust - ECF works towards biodiversity conservation with local communities within the philosophy of support and education, not policing. The ECF programme gives communities the decision-making power with regards to nature conservation and their land. This develops a relationship of trust and teamwork.
Community Selection for Success - ECF selects communities which have demonstrated they are ready on for conservation contracts. Involvement of everyone–from primary school students to community or district decision makers–ensuring all layers of the community are interested and motivated ensures a successful outcome. The goal is to give the right people the right resources.
Training - ECF provides training and education so that community leaders can make decisions and manage their landscapes in cooperation with nature conservation ideals.
Rewarding Efforts - Rewards communities but also holds them accountable for conservation at a community level and economic/development level.
Assisting to Secure Funding - ECF helps to share the positive impacts of community conservation with potential international donors. This supports community efforts to secure their own funding so that conservation may continue after ECF funding ends.
WHO SUPPORTS ECF Southern Caucasus
ECF is a long term funding instrument managed and implemented by the WWF Caucasus Programme Office with respective WWF offices in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. National partners of the ECF are the Ministry of Nature Protection of Armenia, the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia and the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia, as well as local governments. ECF is open to other donors and funding sources.
The financial resources provided help the local populations living in selected eco-corridors manage their land in an ecologically sound way, providing ecosystem services such as biodiversity conservation, climate change mitigation and adaptation to the global community.
The Eco-Corridors Fund is financially supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) through KfW Development Bank and WWF Germany.
The consortium of GOPA Consultants, DFS and HessenForst provide consulting services for implementation of the start up phase.