Closing the gap between strategic and operational planning for protected areas

Zoran Spirkovski
Published: 04 December 2020
Last edited: 04 December 2020
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The prospect of securing long-term co-financing from Prespa Ohrid Nature Trust (PONT) has propelled the Protected Area (PA) management authorities in the Wider Prespa Area in Albania and North Macedonia to overhaul planning and implementation of their core operations. They are now regularly using the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) as a decision-support tool to achieve more transparent, evidence-based, and adaptive management, tied to the annual management cycle. The findings and results of the METT assessment inform the development of the operational plans using a template developed by PONT. PONT’s co-financing enables PA managers recruit new staff and deploy adequate resources to sustain the core management functions over the long-term, such as biodiversity monitoring, environmental education or visitor management that were often neglected in the past or contingent on projects or other forms of intermittent external support.


East Europe
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Pool, lake, pond
Temperate deciduous forest
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Wetland (swamp, marsh, peatland)
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Sustainable financing
Loss of Biodiversity
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of technical capacity
Sustainable development goals
SDG 15 – Life on land
SDG 17 – Partnerships for the goals
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 20: Mobilizing resources from all sources


Resen, Resen Municipality, Republic of Macedonia | Prespa Greece, Prespa Albania
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While Managements Plans have been gradually integrated into the long-term management cycles for the PAs in the WPA, there is still a wide gap with annual or operational planning. The gap exists due to a number of reasons, including unrealistic and non-operational Management Plans, lack of knowledge and skills, inadequate work procedures, missing or ineffective decision-support systems, as well as insecure funding. The heavy dependence over the past two decades on short-term international project funding and external consultants have often perpetuated these weaknesses. The resulting ad-hoc and inconsistent management hampers the effective implementation of the management plans.


Management authorities of Galicica and Pelister National Parks, Lake Prespa Monument of Nature and Ezerani Nature Park in North Macedonia and Prespa National Park, in Albania

How do the building blocks interact?

The building blocks are connected to three of the six elements of the PAME framework. Each management cycle, be it 1-, 5-, or 10-years, begins with understanding the context of the protected area. The METT (1) is being used to organize and evaluate information from the previous year concerning the status and threats to biodiversity, stakeholders and communities, and its findings and results help determine preferences among options in preparing the operational plan for the subsequent year. The operational plan and budget Templates (2) used to submit grant applications to PONT enable PA managers to integrate both recurrent (routine) with those non-recurrent activities (projects) that are achievable with existing staffing, technical and financial resources, including the co-financing from PONT. With PONT securing the funding of the core operations (3) up to 50% of the total annual budget by 2030, and possibly beyond, PA managers can consistently pursue the achievement of the management objectives set out in the Management Plan without relying significantly on intermittent short-term donor projects, which creates a sense of ownership towards the operational plans.


Having a predetermined but secured total budget allocation for the year, and in the long-term, the PA managers in the WPA are able to develop and maintain the key functional areas and programs, based on the Management Plan and thereby increase the Management Effectiveness. This is true in particular for monitoring of biodiversity, visitor management and environmental education programs that are still inexistent or underdeveloped due to the heavy reliance on short-term and often discontinued support from international donors that provided initial investments and technical assistance, but no funding to sustain the operations in the long-run. With PONT’s long-term co-financing the PA managers are able to recruit and retain new staff and gradually retrain the existing ones to develop the key programs and increase their capacity to mobilize and implement additional funding from external sources for non-recurrent activities that have a more flexible timeline of  implementation. Several rangers, biologists, communication and education experts have joined the PA authorities in WPA over the past two years filling in long-vacant positions of critical importance for their basic operations.


Valerio Vincenzo

Over the past two decades, international donors have played a key role in establishing new protected areas and management authorities in the WPA, such as the Prespa NP in Albania or the establishment of the management body for Lake Prespa MN and Ezerani NP in North Macedonia, or in facilitating a transition from operations dominated by timber and firewood production to developing competencies for the key  functions of modern protected area work at Galicica and Pelister NP in North Macedonia. Their support was essential for developing the first management plans for these protected areas, starting with Pelister NP in 2006, building the basic visitor infrastructure, such as hiking and biking trails and visitor centres, and procuring the basic equipment required for monitoring of biological diversity and day-to-day management operations. The initial advancements achieved with significant inputs from external experts and service providers could not be maintained by the existing staff whose skills and competences could be developed only gradually and to a limited extent. With the key operations being underfunded by the governments or dependent on the profit generated from extraction of biomass, the operational plans could not implement the actions and measures prescribed by the Management Plan. The heavy dependence on intermittent and short-term projects by international donors, often implemented by external implementing agencies or with significant involvement of external experts, has resulted with opportunistic rather than planned management.     

With PONT committing long-term co-financing of recurrent management costs, by 2030 and beyond, PA managers can count on adequate human and financial resources over a long period of time and realistically allocate them among a range of possible activities to develop and maintain the key functional areas and programs in their protected area. Over time they will be able to gain experience and gather data that will help improve their estimates of the costs for the new functional areas of work, and improve on the operational planning and ultimately achieve higher levels of management performance and effectiveness. The first results of the improved operational planning are evident in the 2020 Operational Plan Galicica NP that has a strong focus on visitor management and environmental education and excludes firewood production activities, for the first time, setting a precedence for national parks in North Macedonia.

Contributed by

oavramoski_38257's picture

Oliver Avramoski Prespa Ohrid Nature Trust