WWF Bulgaria, in partnership with 12 other organisations, led this initiative aimed at addressing the economic difficulties and depopulation linked to unemployment in the lower reaches of the Danube region as part of the Interreg project LENA.
The overall objective was to find ways of creating new nature-based business initiatives and to share know-how and experience on sustainable economic development in 15 Natura 2000 sites in six EU countries and one neighbouring country: Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia and Serbia. Over 1 100 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were involved in the initiative. Wild plant collectors, fishermen and farmers were trained and given assistance in adding value to their businesses.
A refrigeration showcase was purchased to support the local trade in fresh products in Bulgaria. 169 participants engaged in capacity-building workshops on sustainable wild plant collection in four countries according to the FairWild certification. Links between harvesters, traders and processors were established and a business plan for a wild plant purchasing point was made in Ivanovo, Bulgaria.
Certificates for products from three protected areas were introduced (for Slavonian pigs in the Dunav-Vukovar Natura 2000 Site in Croatia, non-GMO products in future Natura 2000 sites in Serbia, and local agricultural products in the Comana Natura 2000 site, Romania). 225 local and national authorities were involved in policy workshops, and four guidance documents and recommendations for better policy support of green jobs were distributed to stakeholders. Around 280 000 tourists and locals from Natura 2000 sites were made aware of the importance of the sites and nature-based jobs.
Sustainable forms of tourism, such as rural, cultural and culinary tourism, were supported through the establishment of a network of Danube guides represented by each country (Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria). Currently, the network has 100 trained guides in six countries, a protected logo and a website (https://danube-guides.net/). Building on the success of the project, an additional network has been launched on E-mobility– with E-stations, E-bikes and E-managers. A policy framework for green jobs was also supported.