Using ecotourism to save one of Armenia’s most biologically diverse regions
By Samvel Grigoryan, Tue, 12/04/2016 – 09:08
The best way to get local communities to protect nature? Show them it’s in their best interests.
A perfect example is the Dsegh Important Birds and Biodiversity Area (IBA). Located in northern Armenia, not far from the border with Georgia, it is one of the most biologically diverse regions of the South Caucasus. Over 150 species of birds have been recorded in the IBA’s 18.500 ha, including magnificent birds of prey such as Griffon Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Levant Sparrowhawk and Peregrine Falcon. The European Roller, Semi-collared Flycatcher, Corncrake, Caspian Snowcock and Caucasian Grouse can also be spotted.
Stretching from River Debed south towards the foothills of the Halab mountain range in the Lori province, the IBA encompasses the land between the rivers Pambak and Marts and provides habitats from mountain steppes with prominent rocky outcrops to dense forests with closed canopies, and subalpine and alpine meadows. Because of this diversity, the region faces diverse threats, such as overgrazing, intensive agriculture, mining and logging.
To bridge the gap between Dsegh’s wildlife treasures and nature lovers, as well as to improve conservation with locals’ support, the Armenian Society for the Protection of Birds (ASPB, BirdLife in Armenia) is developing ecotourism in rural areas and has established a Nature Visitor Centre in the Dsegh IBA.
The purpose of the centre was to have local communities provide services and activites as ecotourism in the Lori region where Dsegh is located. This in turn supports and helps to improve their socio-economic status, as it provides numerous services to the tourists. In a virtuous cycle, the latter motivates these rural communities to play an active role in conserving natural resources and offering ways to solve problems by creating a balance between nature and human development.
After five years of hard work, ASPB opened the Dsegh Nature Visitor Centre to the public on 12 November, 2015. The centre was established with financial support from SVS (BirdLife in Switzerland), the UNDP’s GEF Small Grants Program in Armenia, the Rhône-Alpes Regional Council in France and ASPB, as well as in close partnership with Biotope, a French consultancy.
The centre includes a meeting and cinema hall, and a space with state-of-the-art exhibits on Dsegh’s wildlife. The centre also provides tourists with detailed and comprehensive information about the region and local sites (including bed and breakfasts run by locals where they can stay) as well as annual events, all of which will enhance the visitor’s understanding of the unique environment of Dsegh.
For the more outdoor-inclined, the centre incorporates tours and two hiking nature trails that people can hike themselves or explore with the help of local guides. “In designing and installing our trails, ASPB worked hard to have the lowest level of impact on the land possible while providing access to these special places,” said Luba Balyan, co-founder of ASPB. “We look at the forest as our home, as someplace that we want to protect and revere.”
ASPB believes that the Nature Visitor Centre in Dsegh will inspire the establishment of other information eco-centers in the country and South Caucasus region. ASPB hopes this innovative network will support not only the protection of nature but also the livelihood of all local communities across the region and will bring Armenia one step closer to nature.