The reforestation project is Trees for Lurë main focus, and our goal is to rehabilitate 500ha of damaged forests in the Lurë-Dejës Mt. National Park. We rely heavily on the local community to execute our operations which creates a strong relationship towards our projects within the community and allows us to contribute to the local economy and job opportunities. This approach is a main difference from other organizations and creates long-lasting results.
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Lurë-Dejës Mt. National Park
Lurë-Dejës Mt. National Park is one of the most beautiful and wild national parks in northeastern Albania, which protects an area of 202.42 km2. The altitude varies from 1,300—2,300 a.s.m.l. The most common native tree species to Lurë are European beech, Silver fir, Black pine, Red pine and Macedonian/Balkan pine. Especially protected is the Macedonian/Balkan pine, which is threatened with extinction and is only common in the west of the Balkan Peninsula.
Unfortunately, it suffered massive deforestation due to illegal logging and a series of forest fires which decimated its forests. These actions left up to 500ha completely deforested; most of this damage is in the highest protected areas of the national park, around the Lurë lakes. It is estimated that reforestation of the damaged areas would require planting around 1 200 000 trees.
Which tree species we plant?
Lurë-Dejës Mt. National Park is a protected area under the management of Agjencia Kombëtare e Zonave të Mbrojtura (AKZM). The AKZM sets requirements for the planting material allowed to be used during planting operations within the national park.
Conifer species allowed to be planted in the national park are Pinus nigra, Pinus Peuce and Abies alba, and as for deciduous species, it is Fagus silvatica.
Furthermore, there are requirements based on the planting area regarding its location within three protected zones. Our goal is to plant in the highest protected zone where the saplings must be produced from the local seeds and grown at a similar altitude as the planting area. Such saplings are currently not produced in Albania or within the Balkan peninsula. This is why we established a tree nursery in the Lurë area.
Our planting areas are currently located within the 2nd protected zone of the national park, where we are allowed to plant Pinus nigra saplings from Albanian suppliers located in lower altitudes. We plant two-year-old, potted/containerized saplings.
In our experience, using old and larger saplings does not produce good results as those plants are prone to damage due to snowfall. You can read detailed information about our planting material selection process in Update #10: Choosing the right planting material and supplier.
How do we plant?
Support and involvement of the local communities are crucial for successful and sustainable reforestation projects. We, therefore, award most of the work to the local team instead of volunteers.
We use the local workforce as much as possible during our reforestation activities. The local team plants 90% of the saplings. Our local team is responsible for a wide range of activities, from preparing the planting area, digging holes for the saplings, transportation and planting of the saplings.
This allows us to contribute significantly to the local economy, and more than 50% of the planting costs are dedicated to the workers. We provide much-needed jobs in the Fushë Lurë, which despite being seasonal jobs, are at least regular.
We are proud that our planting team includes many women because whole families are joining during our planting operations.
We organize weekend activities for volunteers and our partners to allow the public to participate in our reforestation project and demonstrate our processes and techniques. Due to its duration, we are limited to four events during the Autumn planting operation.
Limited use of volunteers ensures that the local team is allocated promised work and the planting quality is not compromised as the local team has more training and experience.
What are major risks?
Our planting areas are remote, which minimizes risks from human interventions and grazing cattle. Two significant risks to reforestation efforts are forest fires and Processionary.
Forest fires are a severe risk anywhere in the Balkan peninsula. In the past years, the has been an increased number of forest fires throughout the region, causing substantial damage. In Lurë majority of the fires are caused by human actions. Fighting the forest fire in Lurë is also complicated due to poor road infrastructure. Most of the national park is only accessible by 4x4 capable vehicles. The lack of government funding into fire fighting infrastructure does not improve the chances of adequate fire protection.
Processionary (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) is a widespread pest in the Balkan peninsula, Italy, Spain and many other southern countries. In the past, the pest was managed by the local workforce. Now, however, there is no coordinated strategy in place in Albania.
Processionary is a moth that lays eggs on the branches of pine trees. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae nest on the branches and start feeding on the needles. The larvae are covered with hairs poisonous to humans and animals, making managing the pest very difficult.
The pest affects mainly Pinus nigra forests up to an altitude of around 1500 a.s.m.l. Our current planting areas are at the altitude of 1300 a.s.m.l. which makes trees we plant suspectable to infestation in the future.
Processionary is absent in higher altitudes (highest protected areas) of the national park, which is why we want to focus our work there. Furthermore, Processionaria does not affect Abies alba and Pinus peuce is affected only minimally, which is yet another reason to work in higher altitudes where we are required to plant a combination of Pinus nigra, Pinus peuce and Abies alba, which we are producing in our nursery.
Our goals for this year are clear. We are expanding our tree nursery to produce all the saplings we need for reforestation. We are continuing with reforestation planting additional 10,000 trees this Autumn.
Our planting operation is again scheduled for Autumn. It will take place during the last two weeks in October and the first two weeks in November. We are planting 10,000 2-year-old Pinus nigra saplings in the new area, which is next to our previous planting areas.
We are very excited about this year as it will be the first time we are planting 2,000 Pinus nigra saplings grown in our tree nursery! The remaining 8,000 saplings have been reserved at our supplier Fidanishte Xhepi s.h.k.p.
You can follow our progress this year more closely on Instagram & Facebook and in our News section.
Successful planting operation in 2021 and positive public feedback led to securing enough donations to challenge ourselves and plant 10,000 trees. We also established a Tree nursery pilot project to grow our saplings.
Thanks to starting smaller in 2021, with only 2712 trees, we gained the necessary experience to execute more extensive planting operations. The logistics of sourcing and transporting planting material, management of digging, planting and cash flow planning must be executed well to deliver a successful planting operation.
We received positive public feedback through social media or our TV appearances in Albania, which led to new relationships with corporate donors (risr/ and Heldenwerbung GmbH) in early 2022. Our presence in Lurë connected us directly with the motorcycling community which regards Lurë as a prime spot for off-road riding due to the famous international Trans Euro Trail leading them through the Lurë National Park. By May 2022, we secured funding for a much larger number of trees than in 2021.
Based on the above, we decided to take up a challenge and set our 2022 goal to plant an ambitious 10 000 Pinus nigra saplings and use the remaining funds to start the Tree nursery pilot project.
The tree nursery pilot project was an incredibly important task to execute in 2022. The tree nursery is crucial not only because producing our saplings will significantly lower the reforestation cost by cutting transportation and sapling purchase costs. It will also produce saplings which fulfil the requirements of the AKZM for planting material allowed for the highest protected areas of the national park. There is currently no supplier in Albania which can provide such saplings and our tree nursery is the first one.
We have been active in Lurë since 2019, but unfortunately, due to the 2019 earthquake and COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, our first planting operation took place in 2021 when we planted 2712 Pinus nigra saplings.
Our original plan for 2021 was to plant 5000 trees in two planting operations. The first half is in early Spring, and the second is in Autumn. The correct Spring season to plant Pinus nigra is around March and April, and for the Autumn, it is October and November.
The Spring planting
The Spring planting operation failed as we could not reach the planting area due to the snow blocking the access road. Lurë National Park is located at an altitude of 1300—1800 a.s.m.l, and the snow melts around the beginning of June, an important lesson to learn.
The season for planting Pinus nigra is in March and April, but the main areas suitable for reforestation are not accessible till the beginning of June. This makes planting in Spring tricky, especially in combination with unpredictable weather when snowfall and very low temperatures are common till the end of May.
All these difficulties with the Spring season lead us to the decision that it is better to skip the Spring planting season and focus on Autumn. The risk of bad weather and logistical challenges are just too high.
The Autumn planting
During the year we had enough time to prepare everything for the Autumn planting operation in. We did detailed research of the suppliers for the Pinus nigra saplings and personally visited all suppliers to check the quality of their saplings. We chose Xhepi Sh.p.k (Fushë-Krujë) & Lurimi Sh.p.k (Burrel) to supply our saplings with 50/50 split to evaluate the performance of the saplings during next 3 years. We had enough time to prepare everything for the Autumn planting operation during the year. We did detailed research of the suppliers for the Pinus nigra saplings and personally visited all suppliers to check the quality of their saplings. We chose Xhepi Sh.p.k (Fushë-Krujë) & Lurimi Sh.p.k (Burrel) to supply our saplings with a 50/50 split to evaluate the performance of the saplings during the next 3 years.
The 2021 Autumn planting was a huge milestone for the project and a wonderful 2-day event that brought together the whole team and many volunteers to plant the first 2712 trees.