The Sinjajevina-Durmitor mountain range is the second largest mountainous grazing land in Europe: an over 1.000 km2 limestone highland between 1,600 and 2,500 meters above sea level, with a unique biodiversity that has coevolved with pastoralism through millennia. It hosts some of the most outstanding alpine landscapes in Europe. The uniqueness of the biodiversity hotspot within Montenegro has been recognized through the establishment of numerous Natural and Cultural protected areas.
Sinjajevina lies within the UNESCO Tara River Basin Biosphere Reserve, surrounded by numerous national and natural parks and World Heritage sites. The European Council has recognized it as an EMERALD site. Moreover, it is an IPA (Important Plant Area), and the EU has proposed it as a Special Protection Area for birds. As further evidence of the area’s importance, the Agency for Nature and Environmental Protection of Montenegro published a study in 2018 (co-financed with almost 200.000€ from the Delegation of the European Union to Montenegro,) concluding that a Regional Natural Park for Sinjajevina should be created, including a zone II of special protection.
An ancient and sustainable way of life in danger
Sinjajevina’s rich ecology and outstanding landscapes is not only a product of nature. It is also the inherited and cumulated work of pastoralist activities over millennia. Indeed, this area represents an increasingly rare symbiosis between human societies and the environment, and it stands as a marvelous example of sustainable development and cultural resilience for Europe and the world as a whole.
These complex ecosystems with their unique bio-cultural diversity exist because of the thoughtful use and concerted governance by local communities through generations. The ecosystem itself has been molded by – and fully depends on – the wisdom and traditional knowledge of these communities.
The highland pastoral settlements, or “katuns”, scattered over the territory of Sinjajevina belong to eight major tribal groups. Each group has designed specific management rules to regulate access to pastureland over annual cycles through rotations that protect their sustainable uses.
In fact, Sinjajevina concerns also the climate emergency, where protection of locally managed ecosystems is an urgent concrete answer to climate change. And in this context, as several scientific evidences show, pastoralist systems cause no net emissions and have a much lower fossil fuel footprint, plus carbon storage in soil is able to mitigate the emissions formerly attributed to them.
And yet, a project to install a military training and weapon testing polygon on a large portion of Sinjajevina’s territory now critically threatens not only its distinctive natural and cultural landscapes but, equally importantly, the livelihoods of thousands of people and a unique biodiversity that is deeply dependent of the pastoralists’ way of life.
So, how we got to this point?
Sinjajevina.org is born from a group of scientists, NGOs, farmers, politicians and ordinary citizens that, in favor of the protection of Sinjajevina, wish to provide as much information as possible, for the public recognition of Sinjajevina’s heritage and the current major crisis it is undergoing.