The Paths to Healthy Forests project – EU funds used to plant new trees  

Tatras National Park and Spišská Belá municipality in Slovakia. Photo: Jozef Vaško

​The municipal forests of Spišská Belá and Kežmarok, together with Tatras National Park Forests (ŠL TANAP), are set to receive almost EUR 1.5 million in European funding. The mayor of Spišská Belá, Štefan Bieľak, has announced that the Paths to Healthy Forests project is one of several major infrastructure plans under the cross-border cooperation programme between Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine (ENI 2014-2020) to have been successful at the project evaluation stage. "As part of the approved initiatives, Spišská Belá Forests will be planting new trees and repairing forest roads," the mayor noted. "Other joint activities undertaken by all project partners will include specialist workshops, meetings, exchanges of experience through training courses and the laying out of nature trails including activities for children, adults and the elderly." He explained that the planned activities were geared towards growing more environmentally sustainable forests containing different species, following the reconstruction of firebreak forest tracks. They are also intended to raise awareness among experts and the general public about the consequences of climate change and ways of mitigating it. "This will contribute significantly to improving the environment in Ukraine and Slovakia," Mr Bieľak stressed.

The biggest share of the funding for the Belianske forests will go on redeveloping three forest roads – Čierny potok, Suchý potok and Vojenská. The rest of the money will go primarily towards regenerating a 24 hectares area of forest and maintaining young trees over an area of 52 hectares. Martina Petránová from ŠL TANAP added: "ŠL TANAP will focus in particular on two specific objectives. The first is to increase the resilience and adaptability of forest ecosystems by transforming damaged forests into sustainable, uneven and multilayer vegetation. The second is to improve foresters' professional skills and raise public awareness about forests and the impact on climate change." The plan is to use the funding mainly for cultivation work, which will entail planting different types of trees and then maintaining them in such a way that they become more sustainable and the impact on the climate is mitigated. "This is one way in which we want to help eliminate or reduce the risk of flooding and fires and, last but not least, to address the proliferation of the bark beetle," Ms Petránová explained, pointing out that all measures are to take place in the protected district of Tatranské Matliare. Apart from cultivation work, there are also plans for educational initiatives and research.

The aim of the Paths to Healthy Forests project is to increase the stability and adaptability of the Carpathian forest ecosystems in light of the effects of climate change in the cross-border region between Slovakia and Ukraine. The forests of Spišská Belá and Kežmarok and those in the Tatras National Park are in an area that is extremely vulnerable to this phenomenon. The total approved budget for the project is almost EUR 3.4 million, with the town of Spišská Belá receiving the largest share of the funding – EUR 773 000 – on the Slovak side. ŠL TANAP is set to receive EUR 342 000 and Kežmarok Forests EUR 367 000. The project is due to be implemented between 2019 and 2022.