ECOCLUB

ISSN 1108-8931

INTERNATIONAL ECOTOURISM MONTHLY

Year 5-Issue 52, Sep 2003

The ECOCLUB Interview
Index of Interviews

Sir Patrick Fairweather
Director, The Butrint Foundation

Sir Patrick FairweatherSir Patrick is the Director of the Butrint Foundation, which funds archaeology and conservation in the World Heritage Site of Butrint, in south-western Albania, since 1997. A former member of the British Diplomatic Service, his career took him to more remote or less well-known parts of the world such as Laos, Angola, Sao Tome and Albania, as well as Rome (twice), Paris, Brussels (EU) and Athens.

What and who are the Butrint Foundation, what was the main reason behind the Foundation's creation and who took the initiative?

The Butrint Foundation is a non-profit organisation set up in 1993 by Lord Rothschild and Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover to assist the Albanian authorities with the archaeology and conservation of the World Heritage Site of Butrint. Lord Rothschild, who has a house in Corfu almost opposite Butrint, was struck by the extraordinary beauty of the site when he was first able to visit in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Communist regime.

What have been so far the main achievements of the Butrint Foundation?

After the collapse of the Communist regime, archaeology and conservation in Albania suffered from lack of financial and manpower resources. The Butrint Foundation has provided funds for:

· The conservation of the monuments of Butrint.
· A programme of archaeology at the main site of Butrint and also along the shores of Lake Butrint to the east and south of the main site.
· An archival research programme into the history and archaeology of Butrint.

We have also:

· Raised the profile of Butrint, both internationally and in Albania. In 2000 the World Heritage Site of Butrint was enlarged from a few hectares to 29 km2 and the Butrint National Park set up to manage the site.
· Persuaded the World Bank and the EU to devote resources to the Butrint National Park and the area around Butrint which has the potential to become the focus for the development of sustainable tourism.
· Sought to promote Butrint as a site for sustainable tourism.

What were the main obstacles that the Butrint Foundation had to overcome and what still needs to be done?

The main problem was and is the absence of environmental conservation legislation and planning procedures. Until recently this was exacerbated by the lack of communication between central government in Tirana and the local authorities in Saranda and by poor communication between ministries. For example shortly after the setting up of the Butrint National Park in 2000, the Albanian Government approved projects for hotel development within the National Park. Butrint's greatest asset is its pristine quality. Building in the National Park or in sensitive areas outside the park represents a real threat.

So is Tourism helping or harming? How easy is it to get to Butrint? Will a tourist construction boom follow the first tourists?

Tourism is essential. Ticket receipts are a key element in the budget of the Butrint National Park. Some 15,000 foreigners came to Butrint in 2002. The numbers are expected to increase substantially in 2003. The park is just able to cope with these numbers but it is essential that attention should now be given to the provision of appropriate facilities or the site will be spoiled.

Butrint is about 45 minutes by road from Saranda which has daily ferry links with Corfu. It is easily possible to visit Butrint and return to Corfu within the day. However the Butrint Foundation would like to encourage visitors to stay longer and to visit some of the other interesting sites in the region including the late Ottoman town of Gjirokastra.

Saranda is already experiencing a building boom. The hope of the Butrint Foundation is that, through proper planning controls, building will not take place near Butrint.

Has the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation been helpful in practice for the Butrint site and in what ways?

Very helpful. UNESCO sent official missions to Butrint in 1997 and 2001 and their observations on the conservation of the site were important in persuading the Albanian Government to set up the Butrint National Park. UNESCO also provided funds for emergency action at Butrint.

How interested and involved is the local community in the region in the preservation and management of the Butrint site?

The Management plan for Butrint, which was written by the Butrint Foundation in 2001, drew heavily on the views of the local community. They regard Butrint as a special place which has to be preserved. The conservation of Butrint rests ultimately on the local community. They will be involved.

How do Albanian officials at a regional and central government level view the prospects for eco-tourism in the greater Butrint area, as compared to mass tourism and how does that view differ if at all from the view of your Foundation?

The Albanian Government regard tourism as the best and quickest way to create desperately needed jobs and a measure of prosperity in southwestern Albania. There is no doubt that some officials are tempted by the Corfu model of mass tourism. However, as they become better informed on the nature of modern tourism, there is growing recognition of the importance of the conservation of Albania's environmental and cultural heritage, both for its own sake and as the foundation for ecotourism.

Can such important and vulnerable sites be really protected in times of turmoil, can a foundation like yours make or assist with the development and implementation of contingency plans?

The first UNESCO mission to Butrint in 1997 was prompted by the Butrint Foundation in response to press reports that the site had been looted during the disturbances of that year - these stories proved to be untrue, though some objects were stolen. Organisations like the Butrint Foundation can play an important role in the conservation of sites like Butrint, even in turbulent times, by lobbying national governments and cooperating with international organisations like UNESCO.

What is in your view a sustainable way of financing such important sites, in Albania and beyond, in the long run are donations by foundations like yours adequate?

I have already referred to the importance of ticket receipts for sites like Butrint. They will always be an important element in the budget of Butrint. Central government needs to play its part by funding a management structure for the park. These two sources of funds should be sufficient to pay all the normal day-to-day costs of managing the site. Organisations like the Butrint Foundation can assist by providing funds for major projects, which cannot be funded out of current expenditure.

Thank you very much.

Readers: please also see related article on Albania in this issue.

for further details please contact

Ms. Amy Braham
Butrint Foundation
St James's Place
London SW1A 1NP
UK

Email: butrintfound@ritcap.co.uk
tel: +44 20 7493 8111
fax: +44 20 7495 6874 


Find the complete list of ECOCLUB Interviews here

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