In 2017, the need for National Red Lists across a broad range of taxonomic groups in North Macedonia had already been on the conservation agenda for several years. The need had been recognised by academia, NGOs and governmental agencies alike: strategies that include National Red List objectives are the National Strategy for Nature Protection with Action Plan (2017-2027) and the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (2018-2023). It was also acknowledged explicitly in national legislation: the Law on Nature Protection of the Republic of North Macedonia prescribes the development of national Red Lists using the IUCN Red List methodology (“Official Gazette” no. 67/04, as amended). The existence of preliminary Red Lists for certain species groups (e.g. Orthoptera, Lepidoptera, Fungi) were a testimony of the motivation of the conservation community to move the red-listing process forward. However, even though the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria were used, their alignment with the IUCN Red List guidelines was inadequately documented, making them vulnerable to criticism and causing their impact to remain mostly limited to the scientific realm.
Mid-2017, an opportunity was created to start implementing a national red-listing initiative in North Macedonia, to produce the first official National Red Lists, fully aligned with all relevant IUCN Red List guidelines. The Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office (ECARO) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) facilitated and guided the first steps of this national Red List process. The initiative formed part of a large project funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and implemented by UN Environment and the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning: “Achieving Biodiversity Conservation through Creation and Effective Management of Protected Areas and Mainstreaming Biodiversity into Land Use Planning”. IUCN ECARO was engaged to implement Outcome 2.1.1 of the project: “A ’Red List Index’ for Macedonia is generated, reflecting the prioritized list of threatened species within the country adopted by the Government of Macedonia”.
As a starting point, a guidance report “National Red Lists for Species Conservation in North Macedonia” was produced in order to help set the framework for the national Red List assessments. The report provides background to the global IUCN Red List and the differences with National Red Lists, and gives recommendations for structuring the North Macedonian Red List process.
The first steps focused on a limited number of taxonomic groups. The selection of these groups, out of all major groups across the taxonomic spectrum, was based on 20 weighted criteria, such as whether distribution data is available, whether the rate of endemism is high, or whether the species is important for international policy. These criteria were developed and scored in several consultation rounds with all stakeholders and species experts. Based on these scores, a preliminary ranking of taxonomic groups was produced and the final selection of groups was determined by IUCN, UNEP and MoEPP, taking into account efficiency of the efforts (e.g. tackling amphibians and reptiles simultaneously due to expertise residing with the same experts).
In the first official Red List effort in North Macedonia, the extinction risk of the populations of all 32 reptile and 14 amphibian species that occur in the country was evaluated according the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria (see also).
In addition, an important step towards efficient red-listing of vascular plants was taken. In contrast to the amphibians and reptiles, the most important outcome was not the full Red List of vascular plants, but a list of priority species to undergo a Red List assessment. From over 3000 species of vascular plants, a subset of around 15% was identified as priority species, based on 18 criteria regarding policy importance, endemism, rarity, and relict populations. To make a start with actual Red List assessments for vascular plants, a set of 14 vascular plant species important for international policy were assessed according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.