Vast tracts of Albanian landscape, whose plant life has been hidden for decades, are at last being explored with the help of a scientists from the United Kingdom.
John Rodwell, of the Unit of Vegetation Science at Lancaster University, has just returned from Albania, where he has started up a project to map its vegetation. This is a first step towards saving species from extinction, he says.
Albania has one of the richest varieties of plants in the world. But it has suffered years of damage through pollution and poor farming practices.
Now that the country is opening up to the west, its biodiversity is also threatened by development.
"The landscape is startingly beautiful," says Dr Rodwell. "It has the only undeveloped coastline on the Adriatic. There is a lot of interest from the west in providing roads and developing tourism.
"It's a desperately poor country and it would be wrong to criticise them for wanting to do that. But it's likely that biodiversity will not be a priority."
Dr Rodwell is teaching Albanian scientists to establish a database so that they can put together inventories of plant communities.
The three-year project is funded by the UK Know-How Fund. It has involved investigating areas that have been closed to the public as military zones for years. "No botanists had looked at this area before," says Dr Rodwell. "Albania is a bit of a challenge."
One of his Albanian colleagues, Petrit Hoda, lecturer in botany at Tirana University, investigates the ex-military zones and the mountainous areas, which reach 2,000 metres in height, by getting a bus as far as he can and then waiting in hope for a passing car. If no lift has appeared after two days he gets the bus home without having done any work.
In June, ten Albanian scientists will come to the UK to learn more about the computer software needed for cataloguing the plants and the mapping process.