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Conservation of endangered habitats / species in the future Karst Park (Karst park)
Start date: Oct 1, 2002, End date: Sep 30, 2005 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background The Slovene Karst region, on the north-western ridge of the Dinaric Mountains, between Trieste, Gorizia and Postojna, is one of the richest areas in Slovenia in terms of biodiversity. A flat to hilly limestone area, with a rich diversity of karst features such as caves, sinkholes and canyons, the region is a mosaic of dry and rocky meadows and pastures. The area includes three types of priority habitats, with semi-natural dry grasslands extending over 20 percent of its surface, and six species listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive, among which the butterfly Callimorpha quadripunctaria. As in the rest of Europe, the advent of farm mechanisation, together with the gradual abandonment of agricultural land, has drastically reduced the presence of semi-natural habitats and of the species that depend on them. The site contains over 200 karstic ponds that are resting and feeding places for migrating birds, as well as for amphibians, mammals, dragonflies and others. It has been recently designated as an Important Bird Area and the Slovenian Parliament intends to include 58,000 ha of the territory within the future Karst Regional Park. The designation is however a complicated, long-term process, heavily dependent on the understanding and support of the local population. Objectives This project aimed to provide a first contribution to the designation process of the Karst Regional Park. It planned to concentrate on one pilot area within the Karst site - Kraski Rob. This was chosen as the most important of all of the sub-sites in terms of biodiversity. For the chosen area, the project intended to draw up an inventory of sites, with particular attention to endangered habitats and species, including natural and semi-natural grasslands and karstic ponds. It then planned the elaboration of specific management plans for each site. It foresaw the signing of stewardship agreements with land-owners, who would receive subsidies for implementing the plans. It was estimated that 30 micro-areas would be part of the network, resulting in the restoration of at least 150 ha of dry grassland habitats and four karstic ponds. The project, which envisaged the preparation of all legal requirements for the proposal of the pilot area as a future Site of Community Importance, planned an extensive public awareness campaign, with meetings, newsletters, videos and a website aimed at residents and policy-makers of the Karst region. Results This successful project led to the recognition of the ecological importance of the diverse, mosaic landscape of Kraski Rob and its many endangered habitats and species and the value of classifying it as a Natura 2000 site. In May 2004, the site was proposed to the Commission as a potential future Site of Community Interest and it is now listed as an Ecologically Important Area according to the Slovenian national Nature Protection law. The project mapped the habitats of the project area and developed 50 site-specific management plans for micro areas. Detailed and clear guidelines were written for the landowners of the micro-areas with an emphasis on the dry grasslands and karstic ponds of highest conservation concern. For the first time in Slovenia, stewardship contracts were signed with land-owners to commit them to managing the land according to the plans. The project restored four karstic ponds, which are important habitats for endangered amphibians. Following the plans, the ponds were cleaned and the exotic vegetation and animals removed. The bottoms of the ponds were deepened and then sealed with a layer of clay. The original vegetation was then re-planted resulting in restoration. More than 400 ha of endangered dry meadows were maintained and/or restored through the removal of bushes and tall herbs and subsequent mowing. The enthusiasm of land-owners and farm communities for the land management schemes produced within the project and national agri-environmental schemes not only took the geographical scope of this work beyond expectations, but also promise long-term, sustainable management of these habitats. An information centre for tourists and visitors was established in the village of Rakitovec, with a permanent exhibition about karstic ponds. Good communication with local inhabitants was key to the successful implementation of the project actions. Several workshops and presentations were organised and information disseminated via leaflets, a newsletter, media interviews, a website and a book. This meant the project was largely accepted by local people, some of whom started to think of future activities, such as the establishment of an Eco-park – this also bodes well for the continuation of this conservation work.
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