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Additional three donkeys join our project flock

Our project flock has been increased by three new donkeys – Ivan Kaselj from Ježević acquired one female and two male donkeys, increasing his flock size to five. A sixth addition is expected in a few months!

The new males are two and nine years old, and the female is six and is currently pregnant with a foal – which will increase this flocks’ size to six this summer. Cattle-herder Kaselj’s plan is to eventually increase his flock size to 10 donkeys.

Kaselj takes his donkeys to Ježević dry field out to pasture, and new animals are taught the way by following a trail of corn from their stable to the pasture, with this training lasting several months. Afterwards, the donkeys can find their own way to the pasture and in the evening back to their stable.

Kaselj’s donkeys eat young juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus), as well as soft shoots of more mature juniper plants. In addition to his donkeys, this herder also has 40-ish goats which he keeps for dairy production, as well as two cows. His goats also graze on older parts of juniper plants, says Kaselj.

Thanks to this rich mixed flock the grassland at Ježević dry field will be improved as these animals graze on juniper bushes – the main cause of recession of fields on Dinara – but as the local flocks grow in both number and types of grazing animals, especially donkeys, the process of overgrowing by woody vegetation will be significantly slowed down. However, complete restoration and increase of grassland areas which are overgrown by bushes can only be achieved by controlled burning and manual removal of woody vegetation, which would then be followed by grazing. There, the donkeys would eat any new shoots thus preventing the woody plants from taking hold again.

Our project flock was formed in order to slow down and stop further overgrowing using targeted grazing and so far. So far, we have had 6 contracts with local cattle-herders signed. These herders have a lease on land within the project areas that also overlap with the habitats of stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) and short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) – the bird species whose protection is the main goal behind this project. In order to reduce selective grazing, we encourage acquisition of animals with different grazing preferences as this allows us to target more intense grazing on woody plants, primarily juniper which is the main plant found in overgrown areas. As local herders mainly keep sheep, goats, or cows, we encouraged them to consider getting more hoofed animals such as donkeys to complete the flock and maximise grazing efficiency. With the support from the project the herders were able to add additional 22 horses and donkeys to their already existing flocks, thus raising the total project flock number to around 880 animals – 760 sheep, 90 goats, nine cows, and the aforementioned horses and donkeys. We’re hoping the herders will continue to keep mixed flocks even after the project finishes in summer 2023 and that the number of horses and donkeys will keep increasing due to natural growth. This will ensure grassland overgrowing will be slowed on a long-term scale. If we also manage to affect the practices and legal framework concerning manual woody vegetation removal combined with grazing, it could make a significant difference and shift on a local scale of the overgrowth trend we’re currently seeing, at least on the project area.

Ivan Kaselj and his donkey


We’re developing our project flock in cooperation with local herders who own or lease the land in areas important as habitats for the project birds, these areas being Ježević dry field i Kijevo dry field.

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Restoration season has finished – 47,6 ha of grassland on Ježević suhopolje has been cleared

At the end of March our first restoration season finished, which started in September last year, in which 47,6 ha of Ježević suhopolje grassland has been cleared of woody vegetation. By doing this a large grassland area has been made available for the return of Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) and Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) to an area which had no record of Stone-curlew last year.

Stone-curlew and short-toed lark

The manual removal of woody vegetation on Ježević suhopolje began in September alongside the educational-volunteer camp Dinara back to LIFE which lasted for two work-intense weeks where 18 students and 20 other volunteers and participants started manually removing woody vegetation and so improved 28,8 ha of grassland. During this first phase methodology was developed considering the tools used as well as a timeline for necessary work. In addition, the 18 students also attended a series of lectures and gained a theoretical understanding of habitat restoration, knowledge they will be able to use in their future activities.

Kamp attendees at the cleared part of Ježević suhopolje

Immediately after the camp finished, the restoration was continued by restoration workers Mario Grčić i Ivan Kekez who started a 6-month season of clearing the Ježević suhopolje from woody vegetation. The removal was carried out on the area next to the area previously cleared during the camp. Despite the work being very physical and monotonous the two workers are satisfied – ‘’I work in nature and heal myself’’, says Grčić. A mechanical technician by profession he was previously working in construction and baking, and now he says ‘’for the first time I go to work singing!’’. Kekez, a driver and firefighter started this work because he loves animals and nature, and he enjoys this type of work – ‘’This is both work and relaxation to me. I enjoy the work and it’s made me feel more youthful!’’. Fieldwork is calm and peaceful and wildlife encounters are rare, a shepherd will come through with his herd now and again. These workers were also a part of other activities during the season, including pond and stone dry wall restoration.

Manual removal of woody vegetation is a crucial part of grassland restoration efforts on Dinara. Large areas have become overgrown over the decades due to mass emigration and a gradual abandonment of cattle breeding in the area. As a grassland gets more overgrown it is less and less grazed accelerating the habitat degradation process. In order to stop and reverse this process woody vegetation has to be manually removed as grazing alone is not enough due to large bushes and small trees which cannot be eaten by grazing animals and therefore they continue to grow and spread unless manually removed.  This removal method guarantees a complete and thorough clearing of all types of woody vegetation, especially juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus) which unlike other vegetation, cannot be significantly managed with livestock and therefore must be manually removed. During the 7 month restoration season we did just that – we cleared a relatively large portion of the grassland, mostly from juniper, for the benefit of wildlife as well as domesticated animals, with a goal of perserving this grassland with the help of local shepherds and their herds, and eventually expanding the cleared area in continuing these restoration practices. The presence of grazing cattle will help keep the grassland in a good condition and prevent any future overgrowth by woody vegetation.

Parallel to the woody vegetation removal a ‘project flock was formed, made up from cattle from 6 local herds which already graze on target areas in Kijevo suhopolje and Ježević suhopolje. Grazing on the cleared area will prevent future overgrowth by juniper and other such vegetation, which will in the long run preserve and improve the grassland habitat for the above-mentioned bird species, which are themselves the aim of this project. Both the Stone-curlew and the Short-toed Lark are dependent on open areas with scattered low vegetation without any obstacles in the area. Usually residing in semi-desert areas which are sparse in Croatia, but are found in Kijevo suhopolje and Ježević suhopolje, and a few other locations. By improving the habitat conditions for these species, we are directly improving the habitat for numerous other species dependant on open areas and therefore also contributing to their conservation as well.

There will be no restoration work at the foothills of Dinara until the end of August as nesting season is underway and the birds require peace, this year we are especially hopeful we will see nesting Stone-curlews as they have not been seen in the area since 2020.

In order to increase overall grassland area, we are staring a new restoration season in September, increasing our ‘project herd’ and intensifying the grazing regime, we’re also hoping we will be permitted to use a third restoration method – controlled burning.

A map of cleared part of Ježević suhopolje
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International experts in Sinj at the ‘European Green Deal – How Croatia Can Strike It?’ panel discussion

International and domestic experts Ariel Brunner from BirdLife International, the world’s biggest organization for protection of birds, Brendan Dunford from the Burren Programme, Engin Yilman from Yolda Initiative, and Aljoša Duplić from the Croatian Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development will be the speakers at the ‘European Green Deal – How Croatia Can Strike It?’ panel discussion, organized by the Association Biom in Sinj on May 9 within the Dinara back to LIFE project.

European Green Deal is the start of a new era in European history and marks the strategy of growth that the EU countries will use to face climate and environmental challenges and to transform their economies and societies to make them sustainable. We can freely say that biodiversity has never been more important, however, the key lies in finding the balance between the need to protect nature and biodiversity on one side, and human activity and economy on the other. There’s an influx of nature protection challenges, and the current energy crisis puts additional pressure on balancing nature protection with the needs for economic development, as well as renewable energy sources.

„With this panel discussion, we aim to hear examples and experiences in nature conservation from the entire world and to comment on challenges and possibilities that are opening for Croatia in this period. It is an honor to host experts with such knowledge and experience on our panel. We invite all to take part live or via live stream“ – Željka Rajković, director of Association Biom noted.

European Green Deal responds to challenges set forth by climate change and habitat degradation, aiming to improve the quality of life for current and future generations. Thusly, it is important for citizens to take part and follow national policies. Only cooperation can guarantee the Green Deal to succeed and bring permanent change.

The themes of the panel will include the purpose of the Green Deal and its significance for specific sector policies such as energy and agriculture; experience of EU countries in Green Deal implementation; challenges and opportunities for Croatia; positive experience from the Mediterranean basin in harmonizing nature and human activity, and other current issues.

Speakers at the panel are international and domestic experts in nature conservation.

Ariel Brunner coordinates the work of BirdLife Europe on a wide range of EU policies ranging from nature and biodiversity conservation, to climate and energy, fisheries and agriculture. Over the last decade, he has been deeply involved in debates on reform of the Common Agriculture Policy and is widely recognized as a prominent expert on the environmental impacts of EU farm policies.

In recent years, he has played a leading role in advocacy around the European Green Deal, the EU Biodiversity Strategy, and the NatureAlert campaign to defend and improve the implementation of the EU nature protection legislation. He has been very active in debates over the sustainability of renewable energy and bioenergy in particular as a leading critic of EU support for biofuels. Currently, he is a board member of the Renewable Grid Initiative and a member of the EC Platform on Sustainable Finance.

Brendan Dunford has spent the past 20 years living and working in the Burren region in the west of Ireland, where he led the award-winning BurrenLIFE Project (2005-2010) and currently manages its successor, the ‘Burren Programme’ This innovative ‘results-based payment’ programme incentivizes farmers on over 23,000ha of priority limestone habitats to improve local biodiversity, water quality, and cultural heritage, delivering consistent social, economic, and environmental gains annually since its inception in 2010.

Dunford is the founder of the Burrenbeo Trust –a leading advocate for place-based learning and community stewardship in Ireland – and a founder of which aims to acknowledge, celebrate and support farmers across Europe who work on nature protection. In 2011 he became an Ashoka Fellow and in 2018 he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Galway for his work in championing farmland biodiversity.

Engin Yılmaz is the director of the Yolda Initiative which is a nature conservation organization based in Turkey and working at an international level. He is also the coordinator of the Alliance for Mediterranean Nature and Culture (AMNC) and the co-chair of Europe IYRP Support Group. He has a long career at civil society organizations, a major part of which he devoted himself to nature conservation. Founding Yolda Initiative in 2015, his research and conservation interest since then has been mainly focused on cultural practices, particularly mobile pastoralism, that benefit biodiversity. Engin gained valuable experience also as the director of the BirdLife partner in Turkey where he worked from 2010 to 2015.

Aljoša Duplić is a director of the Institute for Environment and Nature at the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development. He has PhD in Biological Sciences from the Faculty of Science at the University of Zagreb. Prior to being a director, he was head of the Sector for nature protection at the Institute for Environment and Nature. During 16 years of experience in the field of nature conservation, he worked on different topics from nature conservation, mostly connected with species conservation and sites. He actively participated in the preparation of the Proposal of the national ecological network and also the Croatian proposal of the Natura 2000 ecological network. He worked on development of framework for implementation of the management of Natura 2000 ecological network (sites) in Croatia through the Operational program for cohesion and competitiveness. Additionally, he worked on the development and implementation of the system for monitoring, rapid response, contro,l and eradication of the invasive alien species.

The panel discussion European Green Deal – How Croatia Can Strike It? is taking part on May 9, from 4 PM to 6 PM at the Multimedia Hall of the Alka Museum, at Put Petrovca 12 in Sinj. The language of the discussion is English. It will be moderated by journalist Domagoj Novokmet.

Panel discussion can be watched online, at the Biom YouTube channel –