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European experts attend our guidelines for dry grassland management workshop

At the beginning of May, Dinara back to LIFE project hosted a workshop where around 40 European experts from the field of nature protection gathered to contribute in drafting of the Guidelines for sustainable management of dry grasslands.

The exchange of knowledge and learning together are one of the biggest benefits of LIFE projects, and the contribution of international experts will certainly benefit the quality and results of Dinara back to LIFE project.

Guidelines for dry grassland management

The reason for this gathering of experts was to participate in the development of Guidelines for Dry Grassland Restoration and Management. In the 3-and-a-half years of duration, Dinara back to LIFE will test methods for dry grassland restoration and management. Based on the collected data and testing experience, the project will develop Guidelines for Dry Grassland Restoration and Management, suited for institutions that are managing dry grasslands in Croatia. International experts were invited to a workshop on behalf of their expertise and rich experience. Their input was crucial to incorporate European context and lessons of other similar grassland restauration projects to Dinara back to LIFE, helping the transferability of the results.

Brendan Dunford, Engin Yilmaz, and Elsa Varela are just few examples of the leading experts that have brought a fresh perspective and inspiration to our project. We are thankful for the contribution of all of the experts and their support means that our results are more likely to find application in a broader European context.

Three main topics discussed were:

Grazing for biodiversity

Livestock keeping as a tradition, way of life and an occupation is the key for dry grassland preservation. Compared to the past few decades, the system has been completely changed and remaining livestock keepers need stronger support now than ever before.

In order to preserve livestock farming and conduct grazing in a way it benefits biodiversity, the key challenges have been identified as these:

  • Lack of institutional support for livestock keepers
  • Lack of knowledge on which approach works/doesn’t work
  • Biodiversity is not valued enough when pastures are leased out and leases are extended

Controlled burning as a dry grassland restoration method

Controlled burning is a traditional and, conditionally, a natural way of dry grassland preservation. This workshop explored the necessity of controlled burning for the preservation of biodiversity, primarily for species that prefer burned habitats. The fact that controlled burning does not increase carbon footprint as it is conducted in the colder part of the year, when burning intensity is much less and does not damage the rhizosphere was also discussed. Another important topic discussed was spatial planning that would increase the landscape’s resistance to wildfires. It would create a mosaic that includes areas for pasture and/or controlled burning over which summer wildfires could not spread out. Key challenges identified:


  • Poor knowledge of current scientific literature on carbon sequestration in dry grasslands and carbon footprint of dry grasslands managed by grazing and controlled burning
  • Legislation issues, namely inconsistency in forestry, environment conservation, and nature conservation legislations
  • Technical implementation of controlled burning on large areas
  • Public perception and approval of controlled burning
  • Potential conflict with hunters

Financial instruments available for grassland restoration

Dinara back to LIFE is the beginning of the work on the protection of Dinara dry grasslands, and the project pointed out the many challenges that management institutions will face in planning dry grassland conservation activities. The lack of a stable source of funding for conservation activities is only a part of the problem, and in order to bring about positive change, we need to start from the coordination and cooperation of different sectors and different legal regulations.


  • Non-existent sustainable economic model relating to extensive livestock farming and other activities which contribute to the preservation of dry grasslands
  • Inconsistent legislation
  • Lack of cooperation between different sectors (forestry, hunting, agriculture, nature protection) in managing dry grasslands

The workshop is one of the initial steps in preparing the content of Guidelines for Dry Grassland Restoration and Management. In the final year of project implementation, the project team will work intensively on developing these guidelines and they will be publicly presented in early 2023.

Participants also used this gathering to showcase some of their own projects which are an inspiration and examples of good practice in nature conservation.

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Vladimir and Tanja – good people whose hearts have led them to Peruća and cattle herding

Born 78 years ago in Marinci village on Cetina river, textile technology and engineering graduate Vladimir Marinko returned to his birthplace, now on reservoir lake Peruća, to breathe the sweet air of his youth. As a man ready for challenges, he spontaneously got involved in livestock breeding. Last autumn, this proud Dalmatian man received an offer to take over a herd of 40 goats which he happily accepted, motivated by our project and a vision of the area he lives in. Led by intuition, love and a combination of other circumstances, his 51-year-old niece Tanja Marinko Mastilović, who has formerly worked in healthy living, decided to join this man of youthful spirit in his adventure.

Tanja with the herd

When proud Dalmatian man Marinko received this offer, he had already been living in the Garjak hamlet for ten years. At the time, his niece Tanja came for a short visit. He introduced her to his plan, and since they concluded what a great opportunity it was, they started this journey together, even without any previous experience with livestock breeding. They courageously took over a herd of goats, a job completely different from anything they had done before. Naturally, they had many questions to be answered and challenges to be conquered from the start, but everything was easier with the help of their fellow cattle-herders and neighbours. These two urban people thus took the responsibility of working on a larger herd of goats housed in a hundred-year-old family home and entered a sustainable lifestyle in harmony with nature.

Vladimir and his speciality – “uštipci”

At the first visit of our team’s members to his home, Vladimir, as a friendly, warm man, told us, „you will always find a warm welcome and a cold beverage when you come to visit me“ – and so it is in every occasion. In addition to our teams’ expert advice to help these newcomers, the trail used for goats to reach their drinking area at the Peruća lake has been partially cleaned through the project. In addition, Mr. Marinko hopes that the spring called Turski bunar between Koljane and Garjak could be renewed, as well as the puddle located 10 meters downstream from the source, about 200 meters above Peruća lake.

Goats on their way to Peruća lake

What a typical day with goats looks like depends on the weather. In the wintertime, while frost lasts and the weather is cold, goats stay in the barn, being fed. When the weather becomes suitable, a team member leads their herd to graze throughout the warmer part of the day. Goats prefer hornbeam, cornelian cherry, blackberry, elm and ivy buds, as well as acorns, while they also prefer mistletoe, so the shepherd tries to offer it when he has the chance. The second team member usually spends time in the barn, preparing feed – barley, oats and corn, while simultaneously taking care of the youngest kids. During the warmer periods of the year, the animals spend the day in the shade.


New goat-herders learned very quickly that goats are not taken out in the rain and low temperatures, as well as that they are very tame and that they are very easy to guard because they do not move away from their keeper. What is important, they also learned, is that vitamins and selenium are very important for goats, because without them the goat becomes passive very quickly and within three days it literally falls off its feet.

Marinko remembers that, while he was younger, in times of intensive livestock breeding, the area of Ježević dry grassland and the coast of Cetina lacked in vegetation and juniper “was nowhere near, not a single plant”. Some could only be found far “below the ridge” on the steeper slopes of Mt. Dinara and above the houses, and even those few would be pruned and used for meat smoking. Ježević dry grassland consisted of “rocky terrain and grassland,” without vegetation back then, as a plateau with thousands of cattle. He also recalls seeing a stone-curlew in the nearby area, in the clearing and around the rocks. Marince hamlet had seven households, each having a donkey with a foal – on the stretch from Ježević to the Dragović monastery only, Mr. Marinko estimates, there were as many as 200 donkeys. As well as goats, they were not guarded, but would first go to Cetina river to a drinking place and then to the upper areas to graze, where they would eat that small amount of juniper found there. Clear terrain as such was ideal for this target species of ours, on the return of which we are working intensively.

Apart from being a man who dared to start livestock breeding in his mature age, Mr. Marinko showed courage earlier when he had decided to return to his homeland on foot, having crossed over 600 kilometers from his then home to the place of his birth. As a young man, he went abroad and started his career at a public company for textile import and export and continued to work in his private company in Belgrade. During his life there, he watched the ships sail along the Danube and daydreamed about returning to his native Dalmatia. At his 62nd birthday celebration, a year after becoming a widower, he informed his relatives and friends about his plan to go back to his homeland – on foot. Except for his strong will, he only brought a tent, a bag, a head-lamp and a backpack. During his trip, he would stay in a tent at gas stations along the road, as well in the backyards of good people he met while traveling. At the end of the summer of 2006, after about 20 days of walking, he arrived at Peruća lake’s coast. After arriving, he celebrated the Assumption of Mary at the Dragović Monastery and returned back to his family by bus. The following year he came to sort out his living situation, and has been living in Marinci since 2009, happy and content. Today he is a vital man, embarking on an adventure of a lifetime, no matter how long or short-lived it could be.

Mr. Marinko can be deservedly presented as a versatile man given that he has, in addition to everything mentioned, also written several books about his homeland and family. In his monograph “Kako sam prepešačio život,“ (“How I walked through life”) he described the adventure of returning home by foot while also recalling his youth growing up next to Cetina river. “Povratak u San Marinke“ (“Going back to San Marinci”) could be described as the family tree of his multinational family in written form. His poems are collected in “Miris nevena“ (“The smell of marigold”), while “Pelene i znoj“ (“Diapers and sweat”) recorded 12 true stories about women from the Vrlika region, about the hardships they went through in life, the unfortunate times of war and about their husbands who went away to make money for their families well-being. In the collection “Dalmatinske ojkalice“ (“Dalmatian ojkalice”) he successfully gathered around 800 ojkalica, rera or ganga songs as these are called in the Sinj area and in Herzegovina. This tireless man is currently writing a romance novel, “Katarina Marina“ (“Mara’s Katarina”) between two people of different religions, Katarina and Marko, who fight for their love while dealing with the pressure of those around them.

Mr. Vladimir Marinko’s life philosophy is to be kind to other people. In his youth, when the families were left without their land along Cetina river after the construction on Peruća lake, most family members immigrated, except for his mother Ilinka Marinko, born Ivanica Duvnjak, who remained there. Since he was forced to leave in search of a better life, the help he got along the way affected him greatly – “we nurtured that part of the emotions, that feeling of kindness, generosity and sympathy. The kindness of the people left a strong impact on me.” Marinko believes that, regardless of what someone does, “you don’t need to feel the regret, kindness always pays off,” and that conversation can solve every obstacle.

The challenge of caring for a goat herd was new to Mrs. Tanja, but also familiar because it reminded her of caring for children. She explains that she had got as many answers as there were questions she had asked people regarding raising offspring, and the same situation happened again with goat farming. Even though she points out that the job is physically hard and demanding, she emphasizes how it makes her feel alive and happy with where she is. Since Tanja’s plan from last autumn to come to Peruća for a quick visit went in an unexpected direction, she doesn’t make plans anymore, “The best is yet to come. It may be wisest not to plan.”

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Knin students attend workshops on project implementation and remote sensing for map-making

Recently, we had an opportunity to present Dinara back to LIFE project to students of Marko Marulić Polytechnic in Knin. We held two workshops, one aimed at the economy students to whom we presented our experiences in writing and implementing projects. The other workshop, for agriculture students, covered remote sensing for map-making purposes.

Projects are our reality, a very common part of the hiring process, and a tool for completing an organization’s goals. Also, they are a way to find answers for community issues. We hope the experience from Dinara back to LIFE project gave students a good insight into what projects are like in real life, what makes nature conservation projects special, how to begin thinking about a project, and how to deal with the most common challenges. Special thanks go to members of Ecological Association “Krka” Knin who took part in the presentation, introduced themselves to the students and shared the challenges they face.

During the remote sensing workshop for agriculture students, we presented the scheme and the protocol we used to make the Dinara grasslands map, one of the activities we had during the project. We also showed them the basics of working in GIS software. Students were also introduced to the basics of remote sensing in biology, and through the practical part of the workshop, they had the opportunity to see and analyze satellite imagery, as well as to try different ways of classifying in order to create a grassland map. After the workshop, students were given the scheme and the protocol so they can repeat the process we covered in the workshop themselves later.

Once again, we want to make students aware of possible opportunities where they could start developing and working on their own initial projects. In addition to connecting to local groups, the European Solidarity Corps project is an excellent opportunity where young people, even those that are not members of an existing organisation, can apply in self-organised groups of five. With European Solidarity Corps they have an opportunity to help answer community issues while undertaking their first steps in project writing and implementation. More information on this programme can be found here – programu/projekti-solidarnosti/ [CRO]

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A visit to a good practice example in Drniš – how to deal with juniper?

Dinara back to LIFE project team in April visited an example of good practice, Drniš branch of Croatian Forestry, which boasts with large pastures they lease out where stone-curlew and short-toed lark can still be found. The team also visited a master of beautiful susak cups, made from juniper.

Recently we visited a good practice example, the Drniš branch of Croatian Forestry, which is very successful in leasing land, and a craftsman who makes juniper cups.
A finished “susak”

This visit was attended by representatives of our project partners – University of Zagreb Faculty of Agriculture, Croatian Forestry, Local Action Group (LAG) Cetinska Krajina, and Biom Association, as well as representatives from the Croatian Forestry Drniš branch, Public Institution (JU) “Priroda” from Šibenik-Knin County, and National Park Krka.

First part of the visit took place in Pokrovnik area near Drniš, one of the last remaining habitats of stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) and short-toed lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) in Croatia. However, this area is under risk of becoming overgrown like the pastures on Dinara have been, mostly with juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus), and should therefore be restored to prevent the loss of this habitat. This idea was well accepted by representatives of Croatian Forestry.

Project team, representatives of Drniš branch of Croatian Forestry, JU Priroda and NP Krka near Pokrovnik.

Drniš area is traditionally a cattle herding area, an activity that is supported by the Croatian Forestry Drniš branch – they currently have 350 lease contracts which cover 9000 Ha, as Ante Slamić, manager from the Forestry tells us. The Pokrovnik area is also under lease and is expected to have nesting stone-curlew and short-toed lark. Slamić points out that when leasing out land it’s important that the governing bodies – Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development – better coordinate their work. Representatives of NP Krka also added that when leasing land it’s important to let the local governing bodies know in a timely manner whether the land in question is protected under Natura 2000. The boundaries of NP Krka touch stone-curlew and short-toed lark habitat areas.

Grassland near Pokrovnik which is being overgrown by juniper.

The grassland near Pokrovnik is one of the last habitat for short-toed lark and stone-curlew in Croatia, and is currently being overgrown by juniper, or “šmrika” as it is locally called. The very same process endangered their habitat in Ježević dry-grassland, so the question arose of the possibility of removing unwanted woody vegetation. Drniš Forestry branch expressed understanding of the need to preserve the grassland as a habitat, and they took into account the possibility of starting the process of manual removal of juniper on the grassland near Pokrovnik, which would be carried out exclusively by Croatian Forestry. The possibility has been presented to make this terrain a pilot area in the near future, since with each season this grassland is being overgrown more and more. Given that the Forest Management Program for this area is under revision, it is an ideal time for new measures. A proposal came from Biom to combine both quick and long-term solutions in the area of Pokrovnik, before stone-curler and short-toed lark completely disappear from the area.

Ante Slamić sees great potential in juniper utilization

Slamić believes that in time, everything that can burn, including juniper, will be highly valued, and he sees confirmation of this in the rise in energy prices in the shadow of unrests in Eastern Europe. Demand already exists – bio-power plant will soon open in this area. The managers of the power-plant expressed the need for 50 tons of juniper to test the potential of juniper for energy production. This plant species is of very high quality, above the level of oak and beech, Slamić emphasizes, so it can be used to make various useful items. Juniper is adundant in this area, and beyond, so it can be managed over a longer period of time. Juniper is also specific in the sense that other plant species can be directly and strongly affected by livestock, while the impact of animals on juniper is much smaller and must be removed manually. An economically sustainable model that everyone would be satisfied with – the managers, the cattle-herders and the organizations that work on nature conservation – is the best solution, Slamić emphasized, and one such thing is in sight for Pokrovnik. The plots will be more interesting to lessees when they are not overgrown, Croatian Forestry has their own interest in their lease, while the bird species need such an open habitat. The problem of overgrowing by juniper in large areas of Croatia, all present agreed, should be brought forward to the ministries’ levels, and solutions that all the interested stakeholders agree on should be presented.

One of the problems in the leased areas is the electric shepherds that cattle breeders set up to make it easier to keep their flocks, while hunters see this infrastructure as restricting the movement of wildlife. Electric shepherds are common on the pastures of Drniš, where cows come to graze, which are popular among cattle breeders since they are simple to take care of, and have greater incentives. Hunters, however, are concerned about wildlife migration. The needs of cattle breeders and the concerns of hunters can be reconciled by the method of segmented grazing – the system of placing electric shepherds on a maximum of 20% of the leased area, and after that fenced part of the pasture is grazed, the electric shepherd would move to the next area of similar size.

The biggest problem in this area, Slamić pointed out, are wildires, 95% of which, as he believes, happen due to human negligence, and only about 5% are caused by other factors such as lightning, train sparks, etc. Education is important in this case, which would therefore save many areas from fire. An additional tool in limiting the spread of wildfires are open grasslands that, when caught by the fire, burn with weaker flames than forest or bush wildfires. The fire also spreads slowly in grassland areas – so the grassland helps put out the fire. In addition, juniper affected by wildfire often does not burn completely, as thicker branches remain in the habitat, which does not suit stone-curlew and short-toed lark, so this unburned wood material must be removed manually.

Working on a piece of juniper

The visit to the example of good practice continued in Siverić with Ivan Mlađa Tomić, a master who makes susak cups from šmrika, a characteristic Drniš cup similar to bukara His susak cups are beautiful vessels, handmade from this hard material and an expression of local tradition, as well as a way of sustainable use of naturally available resource.

Pieces of juniper being dried for two years in master Mlađo warehouse

The process of producing just one susak is very time consuming. It begins by collecting bits of wood from a plant that can be cut only through November, December, January and February. The handle for the future susak is prepared by cooking or heating thin branches which are then bent and dried. The drying process takes as long as a year and a half to two on the shelves of the master’s workshop. The pieces of juniper that the master collected, prepared and marked this winter will, therefore, be ready for processing – in 2024!

Bent branches will serve as susak handles

Of the collected wooden material, 70% will remain, while the remaining 30% will be unusable because it will rot or be eaten by worms or perish in some other way. After drying in the warehouse, the wood pieces go for additional drying for another month or two. After cutting the pieces of juniper into the tiles that will make up the susak, 70 to 80 percent of the unusable wooden pieces are discarded again.

Each susak is made by 14+1 wooden pieces

One susak requires 14+1 wooden tiles, regardless of the size of the susak. Smaller wooden tiles are used to make smaller volumes, while larger pieces are used to make higher volumes, but always fifteen (one with a handle). Each susak is special and unique, but they are all made to measure. Wooden pieces for susak are joined exclusively without gluing, with a tin ring. In the final phase of work, one work day is needed for the final production of one susak. What is interesting about susak, from which the drink is traditionally drunk “in a circle”, one man after another, is that this vessel does not transmit herpes. No such regularity has been established for other disease.

Susak models from which everything has begun

Master Mlađo started making susak cups 25 years ago, as he used this activity as a kind of occupational therapy. The first susak cups he had found and observed trying to understand how they were created, he keeps on the shelf in his workshop to this day. The machines that this electrician works on were made by himself. The one for removing grooves on wooden pieces he worked on for two years, and this machine has been listed in the book of innovations.

The innovative machine

The master of juniper processing passes on his knowledge to younger generations – at fairs he holds creative workshops for children, leaving it them to make wooden objects on their own. He passes his work and expertise to them, thus opening the door to preserving this skill.

A stylized susak made from hedge in front of master Mlađo’s house in Siverić
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A new research has begun – exclusion cages set on Dinara

Professors Hrvoje Kutnjak and Josip Leto and assistant Lucija Rajčić from the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Zagreb have recently set up so-called “exclusion cages”, as part of research for our project.

Prof Kutnjak on the field

These roller cages are about a meter and a half in diameter and one meter high, constructed of wire mesh, and attached to the ground. Their purpose is to prevent livestock from accessing this excluded piece of lawn. In this way, the set of grassland is preserved locally as well as the growth of plants. This method ultimately provides experts with the possibility of better insight into the botanical composition and productivity of grasslands in the project area.

Cages prevent grazing on the excluded section of the grassland

A total of six cages have been set up, four of which are in Ježević dry grassland, while two are in the Podinarje area near Kijevo. The cages are marked with leaflets with a message asking random passers-by not to touch the cages and thus help the research conducted in the Dinara area.

This year we plan to set-up additional cages. The results obtained will give a better insight into the utilization of grassland’s natural resource as well as new knowledge useful for grassland management in protected areas.