Working Together Towards Grasslands Sustainability(Cross-sectoral Approach)
We are delighted to announce the “Dinara back to LIFE” project conference “Working together towards grassland sustainability (cross-sectoral approach)”.
Save the date! The conference will be held in Sinj, Croatia from 21 to 24 March 2023.
We aim to bring together stakeholders from different sectors such as nature conservation, forestry, agriculture, public authorities, local action groups, etc., and discuss opportunities and the importance of cross-sectoral cooperation in grassland management.
The project team will also present “Guidelines for dry grassland restoration and sustainable management”. The Guidelines are based on the grassland restoration experience of the last three years, with the aim of being a knowledge resource for governing institutions. We are hopeful that our knowledge, advice, and lessons learned will prove to be useful for future sustainable grassland management.
We will continue planning the event and logistics, and keep you updated with the information. Conference invitation will be sent to your e-mail in January 2023, and until then please make sure to save the date!
After our spring/summer break, needed to leave the animals undisturbed during nesting and fledging season, we began a new season of overgrown grasslands restoration.
The upcoming season will take place from 1st of September 2022 until March 31st 2023. Overgrown grasslands will continue to be restored in the Ježević dry grassland, situated between the villages Koljane and Cetina. During the previous season 47,6 ha of dry grassland was already restored, an area we will increase in the upcoming season.
Grasslands are being restored by manually removal of woody vegetation, especially juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus). Juniper bushes have been taking over grassland areas for decades, and as a plant species that is not normally eaten by grazing animals the only viable method of removal is manually removing the plants, as it used to be done in this area in the past when more people and animals lived here.
By restoring the overgrown areas, we are hoping to attract species whose habitat is dry grassland, and are currently declining in number due to habitat loss. The short-toed lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) and the stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) are examples of bird species that depend on this habitat and are therefore at risk, not only in Ježević dry grassland, the only such grassland left on Dinara, but at the very few remaining habitats of this kind left in Croatia overall. The last breeding pair of the stone-curlew was recorded here two years ago and the species has since disappeared from this area due to habitat loss. We are hoping to see it return after restoring almost 50 ha of open grassland last season and expanding that area further in the upcoming season.
We chose the Ježević dry grassland specifically as it is the last recorded site of nesting stone-curlews on Dinara as well as a current habitat of the short-toed lark. We want to continue restoring and expanding this area to reverse the negative habitat trends affecting the quality of this habitat that is needed for these and other species dependant on open habitats. Some sites have only become so overgrown recently so we will also try to restore those areas to attract breeding birds.
This season our goal is to restore at least an additional 53 ha of dry grassland, with the aim that these areas once cleared will be continually used and maintained, meaning they should be used for grazing. It is a natural and best way to maintain grasslands, therefore extensive cattle breeding significantly contributes to maintaining biodiversity. We are hopeful the cleared areas will therefore not only remain cleared but will also expand, increasing the number of farmers and cattle.
In addition to grassland restoration, we will continue our work on restoration of ponds and wells, mountain trails and dry walls. All of which are important parts of our cultural heritage as well as helpful assets for the local farmers.
As last year, restoration work ends at the end of March for a very important reason. In the, spring nature wakes up and many animal species begin their mating season, which for birds means the beginning of their nesting season. At this time nature is at their most vulnerable, and especially ground-nesting birds such as the stone-curlew, short-toed and other larks. Even unintentional human disturbance, which may not seem harmful, are a danger for the nests and the young if they occur in areas where these rare species nest. If disturbances occur and result in nests being destroyed while they have eggs or before the fledglings learn how to fly, it can mean the breeding effort was unsuccessful and therefore the survival of the birds is less likely.
Due to its exceptional biodiversity and preservation of nature, Dinara was declared a Nature Park, thusly we invite all individuals and institutions to be considerate towards nature and respect its cycles. We suggest all institutions and individuals, before organising event and activities in nature, to consult the relevant expert institutions (public institutions for the management of protected areas and other protected natural values or, in case of Dinara, the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development), as well as public land managers such as Croatian Forestry or local government units to acquire necessary permissions.
We are organizing a lecture ‘How are we Preserving Dinara’ in the multimedia hall of the Alka of Sinj Museum on Friday, August 12, 2022 (at 6 p.m.) where we will present our nature conservation projects and our efforts in promoting sustainable use of Dinara.
We invite all interested parties – and especially guests from the city of Sinj and the Cetinska Krajina region who will visit us during these celebratory days – to come, meet us and listen to what we are doing to preserve Dinara.
The lecture about our efforts to preserve our favorite mountain will be given by Ivana Selanec, master of ecology and nature protection, director of the regional office of Biom Association in Sinj.
In addition to lectures, visitors of Sinj will have the opportunity to visit the exhibition “Back to nature” of the Dinara back to LIFE project on two occasions – on Sunday, August 7 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., as well as on Friday, August 12 from 9 a.m. to noon, at Matića ulica 12, Sinj.
Biom is the largest organization for the protection of birds in Croatia, and we are one of the leading member and volunteer organizations for the protection and research of nature in our country. Our main task is to preserve nature for the benefit of current and future generations.
With activities on the ground, we are present in almost all parts of Croatia, and in our 16 years of existence, we have implemented more than 300 different projects for the preservation of biodiversity. Today, we are a professional organization that successfully implements numerous domestic and international projects for the preservation of nature and biodiversity.
With the lecture in Sinj, we want to present our work in the area of Dinara, point out the threats that nature faces on Dinara, and what is our role in its preservation. We will also present the values that nature provides to people and thus ensures the coexistence of people and nature on the highest Croatian mountain, which has always had a special place in the hearts of our citizens.
We conducted a research on Vrdovo plateau where we used controlled burning in winter 2021 in order to determine differences between the burnt area and the control area.
In February 2021 our first restoration action of its kind, controlled burning was conducted on an area of 7 ha. Our recent research conducted over a year after the restoration activity shows that regarding the flora, the areas are no different. However, visually the difference is significant. The burnt area is visibly greener as it does not contain any old last-year leaves, which also enable uncontrolled burning as they are the dry material that burns.
It was established that younger shoots of woody vegetation dried out. However, the thicker branches ‘survived’ the burning, therefore small shrubs were successfully removed while the larger bushes and trees do not seem to be negatively affected by the burning.
Based on this, we can conclude that controlled burning during the winter months does not negatively impact the grassland or the more mature vegetation that is present, while at the same time it removes the dry biomass, which if not removed regularly, can facilitate devastating summer wildfires.
Recently, the Dinara back to LIFE project began with activities intended to promote sustainable tourism on Dinara area. Educations were organized to get acquainted with the natural treasures of Dinara, and local flora and fauna. A good practice visit to Nature Park Vransko Lake was also organized, as it represents an example of the successful implementation of sustainable nature observation programs.
The primary focus of the Dinara back to LIFE project is to restore the grasslands of Dinara, and in order for the restored habitats to remain preserved, it is necessary to be persistent in the sustainable use of nature and its resources.
The tourism sector is an important factor in the use of natural areas, and the recent declaration of Dinara Nature Park is a new opportunity and an encouragement for starting new activities for tourist boards, guides, and visitors. A special effort has also been made by us to emphasize and advocate that the development of tourism should be directed towards sustainability and in accordance with the preservation of nature. Focus put on the Dinara area in the last few years presents a huge opportunity, but it is important to be aware that the increasing interest and a large number of visitors that comes with it can be a threat to the natural treasures of the area, and therefore it is important to have a thoughtful and strategic approach to the matter.
The recent program aimed at tourist guides, as well as all interested citizens, consisted of three activities:
Education about the environmental values of Dinara area:
Wildlife watching tour to become familiar with the urban biodiversity of Sinj
A visit to good practice example – Vrana Lake Nature Park
Through education about the area’s environmental values and the wildlife watching tour, the participants got familiar with the local environment, unique in the world. It is often the case that the inhabitants of a place see their surroundings as something ordinary, while in reality, the situation is exactly the opposite. Large open space grasslands, karst terrain, extensive livestock farming, drinking water sources, as well as ponds and wells are just some of the examples of the local landscape common for us that on the other hand present the first encounter with such habitats and species for many visitors.
The excursion to the Vrana Lake Nature Park was conducted under the expert guidance of the Nature Park staff. The participants had the opportunity to learn about the history of Lake Vrana and its uniqueness, as well as the problems and challenges this public institution is facing. An important thing to learn from the example of Lake Vrana is that the role of the tourism sector in protected areas is very specific and has a strong educational component. Experiencing nature and its beauty may be the motivation for paying a visit, but it should be used to learn about the importance of nature and biological diversity, as well as to spread awareness of the need to protect it.
As part of the program, our group itself was part of one of the nature observation programs, i.e. bird watching, while for some it was the first encounter with this type of activity. We hope that this experience brought all of our participants closer to the idea of tourism based on nature observation and that it motivated them to think about using the potential of nature observation tourism on Dinara.
We are very pleased to have met local tourist guides, interested citizens, and a group of high school students from Dinko Šimunović High School. Our work in the field of promoting sustainable tourism on Mount Dinara just began with this education and excursion. Once again, we would like to thank all the participants, and we hope that it was interesting, informative, and useful.
The European Green Plan aims to solve the current climate crisis through three basic points: combating climate change by ending dependence on fossil fuels; preserving biodiversity because we have reached a point where the ecosystem can no longer take it; moving to a circular economy in which things from nature are recycled and used as long as possible – this is how Ariel Brunner from BirdLife International explained the pioneering project of the European Union at the panel discussion.
Brendan Dunford from the Irish program BurrenLIFE assessed that “the European Green Plan represents a huge advantage for countries like Croatia, a country with natural treasures. It is important that Croatia keeps pace with these opportunities and does not see them as threats. The results are then guaranteed and not only for today, but also for future generations”. Through his Burren programme, Dunford introduced a hybrid approach to farming in which farmers are paid both for work done and for achieving defined environmental goals.
Aljoša Duplić, director of the Croatian State Institute for Nature Protection announced on this occasion that Croatia will protect 30% of the Adriatic Sea under its jurisdiction because “the sea is very important not only as a resource for fish and tourism, but also as a sink for carbon. Protection will certainly enable sustainable fishing”.
Engin Yilmaz from the Yolda Initiative organization proposed setting up a platform that will bring together farmers and local residents in one place.
Watch the entire panel discussion ‘The European Green Plan – How Croatia Can Strike It?’, organized in the city of Sinj in May by Association Biom as part of the Dinara back to LIFE project, below:
At the recent 57th Croatian & 17th International Symposium on Agriculture in Vodice, members of our project team from the Faculty of Agriculture University of Zagreb presented their estimate of carbon dioxide (CO2) released in the 2017 and 2020 wildfires on Dinara. The results of the study were presented during the poster session.
CO2, a greenhouse gas, is the largest contributing factor to global warming and in 2021 record CO2 emissions caused by wildfires were broken in many parts of the world, including the Mediterranean.
In this study, doc. dr. sc. Hrvoje Kutnjak, prof. dr. sc. Josip Leto and assistant Lucija Rajčić tried to estimate CO2 emissions from the biomass samples collected during our project at Dinara mountain by making an approximation of the total biomass burned during the two wildfires and multiplying this with the CO2 emission factor for biomass burning.
Using Sentinel-2 satellite images, the areas affected by the August 2017 and April 2020 wildfires were identified. Using the geographic information system (GIS), the size of the area was measured. The area affected by the 2017 wildfire was estimated at 64 km2, and by the 2020 wildfire at around 62 km2.
Biomass samples collected at the burned area as part of our project were used to approximate the total biomass burned in these wildfires. Finally, the estimated mass of emitted CO2 was obtained by multiplying the total biomass with the CO2 emission factor. It was estimated that more than 11,500 tons of CO2 were emitted in the 2017 wildfire, and approximately 11,000 tons of CO2 in the 2020 wildfire.
The calculated amounts aren’t exact, they are an approximation. This is the first time a similar method was used for grasslands in Croatia. The estimated emissions are just an approximation but we hope to refine the method in the future. A more detailed description of the study can be found on the poster below –
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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