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Report – the first two years of the Dinara back to LIFE project

Two years of the Dinara back to LIFE project have come to an end, and the activities performed and started during this period are presented in a short overview photo report.

The project started in January 2020 and in these two years, we have gathered the Advisory Council and the Collaborative Council, as stakeholders who guide and expand the project activities with advice and suggestions.

Our fieldwork included research on habitats, grasslands, insects and locusts, as well as more extensive scientific field research.

In 2021, the major restoration cycle has been launched that, we believe, will show major changes and results in the field by the end of the project period. Part of the restoration cycle was the volunteer-educational camp, one of the project highlights of the year.

Renovation of wells, ponds and dry stone walls is part of a project to help bring back the infrastructure to its purpose.

We are extremely proud of the exhibition that accompanies the project, as well as our educational workshops with children.

For the tull photo report of Dinara back to LIFE 2020-2021 browse the PDF at the link below – https://dinarabacktolife.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Dinara-2020-2021-eng-report.pdf

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Beekeepers roundtable: The biggest challenge – climate change

The first round table within the Dinara back to LIFE project was held in Sinj, organized by the Cetina Krajina LAG, and the topic was beekeeping and the challenges facing the local beekeeper. The meeting was attended by representatives of beekeepers, local governments, public institutions for nature management, LAG, and the Biom Association.

In the Cetina region, about 250 beekeepers own about 12,000 hives, and in the last two years the coronavirus has made it difficult to place honey on the market, while increasingly frequent extreme weather conditions have affected the seasonal delay of vegetation. The main topic of the round table was encouraging planting of honey plants in green public and private areas with the aim of improving bee grazing.

As the main current problem, beekeepers unanimously pointed out climate change and several years of drought which makes beekeeping much more difficult in general, and especially stationary beekeeping. It is for this reason that the planting of honey plants and trees that better tolerate drought and bloom in spring or autumn has been proposed, and it is to be expected that indigenous species are more resistant and adapted to local climatic conditions. For beekeepers affected by drought, the renovation project of wells and ponds was presented as indirect support.

Tomislav Sotinac, an expert associate for nature protection at the Dinara back to LIFE project, has presented the idea of action cleaning of overgrown and polluted areas owned by local government units, provided that honey plants are then planted on those areas.

Ivan Budinski, expert project advisor for nature protection, suggested planting honey trees along embankments and canals leading from the settlements to the fields. In this way the number of trees in the area would increase due to elongation. This activity would require the approval of Hrvatske vode public company.

The participants of the round table also mentioned the problem of medicines for varroa, which are subsidized to beekeepers by the state, although they are not effective, while those medicines that are effective are still not available or approved in Croatia. Beekeepers have cited the potential for breaking through, clearing and widening forest fire roads that can be of great benefit to them when accessing certain locations.

The main activity of the Dinara back to LIFE project is the restoration of Dinaric grasslands due to their importance for nature and overall biodiversity, and the restoration of grasslands will benefit all residents of the Dinara area, including beekeepers. The organization of round tables is an introduction to further activities of holding rural development workshops, all in order to further encourage the development of primary activities in the wider project area.

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Educational-volunteer camp Dinara back to LIFE was held – students learned about restoration and cleaned 28 hectares of grasslands

This September, the restoration activities of the Dinara back to LIFE project began, and the first activity was the implementation of an educational-volunteer camp, whose participants learned about habitat restoration and sustainable environmental management and began removing overgrown vegetation from Dinaric grasslands.

The educational-volunteer camp brought together students from all over Croatia, who are on their way to becoming experts in the fields of biology, geography, agronomy, forestry and other related fields. Eighteen students spent two weeks, from September 5 to 19, in Ježević, where, under the guidance of the project team, they gained their first experiences in habitat restoration projects.

In 14 days, students brought 28.8 ha of overgrown grasslands in a favorable condition (Map 1).

The goal of the camp was for students to gain first-hand practical knowledge and experience of grasslands restoration in two weeks, but also to bring them closer to the work of institutions involved in nature conservation and grasslands management through the educational program.

The overgrown vegetation of juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus) was removed by students with hand tools, and in the video you can see the scene from the action.

In addition to habitat restoration activities, workshops and lectures were organized daily for camp participants, where colleagues from institutions involved in management planning in grassland conservation and protection presented their work, and the most important challenges they face.

In the lectures, the students got acquainted with the project itself and its goals, with a focus on habitat restoration. Then, they learned about conservation biology, an interdisciplinary applied scientific branch whose goal is to preserve biodiversity, and how we apply it to the Dinara back to LIFE project.

The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development gave a lecture on protected areas and the Natura 2000 ecological network, as well as key actors in their management. Croatian Forests educated students on forest land management in the karst area, and took students to areas that were burned or afforested in order to present in practice some of the challenges and solutions.

Luka Škunca, BIOM, presentation on GIX programme

The Ministry of Agriculture held an education on European policies related to biodiversity and agriculture, LAG Cetinska krajina introduced students to the problems and some solutions to the challenges of using incentives, while the lecture of the Faculty of Agriculture addressed the importance of research and data collection in planning and implementing restoration activities on the results of the latest scientific research on the usability of pastures on the Dinara. A demonstration presentation of GIS was held for the students and they practically tried out the program for analyzing geodata.

Frywall restoration

The educational-volunteer camp was closed with the „World Cleanup Day“ action in which camp participants restored one of the overgrown roads along Lake Perućko, and with the mentoring of volunteers and associates from the association “4 Grada Dragodid” learned about drywall construction and restored some damaged walls.

We hope that this experience was valuable to the camp participants and that it will help them in further education and professional guidance.

At the beginning of restoration on Ježević Suhopolje

Postcard from the roof of Croatia, the future Nature park of Dinara

The Dinara mountain massif is a rich and significant habitat for flora and fauna. Due to its exceptional nature and ecological value, it is the part of the Natura 2000 ecological network which includes areas important for the conservation of endangered species and habitat types of the European Union. More than 87% of the area of future Dinara Nature Park is also the area of the Natura 2000 ecological network. In addition to valuable nature, important habitats for endangered plant and animal species and the internationally recognized phenomenon of Dinaric karst, on the Dinara is the highest peak of Croatia!

This year’s International Day for Biological Diversity with its slogan “Solutions are in nature” speaks in a special way about the importance of working together in harmony with nature and the role of biodiversity in sustainable development. In Croatia, Nature Protection Day is also celebrated on that day, and this year’s celebration was marked by the proclamation of the future twelfth nature park in Croatia – Nature Park “Dinara”.

Back to beginning, last Friday a public presentation od Dinara was held in Knin as part of a public inspection of the Law on the Proclamation of the Dinara Nature Park. The presentation was attended by the Minister of Environmental Protection and Energy Tomislav Ćorić, Šibenik-Knin County Prefect Goran Pauk, Split-Dalmatia County Prefect Blaženko Boban, Knin Mayor Marko Jelić and citizens, representatives of non-governmental organizations and other interested public. It is pointed out that the Law provides protection of 63,052 hectares in the Dinara area, including the Dinara massif (Dinara, Troglav and Kamešnica), the source and upper course of the Cetina River and karst fields (Hrvatačko, Paško and Vrličko) along the Cetina. Upon completion of the public inspection, the consultation and preparation of the law for adoption will follow, and one year after the entry into force of the law, the Dinara Nature Park Public Institution will be established.

“The Dinara Nature Park will be the 12th nature park in the Republic of Croatia and together with eight other national parks, we’ll complete one set of 20 such protected areas. With the proclamation of the Dinara as a nature park, the share of protected areas on Croatian land will increase from 12 percent to 13 percent, and under the European ecological Natura 2000 network, there will be an increase from 36.7 percent to 39 percent of the European Union’s territory. This clearly shows what these 63,000 hectares of newly protected area will mean for the total capacity of protected areas in Croatia and, ultimately, what it will mean for the future of biodiversity in Croatia,” said Minister Ćorić.

The next day, the Croatian Mountain Rescue Service organized a field trip to the Dinara and a climb to peak Dinara (1831 m). From the Samar meadow, about fifty experts in nature protection and nature lovers set off on foot towards the recently established mountaineering shelter “Zlatko Prgin”, and after a short break, in a relaxed and cheerful atmosphere, continued to conquer the highest peak of Croatia. Just an hour later, the crowd was bustling at the top, and smiling faces hinted that every step had paid off! The cameras tried to capture all the beautiful corners, and the eyes would like to remember every inch, absorb all the colors, grasp every kilometer in front of them in all directions: the mountains of Dalmatia, Troglav, Cetina and Livanjsko fields as well as Peruča Lake.

From the top, there is a photo which will remain as a memory of all the little people who love and live in Dinara in their own way. Gathering continued with the hosts in the mountain lodge “Brezovac”.

We are especially looking forward to the recognition of Dinara because we are aware of its nature resource. Thus, our project “Dinars back to LIFE” is a great opportunity to preserve the Dinaric grasslands and encourage their sustainable use.

Dinara fed so many families who reciprocated with respect and admiration, was and remained the center of life to hardworking and humble inhabitants. It is up to us to preserve Dinara in the future – starting from ourselves, with valuable projects needed for the whole community and the law – permanently in the honor and privilege of living with the Dinara.

Photo: Aleksandar Gospić

A day on the field trip – Dinara, I’m coming back!

So far, I have mostly done various and interesting office work within my sector. After I finally stepped out of my long-lasting comfort zone and got involved in something new, more dynamic and definitely unusual, I knew that new challenges awaited me. As the number of activities was rising, so were the new opportunities. One of them was the first field trip to Mount Dinara in January. Ivan, an expert in botany, had a task to illustrate to us, non-biologists, what to expect from the actual filed trip activities on this project.

Today I have reopened the photo album and, although it has been two months since this field trip, I have decided to type down what I learned so I might inspire some of you about the significance of natural resources.

My first encounter with Dinara was last summer and I completely fell in love with nature and freedom our country offers. Although I have no expert knowledge of the Dinaric flora and fauna, I have pleasant memories, a photo gallery and an emotional travelogue. At the end of 2019 I got lucky and received a tailor-made job package which included writing, creating and implementing. And guess what? It was a part of the project dedicated to Dinara. This is how I took part in the team that wants to bring back life to Dinara.

I set off to my first field trip equipped with hiking boots, a rucksack on my back, some fruit, a sandwich, my diary and my camera. It reminded me of my school trips and weekend picnics. While driving to our starting point above the Bitelić village, Ivan was introducing us to terms such as grasslands, pastures, meadows, habitats, Natura 2000 and transhumance.

I was surprised how the terms were easily understood although I would not be able to explain them well. I kept asking questions and taking notes because you never know when the shining moment might happen.

Somewhere above the little village of Rumin we had our first presentation. I learned about prickly juniper (not that I hadn’t seen it before) and absorbed the first Latin name: Juniperus oxycedrus. I knew that the knowledge of this dead language I had learned in grammar school would pay off some day. Evergreen juniper is the most significant indicator of encroachment, end of traditional ways of maintenance such as livestock farming, grazing or mowing and it presents an early stage of succession into forest. Wow!  ‘Lots of juniper around us, it will keep us busy’, I concluded.

Along the way we were also checking the wells which are used as watering places for animals. We were trying to figure out what else could be of use for local people who make a living from primary activities. What difficulties do they encounter, what makes their life easier? Is Dinara a hard life or full of life? 

We came across a local herdsman who shared his story with us while his three dogs were watching over the herd in the distance. I was trying to figure out how the term ‘treasure’ started to be used instead of livestock. The moment I find out, I will let you know.

At the weekends Marko and I usually go hiking, walking or we have a picnic. But I had never been in the upper part of beautiful Peruča lake! On the shore of Peruča lake is the village of Dabar with barely 30 senior inhabitants. There is Točilo spring, which flows into Peruča, and Tamnica cave (or Tavnica), which was used as a prison at the time of the Ottomans. I was fascinated, Dabar bay looks so unreal!

The Sun was still high on our way to Vrdovo plateau, the last place where traditional farming is preserved. Apart from newly made holiday houses with solar panels, the area is not densely populated. At the very beginning we came across the sign tamo – vamo (there – here) and the gravel path not done by people but mastered by the mighty nature which always surprises us. The path leads to the mountain house St Jakov and we continued to tamo till Ježević, an important habitat of short-toed lark, the endangered bird which nests in this area. The aim of the project is to protect this habitat, to make it suitable again for the endangered species to peacefully live here.

Natura 2000 is the new term I learned. It is an ecological network of EU sites important for the protection of threatened species and habitats.

Do you know that the ecological network Natura 2000 in the Republic of Croatia covers 36.67% of land territory and 16.26% of the territorial sea and internal waters, which is 29.34% of total country surface?

I was learning a lot along the way; about stone-curlew, ortolan bunting, Suhopolje, the methods of grasslands conservation. Ivan is an ornithologist and for each bird we saw he told us its name and main features. I am still not completely aware of amount of opportunities and challenges awaiting!

The field trip was slowly coming to an end. The camera was full of marvellous shots for which I did not realise how important they were for biodiversity. Maybe because I did not understand the biodiversity.

It takes so little to understand the world around us!

There’s an interesting connection between me and nature, if I could say so. During my grammar school I was preparing for biology study (molecular biology, more precisely). With time this love faded away and I fell in love with journalism and media at first sight. What would you like to become when you grow up has always been the most difficult question for me and I have never got the answer. It was neither biology nor journalism. Some new studies and business opportunities occurred. However, ten years later, it seemed like someone-up-there remembered me and put biology and media in the same package, which I’m truly grateful for.

It is incredible how little is needed to comprehend the world around us.

It is priceless when you become aware that you can invest in yourself and no one can take it away from you.

Knowing that you can do it if you try is of great value!

I will write more about Dinara, about other field trips and activities, about the wealth of this beautiful country and its wonderful people who want to keep it like that for the benefit of all generations.

I’m absorbing, learning, searching and writing down. I admire the magic that nature creates and the way it fights for survival. Nature memorizes. It is particularly difficult to describe it well. My conclusion is that nature gives back when we need it.