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‘How are we Preserving Dinara’ – come to our lecture at the Alka of Sinj Museum

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.

Check how you can get involved and support the work of the Biom Association at the following link – https://www.biom.hr/en/become-a-member/.

The lecture is supported by the Ferata portal.

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Monitoring of the burnt area on Vrdovo – a year later everything is greener

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.

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Workshops held in Sinj on exceptional values unique to the local environment

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.

Recently, we held wildlife watching tours workshop, presenting it as a type of sustainable tourism. We also organized a good practice visit to Lake Vrana.
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Video: Panel discussion ‘European Green Deal – How Croatia Can Strike It?’

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:

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First insight into the status of grasslands in the payments support system in the area of Dinara Nature park

During the 57th Croatian and 17th International Symposium on Agriculture, which took place in June in Vodice, the members of our team from the University of Zagreb Faculty of Agriculture presented interesting results of research done as a part of our project.

Doc. dr. sc. Hrvoje Kutnjak had a presentation on the status of grasslands in the payment support system in Dinara Nature Park. The data used in this study was taken from ARKOD – land parcel identification system managed by the Paying Agency for Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Development (PAAFRD; Croatian: APPRRR).

Spatial analyses carried out in geographic information system (GIS) showed that ARKOD plots of karst pastures and meadows cover around 5000 ha of Dinara mountain (about 8% of the area of Dinara Nature Park). More than 55% of areas of ARKOD plots are situated lower than 500 meters above sea level. Most of the plots are located between 300 m.s.l. and 400 m.s.l. The situated plots are located between 1200 m.s.l. and 1300 m.s.l. where an average plot has an area of 12.5 ha. It was also determined that slope is a limiting factor for the use of plots as pastures.

These are the first spatial analyses of karst pastures and meadows in Dinara Nature Park and the results should contribute to the future management of the Park.

The whole article by prof. Kutnjak and associates, taken from the Proceeding of the Symposium, can be found on the following link –

https://dinarabacktolife.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Kutnjak-pasnjaci.pdf

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Brussels singles out Dinara back to LIFE as a successful nature restoration project

The Dinara back to LIFE project was included by the European Commission among 19 successful nature restoration projects from across the EU, during the presentation of the long-awaited proposal of the extremely important Nature Restoration Law.

The Nature Restoration Law is the first continent-wide, comprehensive law of its kind, and a key element of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which calls for binding targets for the restoration of degraded ecosystems. This draft Law aims, among other things, for the improvement and re-establishment of biodiverse habitats on a large scale, and for bringing back species populations by improving and enlarging their habitats.

One of the objectives of the Law, presented in June, is the restoration of dry grasslands, and in this context, Dinara back to LIFE is singled out as a success story in restoration of nature and biodiversity, through support for the development of extensive livestock farming in the karst Dinaric mountains. The aim of the project is to restore dry grasslands on Dinara mountain in order to increase the habitat for the three target species of birds – stone-curlew, short-toed lark and ortolan bunting. Through the project so far, 47.6 hectares of grassland were brought to a favorable condition by manual removal of woody vegetation, controlled burning as a restoration method was successfully tested on 7 hectares of land, and a project flock that will maintain the restored grasslands was formed.

Commission’s accompanying map of successful nature protection projects in the EU

The Dinara back to LIFE project, which is led by Biom Association together with project partners (Croatian Forests, the Faculty of Agriculture University of Zagreb and the Local Action Group Cetinska krajina), thus found itself among the few projects highlighted on the map of examples of successful nature restoration projects in the entire EU, and is the only one from Croatia.

We would like to thank the European Commission for recognizing the value of our project, and we see this inclusion as an additional incentive and obligation to continue as we have imagined it and implemented it so far.

Details about the law can be found on the hyperlink below – https://environment.ec.europa.eu/topics/nature-and-biodiversity/nature-restoration-law_en, and the accompanying map on this link – https://environment.ec.europa.eu/system/files/2022-06/Map_nature_restoration_projects.pdf.

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Lecture: How much CO2 was emitted during the Dinara wildfires of 2017 and 2020?

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.

Graph: Red – the area affected by the 2020 wildfire; yellow – 2017 wildfire

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 –

https://dinarabacktolife.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/poster2.pdf

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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:

Challenges

  • 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.

Challenges

  • 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.

Vladimir

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 – https://www.europskesnagesolidarnosti.hr/hr/sadrzaj/o- programu/projekti-solidarnosti/ [CRO]