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Save the date! ”Dinara back to LIFE” project conference

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!

You can also find new updates at https://dinarabacktolife.eu/en

           Conference themes

  • Guidelines for dry grassland restoration and sustainable management

  • The role of nature conservation, forestry and agriculture sector in grassland conservation and sustainable use and management of Natura 2000 sites

  • Opportunities for cross-sectoral cooperation

  • Local communities leading rural development

 

Are you interested in attending the “Dinara back to LIFE” project conference? We’d love to have you! Although our registration isn’t open just yet, you can express your interest on the link.

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Watch our first project film ‘Open-type habitats – grasslands’

In just several hours of hiking you can go from Peruća Lake to Croatia’s highest peak and witness several habitats on the way as well as many plant and animal species, the basis of the natural wealth of Dinara – that’s the key message of our first project film ‘Open-type habitats – grasslands’ that you can now watch online.

Why are grasslands important for biodiversity, what threatens this key habitat, how we’re trying to preserve it, and the importance of cattle farmers in their preservation is what we tried to roughly explain in our short film.

‘Open-type habitats – grasslands’, watch it below

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New grassland restoration season has begun

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.

Map of the area restored in 2021/2022 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.

Potential restoration areas in 2022-2023 season (rounded in red)

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.

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Estimation of forage value of dry grasslands on Dinara mountain based on the analysis of botanical composition

Our project team members from the University of Zagreb Faculty of Agriculture presented some results of field research done as a part of the Dinara back to LIFE project at the 57th Croatian and 17th International Symposium on Agriculture in Vodice.

Data collected during botanical field studies conducted by the employees of BIOM Association on grasslands in Validžići, Ježević, and Vrdovo were used to estimate the forage value of these grasslands using the „Complex method“ for evaluation of the quality and total value of grasslands and leys.

The „Complex method“ takes into account the botanical composition of grassland, the weight share of plants, and many other factors that can affect the forage quality of a plant such as poisonousness, digestibility, plants’ morphology, chemical composition, etc. Based on its characteristics, a plant is sorted into one of categories (from „very noxious“ to „excellent“). Coefficients corresponding to each category are used in calculating the total value of grasslands. Quality index is a summary of multiples of coefficients and plants’ weight shares.

Prof. Kutnjak and associates

The forage value of a grassland tells us whether it’s appropriate for pasture and forage production and if amelioration methods should be used to improve its quality.

Our results have shown that grasslands in Validžići and Ježević had significantly higher quality than those in Vrdovo which is probably connected to the high weight share of species of the genus Sesleria on Vrdovo grasslands. On average, grasslands in Validžići had the highest quality indices.

The complete article by Kutnjak et al. can be found on the following link –

https://dinarabacktolife.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/vrijednost-pasnjaka.pdf

Link to the poster presented on the Symposium –

https://dinarabacktolife.eu/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/poster1.pdf

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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.