The area of Velebit, due to its beauty and importance for nature, has a unique place in Croatia. It is also in that position thanks to individuals and institutions that make efforts to preserve the nature of Velebit, promote the area, and to encourage sustainable development and coexistence with nature.
At the end of August, the Dinara back to LIFE project team visited the Velebit area, with the aim of getting to know the institutions involved in the management and use of grasslands, as well as the success stories of individuals developing their business opportunities based on their sustainable use.
The program of the visit began with a meeting with representatives of public institutions for the management of protected areas, who shared their experiences related to the management and use of grasslands, presented the program of grazing in the protected area and introduced us to the challenges they face in their work. “Dinara back to LIFE” project team was welcomed by employees of the Public Institution “Northern Velebit National Park”, Public Institution “Velebit Nature Park” and the Public Institution for Nature Protection and Preservation of Lika-Senj County, who were introduced to the Dinara back to LIFE project.
The conversation between the representatives of the project and public organizations was filled with practical challenges and solutions that the users of this space face. The experiences of cattle breeders who face a great challenge of water scarcity on the Croatian karst were transferred, so they are asking for the restoration of additional wells in the grazing areas. The difficulty that Croatian cattle breeders have due to the impossibility of removing bushes was presented, which means that succession takes over pastures, and predators have a safe shelter, while cattle breeders in the Northern Velebit National Park are still free from this ban. The conversation touched on the practical problem of keeping dogs, an extremely important helper for cattle breeders, whom visitors are sometimes afraid of as they approach them because some pastures are close to roads and hiking trails. Representatives of the National Park emphasized that trained dogs do not attack, but go on the attack only if they feel attacked, or if they feel an attack on the cattle they keep.
The Ordinance of the National Park puts in a somewhat more difficult position the owners who bring cattle to pasture in the Park area – a cattle breeder whose animals are killed by predators is not entitled to compensation because it is located in the national park. An existing herder must keep 31 sheep, and if predators take away some of his cattle, which happens regularly, the herder must reimburse that number, at his own expense. Representatives of the Northern Velebit National Park pointed out the fundamental shortcoming concerning cattle – the case when there are no shepherds with the animals! This is not the only problem with animals in this area – on Krivi Put area (outside the NP, above Senj) the problem is a wild herd of horses, and the same problem happened in the heart of the Northern Velebit National Park – on popular tourist destination Premužić trail a wild herd problem has been recorded, as noted by NP rangers.
The issue of grazing in the National Park was also touched upon – there are 360 hectares of pastures and everything is being used, with smaller areas of private plots, but on the south, coastal side of the National Park vegetation “closes” pastures because they are much more inaccessible. It seems the process of forest succession on this side of Velebit is completed, although it does not have to be irreversible.
On the opposite, eastern side of Lika, the situation is completely different, as pointed out by the representatives of the Public Institution of Lika-Senj County, because the matter with the fields, ie succession, is far more favorable since the pastures were restored with incentives, as is the case in Lička Plješivica. It opens up diverse possibilities such as therapeutic riding in the area of Bijeli Potoci – Kamensko, as suggested by the representatives of the Public Institution. However, a new challenge has emerged – intensive felling of vegetation that is taken away for burning for the purpose of obtaining wood for bio-energy.
The project team once again thanks for the hospitality, sharing their lessons and experiences, and we look forward to the opportunity to host representatives of the Northern Velebit National Park, Velebit Nature Park and the Public Institution for Nature Conservation of Lika-Senj County in the Dinara area and present our grassland restoration experience. and livestock incentives.
After a very informative conversation, a visit to cattle breeders in the field within the National Park, in the area of Veliki Alan, whose cattle graze the pastures within the park, followed. OPG Alan from Pazarište received a concession in the National Park through a public tender, which it grazes with more than 200 cattle, mostly buša cattle, and 31 sheep. The young cattle breeder Mihovil Jurčić (27) and his father Ivan are the only cattle breeders in the area of the Northern Velebit National Park, considering that the terrain is remote and difficult to access. Two other shepherds are helping the two cattle breeders, and since this is a large herd located high on a mountain where there is a lack of water, the cattle breeders have to bring water to their cattle several times a week. For that reason, they call on the authorities to renovate the Mirovo well, which is located on state land. The demanding organization of livestock work requires careful planning in advance, but as the young enterprising cattle breeder Mihovil says – “my day is planned, but it never goes according to plan!”. Young Jurčić says that it is nice in the mountains when the weather is nice, but that he is lonely when the weather is bad so there are no people. The influence that Mrs. Jurčić’s herd has on the field is obvious – on the cases on Veliki Alan where there is grazing, there is no succession because the cows graze the wood that starts to grow.
Their hard work and dedication are an inspiring example of sustainable grassland use, and we hope there will be more and more of them in the future.
It was also necessary to get acquainted with the Lika LAG and the Lika-Senj County Tourist Board. The rich work of LAG Lika has provided a number of interesting examples of encouraging local production, among which the most prominent was the quality label “Lika Quality”, a quality assessment system, which certainly puts local products to a new level, as well as the example of “Cheese Road”, Tourist Board project which increases visibility to local producers.
In addition, the LAG presented its project Lika Peasant Market, which aims to create short supply chains, as well as the Lika Coop cooperative through which LAG has conducted training on the establishment of cooperatives. LAG also deals with the promotion and valorization of the gastro-tourist offer of Lika-Senj County, and their goal is to locate all caterers and agricultural producers from this area and connect them with each other. The LAG is also implementing the BusyBee Workshop project, which aims to encourage agritourism, with an emphasis on the promotion of specific local products.
Exchanges of experiences and ideas, but also problems that institutions face are a source of important lessons, and through mutual exchange we all learn together, and become more prepared for new challenges in the future.