Guidelines for dry grassland restoration and sustainable management

Even though the project Dinara back to LIFE finished in November of last year, we are delighted to share with you the Guidelines for dry grassland restoration and sustainable management.

The document includes our practical experiences of carrying out restoration as well as instructions and an overview of the restoration process, and was created in collaboration and with the support of experts from various fields and professions. We hope that the Guidelines will be interesting and useful, primarily to the managers of protected areas.

Activity calendar Activity calendar-home News

The signing of the Grassland Memorandum for the preservation of Dinaric nature

“The signing of the Grassland Memorandum for the preservation of Dinaric nature marked the conclusion of the ‘Dinara back to LIFE’ project, initiated in January 2020.

With the goal of preserving Dinaric grasslands and promoting sustainable development in the Dinara region, the project achieved significant milestones. Over nearly four years, more than 700 hectares of Dinaric grasslands were restored, along with the revival of 20 wells and ponds, the creation of mountain trails and dry stone walls, with numerous stakeholders contributing.

These results already positively impact bird habitats reliant on open Dinaric grasslands. Initiatives for legislative support ensuring grassland preservation and sustanable have also started.

Collaboration among stakeholders are key for future nature conservation of Dinara. The official conclusion of the ‘Dinara back to LIFE‘ project was marked by the ceremonial signing of the Grassland Memorandum for Dinaric nature preservation. This event involved project partners, local and regional government units, and representatives from respected counties. The act aims to strengthen collaboration for nature preservation, raise awareness, and promote sustainable development in the Dinaric region.

At the opening ceremony at the Sinj Alka Museum, Ivana Selanec, Director of Biom Association, welcomed attendees, expressing gratitude for preserving Dinaric biodiversity. She stressed the vital need for mutual collaboration among Grassland Memorandum signatories and stakeholders for its future.

Dr. Marko Jelić, Šibenik-Knin County Prefect, also highlighted Dinara’s significance, emphasizing the necessity for a Public Institution for Dinara Nature Park. Joining Dr. Marko Jelić at the Grassland Memorandum signing ceremony were Marija Vuković, Head of the Environmental Department in Split-Dalmatia County, mayors Miro Bulj (Sinj), Marijo Ćaćić (Knin), Jure Plazonić (Vrlika), Ivan Bugarin (Trilj), Martin Ercegovac (Kijevo), Dinko Bošnjak (Hrvace), Anita Babačić Ajduk (Director of Šibenik-Knin County Public Institution ‘Priroda’), and Domagoj Lažeta (Director of ‘More i krš’ Public Institution for protected natural areas in Split-Dalmatia County). The Ministry of Agriculture provided substantial support through its representatives in the project’s advisory council.

The project’s restoration goals were presented through the ‘Open habitat type – grasslands‘ during its second year, initiating manual removal of woody vegetation with twenty students from across Croatia participating in a significant volunteer camp.

Project leader Tomislav Hudina later showcased the project’s results, emphasizing the success of grasslands and livestock infrastructure restoration and collaboration with sixteen local herders and numerous other stakeholders. When asked about the signatories’ expectations, project leader Tomislav Hudina expressed hope for their continued support and potential initiatives, stressing the importance of ongoing efforts for Dinara’s preservation, given its biological diversity and rich cultural and historical heritage. In the spirit of collective work for Dinara’s nature and its inhabitants, all that remains is to reiterate ‘Preserve our treasure’ and echo the sentiment gathered during initial community surveys: ‘Not for us, but for the generations to come.‘ Tomislav Hudina, Project Leader”

Activity calendar-home News

Dinara back to LIFE takes the spotlight at the 17th Experts’ Meeting on Brijuni island

From October 10 to 12, the 17th annual meet-up of experts from public institutions responsible for taking care of natural areas and ecological networks was held. It well organized by the Environmental Protection and Nature Conservation Institute under the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development.

In a beautiful setting, the hosts and co-organizers, the Public Institution Brijuni National Park and the Public Institution Natura Histrica, welcomed over 150 participants from nearly all public institutions responsible for managing protected natural areas. Over the course of the three-day meeting, 22 presentations were held, covering the work of the relevant ministry, as well as presentations from various county and local public institutions, national parks, and nature parks.

On the first day of the meeting, alongside topics on Nature Restoration and the challenges of European Polic;, examples of projects in preparation or already underway, related to habitat restoration, were presented. In the lecture titled “Experience of Restoring Grasslands through the Implementation of the Dinara back to LIFE Project” Tomislav Hudina, the project leader from the Biom Association, presented the three-year work of project partners in the restoration and preservation of Dinaric grasslands and the results achieved. Also, since the project is coming to an end, the publication of the Guidelines for the Restoration and Sustainable Management of Dry Grasslands has been announced. These guidelines are expected to be valuable for many public institutions that participated in the meeting, especially considering that we are entering a period where a lot of attention will be given to habitat restoration.”

With numerous presentations and a rich program, participants concluded this year’s gathering by visiting the protected area of the Mirna Valley and the Special Reserve of Forest Vegetation – Motovun Forest.

Photos: NP Brijuni, R.T.

Activity calendar Activity calendar-home News

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.

Activity calendar Activity calendar-home News

Restoration season has finished – 47,6 ha of grassland on Ježević suhopolje has been cleared

At the end of March our first restoration season finished, which started in September last year, in which 47,6 ha of Ježević suhopolje grassland has been cleared of woody vegetation. By doing this a large grassland area has been made available for the return of Stone-curlew (Burhinus oedicnemus) and Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla) to an area which had no record of Stone-curlew last year.

Stone-curlew and short-toed lark

The manual removal of woody vegetation on Ježević suhopolje began in September alongside the educational-volunteer camp Dinara back to LIFE which lasted for two work-intense weeks where 18 students and 20 other volunteers and participants started manually removing woody vegetation and so improved 28,8 ha of grassland. During this first phase methodology was developed considering the tools used as well as a timeline for necessary work. In addition, the 18 students also attended a series of lectures and gained a theoretical understanding of habitat restoration, knowledge they will be able to use in their future activities.

Kamp attendees at the cleared part of Ježević suhopolje

Immediately after the camp finished, the restoration was continued by restoration workers Mario Grčić i Ivan Kekez who started a 6-month season of clearing the Ježević suhopolje from woody vegetation. The removal was carried out on the area next to the area previously cleared during the camp. Despite the work being very physical and monotonous the two workers are satisfied – ‘’I work in nature and heal myself’’, says Grčić. A mechanical technician by profession he was previously working in construction and baking, and now he says ‘’for the first time I go to work singing!’’. Kekez, a driver and firefighter started this work because he loves animals and nature, and he enjoys this type of work – ‘’This is both work and relaxation to me. I enjoy the work and it’s made me feel more youthful!’’. Fieldwork is calm and peaceful and wildlife encounters are rare, a shepherd will come through with his herd now and again. These workers were also a part of other activities during the season, including pond and stone dry wall restoration.

Manual removal of woody vegetation is a crucial part of grassland restoration efforts on Dinara. Large areas have become overgrown over the decades due to mass emigration and a gradual abandonment of cattle breeding in the area. As a grassland gets more overgrown it is less and less grazed accelerating the habitat degradation process. In order to stop and reverse this process woody vegetation has to be manually removed as grazing alone is not enough due to large bushes and small trees which cannot be eaten by grazing animals and therefore they continue to grow and spread unless manually removed.  This removal method guarantees a complete and thorough clearing of all types of woody vegetation, especially juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus) which unlike other vegetation, cannot be significantly managed with livestock and therefore must be manually removed. During the 7 month restoration season we did just that – we cleared a relatively large portion of the grassland, mostly from juniper, for the benefit of wildlife as well as domesticated animals, with a goal of perserving this grassland with the help of local shepherds and their herds, and eventually expanding the cleared area in continuing these restoration practices. The presence of grazing cattle will help keep the grassland in a good condition and prevent any future overgrowth by woody vegetation.

Parallel to the woody vegetation removal a ‘project flock was formed, made up from cattle from 6 local herds which already graze on target areas in Kijevo suhopolje and Ježević suhopolje. Grazing on the cleared area will prevent future overgrowth by juniper and other such vegetation, which will in the long run preserve and improve the grassland habitat for the above-mentioned bird species, which are themselves the aim of this project. Both the Stone-curlew and the Short-toed Lark are dependent on open areas with scattered low vegetation without any obstacles in the area. Usually residing in semi-desert areas which are sparse in Croatia, but are found in Kijevo suhopolje and Ježević suhopolje, and a few other locations. By improving the habitat conditions for these species, we are directly improving the habitat for numerous other species dependant on open areas and therefore also contributing to their conservation as well.

There will be no restoration work at the foothills of Dinara until the end of August as nesting season is underway and the birds require peace, this year we are especially hopeful we will see nesting Stone-curlews as they have not been seen in the area since 2020.

In order to increase overall grassland area, we are staring a new restoration season in September, increasing our ‘project herd’ and intensifying the grazing regime, we’re also hoping we will be permitted to use a third restoration method – controlled burning.

A map of cleared part of Ježević suhopolje
Activity calendar Activity calendar-home News

Cattle breeders from Kijevo, Ježević and Civljane join Dinara back to LIFE project

Six cattle breeders from Kijevo, Ježević, and Civljane joined the Dinara back to LIFE project and will help us achieve the project goals through sustainable cattle breeding. Local farmers will contribute to the restoration of grasslands by regular grazing, and in order to get the best results, cattle breeders will do so with mixed herds. Dinara back to LIFE project will financially support livestock farmers in purchasing new livestock.

Dinara back to LIFE project aims to restore the grasslands on Dinara and to encourage sustainable use of grasslands. In the first two years of the project, the grasslands were restored by controlled burning and manual removal of overgrown vegetation. Since the beginning of this year, local cattle breeders with their livestock are participating in the restoration, introducing grazing as a restoration activity of the project.

Overgrowing of grasslands has long been a problem with many causes, the most significant of which are the departure of the population and the abandonment of activities such as cattle breeding. In addition, the complicated administrative process conserning the lease of grasslands make it even more difficult for those who want to work and lease grasslands in new areas. It often goes unnoticed, but cattle breeding is important not only because it feeds people, but also because those who still live on the Dinara and are engaged in animal husbandry, naturally contribute to the preservation of nature and biodiversity.

Through cooperation with livestock breeders, we at the project team want to promote not only livestock farming as a good business opportunity in the Dinara area, but also the way in which livestock farming can be made even better for pasture maintenance! Each animal grazes in its unique way, which means that certain animals eat some plants while bypassing the others. When there are herds on grasslands that consist of just one type of livestock, these grasslands are overgrown with plants this type of livestock avoids and does not eat. At the moment, grasslands lack animals such as donkeys and mules, present throughout history on Dinara, which also graze the types of plants that sheep and cows avoid.

Signing of contracts

Dinara back to LIFE project has earmarked €30,000 for cooperation with local farmers. The task of local cattle breeders will be to regularly conduct grazing of areas that are being restored by the project, using mixed herds that will include new Equidae. Funds provided by the project will financially help cattle breeders to purchase new livestock. The project team will monitor the impact grazing will have on keeping the grasslands from being overgrown as well as on the nesting of target bird species that depend on dry grasslands.

The cooperation of six cattle breeders from Kijevo, Civljane and Vrlika with Dinara back to LIFE project began last week with signing of contracts by which the project provides financial support to livestock breeders. For their part, the cattle breeders will conduct grazing in accordance to the idea of maintaining the habitat for project bird species. In addition to the project team and livestock signatories to the contract, the signing ceremony was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development, the Mayor of Kijevo County and representatives of the City of Vrlika. Through-out the project, it is planed to sign five more contracts with cattle breeders and to assign electric shepherds. In order to comply with the recommended measures of the Civil Protection Headquarters, the event was closed for public, and the project team hopes that the circumstances will allow the next signing of the contract to be marked by a public event and joint celebration of new cooperation and opportunities.

This cooperation aims to motivate other cattle breeders to adapt their herds so that the impact of their grazing on the preservation of grasslands is as big as possible. The pre-condition for this cooperation is that the cattle breeders have their own grasslands or leased grasslands in the area that are important for the project to preserve the population of the target bird species.

Project name on a halter

This cooperation aims to motivate other cattle breeders to adapt their herds so that the impact of their grazing on the preservation of grasslands is as big as possible. The pre-condition for this cooperation is that the cattle breeders have their own grasslands or leased grasslands in the area that are important for the project to preserve the population of the target bird species.

All interested are invited to get information or get involved in the project at