Wetlands – Heather Claridge
Slovenia is a country with a rich and diverse landscape supporting a wide range of ecosystem services.
Recognised as one of Europe’s most water-rich countries, its water network is made up of a dense river network, underground aquifers, and watercourses running through the underlying karst catchment. In terms of wetland areas, despite being relatively small in land coverage (approximately 5% of the territory), they present a broad mix of types. During our study trip, we visited both fresh and coastal water wetlands, experiencing both natural and man-made examples. This provided insight in to how these habitats are being managed for a diverse range of ecosystem services and gain lessons for Scotland.
The largest type (in land coverage) of the natural wetlands is formed of ‘marshes and intermittent lakes’. It is Lake Cerknica, which is the biggest of this type. On our trip, we were able to experience this Lake from above, walking through, swimming in, meeting some of its land managers and spending time with its neighbouring residents.
Figure 1: Cerknica Plain
Known as the ‘Disappearing Lake,’ during summer months, the Lake almost entirely vanishes. During other seasons however, Cerknica plain fills up with water and expands to cover up to 29 square kilometres (at its fullest). Designated as a wetland of international significance (Ramsar Site), it is protected under Natura 2000 for its importance to endangered bird preservation. In this wetland area, species such as yellow wagtail, corncrake and common snipe are found.
Figures 2 & 3 : Lake Cerknica – ‘the Disappearing Lake’
During our visit, we met with Officers working for the Notranjska Regional Park, which Cerknica Lake falls within. They spoke about the considerable coordination required to manage and sustain conditions within Cerknica plain. One of the biggest challenge to this is the multiple and fragmented ownership of the area. Land plots are very small in parts (only 10m wide by 1km long), this means there are hundreds of land owners to engage with. The area requires management every one to two years to prevent woodland scrub growth. In addition, if the meadows is cut too early, flower growth is impacted and butterfly populations are affected…and so on within the plain’s ecosystem. However programmes such as the EU funded – LIFE scheme is helping with this, by enabling the Regional Park to purchase unmanaged land.
The Regional Park Officers also spoke about the work they had been undertaking to encourage local people to see the value in area – encouraging them to see the flowers and fauna as special. Whilst there was no community management volunteering programme established for the area, this is part of the Park’s future plan. Nevertheless, a national programme funded by the State, called ‘Public Works’, was in operation. This is a paid employability scheme for those currently out of employment.
During our time within the region, we visited an eco-farm overlooking Lake Cerknica. Using the local plants, fruits and berries from intermittent wetland environ, the farm had produced a vast range of preserves and liquors. This stood to provide another perspective of how provisioning services, as well as supporting and cultural ecosystem services were being delivered through this Slovenian wetland.
Secovlije Salina Nature Park
Secovlije Salina Nature Park is a man-made coastal wetland area at the mouth of the Dragonja River on the Adriatic Sea and bordering the Republic of Croatia. The wetland park covers an area of approximately 750 hectares. Its main provisions include environmental protection, cultural heritage and economic development through salt production, tourism and other leisure and recreation activities.
The area has several international environmental designations including being Slovenian’s first Ramsar designated sites. It supports a diverse range of flora, fauna and wildlife species but is best known for its importance for birds. Accordingly, the area is used as a wintering, migratory and breeding area for over 250 different marine and wetland birds including the Black-winged Stilt and the Little Egret.
The park is split in to two main areas – ‘the Lera’ and ‘the Fontanigge’. The Lera is located in the northern section, where salt-making is still highly active. In the southern Fontanigge part, where salt-harvesting was abandoned around 60 years ago, it has gradually overgrown. The Fontanigge now offers a range of habitats such as tidal mudflats, saline meadows, dry and partially overgrown basins, pools and marshes. There are still signs of the areas former salt harvesting infrastructure abandoned in the 1960’s, including remains of houses.
Figure 4 & 5: The Lera – active salt harvesting area
Figures 6 & 7: The Fontanigge – abandoned salt harvesting area
The ownership of Secovlije Salina Nature Park lies almost entirely with the Slovenian government. However its environmental management and commercial development is the responsibility of a private enterprise. During our visit, we met with Klavdij Godnic, one of the Directors of the private enterprise – Soline Pridelava Soli.
Figure 9: Director Klavdij Godnic indicating ‘the Lera’ section of the park.
The Director advised that developing a sustainable business model for the park was a core mission. Alongside selling the salt produce within national and international markets, they have created popular salt-based commodities such as chocolate and cosmetics. In addition, the park operates as a high quality visitor attraction and facilities such as an on-site Spa have been added latterly. However, to balance this with the environmental protection directive of the park, a range of measures have been implemented. These include – a strict monitoring of the bird species; restricting visitor group numbers; banning visitor vehicles within the park; investing in bikes and an electric visitor bus; and prohibiting events after sunset.
Climate change is also being factored in to the management of the park. The Director advised that whilst hotter temperatures are good for salt-production, rising sea levels and increased rainfalls are not. Therefore, using EU funding, the park is completing the construction of a higher coast wall with automatic doors to prevent water from coming up in to the production area.
Figure 10: Coastal Wall Project
Displayed on the wall of the Director’s meeting room was a range of artworks depicting the park’s landscape and wildlife characters. The Director advised that over the years, many artists have visited the park and organised competitions and projects. And whilst the park itself has never commissioned any artist in residencies, they have allowed projects take place free of charge, with the agreement that one piece of work is left for the park. This demonstrated the type of cultural ecosystem services which the park can provide.
Figures: 11 & 12 Examples of artwork from Secovlije Salina Nature Park Office
Currently the park management model is sustainable. The products, services and facilities provided by the park are generating annual capital and this is being used to subsidy the revenue needed to management the park for nature conservation. However, one of the biggest challenges is the uncertain future of the governance model. The Director advised that the private enterprise owners want to sell the company and discussions are leaning towards the spa and salt products remaining in private management and the park and salt production being the responsibility of the government. This will alter the governance structure for the three core aspects of the park – economic, social and environmental in to two potentially disconnected management systems.
Reflections and Lessons for Scotland
- The wetland park examples experienced, along with many other examples we visited during the trip demonstrated a common approach to their management and development. Instead of trying to encouraging high volumes of visitors, they are opting to create high quality experiences. In the example of Secovlije Salina Nature Park, the measures such as restricting vehicle access, capping group sizes and investing in green transport, this could be seen as inhibiting financial prospects. However it stands to demonstrate the balanced approach to sustainable development. This ethos and the measures implemented are good lessons for Scotland’s emerging wetlands parks and natural heritage attractions such as the canal waterways to consider.
- With community participation and ownership a key priority for the Scottish Government, the example of Lake Cerknica offers some interesting reflections. Whilst community participation programmes have yet to fully establish, national programmes such as the Slovenian Public Works scheme offers interesting learning for Scotland. The development of a nationally supported employability scheme could provide resources to emerging wetland parks such as the Seven Loch’s Wetland Park in the Glasgow Clyde Valley region, spanning communities with high employment levels. In addition, the fragmented and mixed ownership of the Cerknica plain highlighted the need for local ownership to be carefully considered, as environmental management has no boundaries and requires cooperation from all to work effectively.
- In Slovenia, the tourist tax is collected by the local municipality. This is used to help develop and improve associated tourism infrastructure such as cycling routes, natural asset management or heritage projects. In Scotland, such a tax is not sought however it could be a potential additional funding sources for investing in our environment. However, the model Slovenia used is arguably imperfect. As it is the municipality who collects and utilises the tax, areas such as Cerknica plain, where tourism is still very limited, are unable to generate a healthy investment source for worthy projects. This is a different approach to Slovenia’s neighbouring country, the Republic of Croatia where at least 40% of the tourist tax goes to promoting national tourism, 30% goes to the region and 30% goes to the municipality (Source: rtvslo).
- One of the biggest challenges highlighted within the wetland examples was their future management and development with uncertainty over governance models. This too is a challenge for developing Scotland’s wetland areas, with the path to and implications of our exit from Europe, unclear. Therefore preparing sustainable business models for our nature parks which recognises the ecosystem services provided and considers the creation of other products such as in the example of Secovlije Salina Nature Park (products, artist retreats, and spa) to generate income to subsidise the revenue required to conserve the environmental qualities.