25th – 31st May 2018
Day 1. Arrival in Krakow and drive to High Tatras.
Day 2 Slovensky Raj National Park (Slovak Paradise)
Guided walk through Sucha Bela, the gully of a small river within mixed forest on limestone hills, where access is enabled by horizontal wooden walkways and steep metal ladders over big drops with only a chain to hold onto.
Day 3 Low Tatras National Park
Bear tracking with Robin Rigg of the Slovakian Wildlife Society. Guided walk through native Norway spruce forest and meadows. Discussion of the Big 3 of Slovakia – bear, wolf and lynx, and their interactions with people.
Day 4 High Tatras National Park – windstorm area
Peter Fleischer of the Slovakian Forestry Research Service will talk about his work as a forest researcher in the High Tatras. A discussion of the Windstorm of 2004. The storm decimated the Norway spruce forest and destroyed a rare fir forest. Visit to an area where spruce bark beetle has led to the death of many trees.
Day 5 Slovensky Kras National Park – limestone area.
Lazlo Gordon, an independent ecologist, will guide you through limestone meadows to Silicka L’adnica, a unique open cave at the base of a crag where icicles are present in June, in contrast with high temperatures above. Lazlo will lead a guided walk through Zadiel limestone canyon, up through native beech forest and back through sheep-grazed wood pasture with hornbeam and juniper
Day 6 Pieniny National Park
Stefan Danko, Director of the National Park, will talk about park management, European legislation and other issues. Two-hour boat trip down River Dunajec, on the Slovakian/Polish border, to see the limestone landscape and mixed forest.
Day 7 Poloniny National Park
Guided walk with Miro Knezo and a forest through the primeval beech forest up to Kremenec, 1221m. This is the meeting point of Slovakia with Poland and Ukraine.
Day 8 Return to Krakow.
Main themes for Slovakia visit
- Woodland cover – Slovakia has 40% woodland cover. Some of the woodland in National Parks is left entirely to natural processes, but even the commercially managed woodlands are semi-natural and rich in biodiversity with management based on long rotation and natural regeneration of native species (beech, spruce) for construction quality timber;
- High importance and impact of hunting – The high commercial value of hunting and the wide participation of the rural population support the maintenance of large semi-natural woodlands as habitat for trophy species (wolves, bears, wild boar and deer). Hunting is unpalatable to many conservationists but the benefit for habitat conservation may well outweigh the impact of losses due to hunting itself as demonstrated by the high and apparently stable populations of wolf, lynx and bear. The combination of hunting and large predator populations also helps to control deer populations at a level where foresters can rely on natural regeneration to restock forests;
- The richness and diversity of Eastern Slovakia’s wildlife – Slovakia contains two EU biogeographical zones – Alpine and Pannonian. There are many semi-natural forests and grasslands and the diversity of landscapes from the Carpathian beech forests of Poloniny to the coniferous forests of the High Tatras and the karst plateaux of Slovensky Kras. These areas support a large number of endemic species with a striking abundance of wildflowers and insects.
- Funding shortages – Slovakia’s economy is faring better than many in the Euro-zone but budgets are still very tight. Access to EU funds such as LIFE is difficult because of the requirement for matched-funding from national sources and because of the difficulty in managing cash flow for retrospective claims – will this become an issue in Scotland as domestic funds become tighter?;
- Impact of Biosphere Reserves – Biosphere Reserve status appears to be adding little value to the management of National Parks because of the strength of Slovakia’s national nature conservation legislation and because the National Parks already operate a zoning policy – will this be true for areas considering biosphere reserve status in Scotland?;
- National Park legislation – zoning and access policies in National Parks are much stricter than in the UK with some areas left to natural processes and access restricted. These policies are (apparently) widely accepted though the recent trend to return state land to private owners or communities is leading to challenges to this policy with risks for nature conservation interests – would it be possible to enforce such restrictions in Scotland, even if there was a strong nature conservation benefit identified?;
- Improving collaboration – Sustainable development and nature conservation initiatives suffer from low levels of collaboration between specialists & bureaucrats, across National Parks and across NGOs. Improved collaboration would be beneficial, especially as a response to restricted resources – how would we improve collaboration across similar groups in Scotland?;
- Rural depopulation – The populations of remote villages are decreasing with a decrease in traditional farming leading to a reduction in the extent of semi-natural habitats, especially grassland. In nature conservation terms, support for marginal and pastoral farming may have to be focussed on the highest priority areas as it will be impossible to maintain the existing extent – do these same issues apply in Scotland to our use of agri-environment and rural development funds?;
- More relaxed approach to Health & Safety – attitudes are refreshingly different with a higher degree of risk and individual responsibility expected, as demonstrated by the design of path and via ferrata construction at Slovensky Raj where the entrance fee provides insurance cover for rescue services – could we change the culture in Scotland to allow the provision of more interesting and challenging access opportunities?;
- Dark Sky park – The Poloniny National Park was awarded Dark Sky park status in late 2011 and there is now the opportunity (and challenge) to find funds to promote the area to astronomers and provide facilities for their visits.
- Regeneration of the High Tatras forests – There is increasing evidence of successful natural regeneration of woodland in the huge 2004 storm-damaged areas of the High Tatras. The current debate in post-storm management is to determine how much of the regenerating forest area should be left to natural processes – the forestry service recommends 30% whereas other nature conservation bodies recommend 50%;
14) Impact of the Euro-zone recession – the recession across Europe is affecting visitor numbers in tourist areas such as the High Tatras (down to 2 million from 6 million) and creating a general atmosphere where nature conservation is becoming a lower priority relative to economic development (e.g. development of new ski runs in the High Tatras).