Nature Exchange Joint Report–Slovenia 2012

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1. Woodlands and Forestry in Slovenia – Gordon Patterson and Jim Smith of Forestry Commission Scotland

2. Conservation and people – conflicts and relevance to Scotland – Mike Daniels, Head of Land & Science, John Muir Trust

3. Potential for tourism development – Sarah Sall, Project Officer, East Ayrshire Coalfield Environment Initiative

4. Piran Saltpans: An Example of Local Industry and Nature Coexisting – Katrina Martin, Environmental Administrative Assistant, University of Stirling Student’s Union

5. Contrasts and opportunities between Slovenia and Scotland – Andrew Blunsum, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Countryside Ranger


Woodlands and forestry in Slovenia

Gordon Patterson and Jim Smith of Forestry Commission Scotland

We were particularly interested in the importance of forests in Slovenia, and their ecology and management in the wider context of culture and land use.

1.1 Introduction to Slovenian forests

Slovenia is one of the most wooded countries in Europe today, with 60% of land cover in 2005, having risen from 36.4% in 1875. Most of this increase has occurred over the last few decades, and it seems to have been largely through natural colonisation of hay meadows and pastureland although there was some afforestation in the post war years. Although the wooded area 1217kha is similar to Scotland the proportion of forest in Slovenia is much higher (60% cf 18%).


forest landscape and meadow

The contrast with Scotland is stark, not only in forest cover but also the proportions of native or semi-natural woodlands (the great majority in Slovenia; around a quarter in Scotland), and their character, silviculture and biodiversity (Table 1).

Table 1. Forestry comparisons between Slovenia and Scotland

Country Area and % forest Broadleaves % Native spp% Silvicsystem %state % of forest in Natura sites
Slovenia 1217kha60% 53 Over 90%? Close to nature /LISS 26% and falling 50
Scotland 1385kha18% c. 20 c. 30 Clear fell 36% 10-15

In contrast with Scottish land ownership, which is of course remarkably concentrated in European terms, most privately owned woods are in small lots, (over 80% of holdings are under 5ha), though often connected to other woodlands. This has led to some challenges of motivation, co-ordination and capacity to manage forests.


Map showing forest and woodland cover in Slovenia 2012

Ownership patterns have changed since independence and the end of communist regime of Yugoslavia, as land has been given back to historical owners or their descendants, many of whom now live in towns or other countries. We saw one example in the Kocevje forest visit where a small area within the historically managed area had been split amongst 73 owners which was making it very hard to agree any management plans.

1.2. Policy and Historical Context Forestry in Slovenia

Forest act 1993

Modern forestry policy in Slovenia is based upon the Forest act of 1993; this act enabled the establishment of the Slovenian Forest Service by the recently established Republic of Slovenia. The act covers all woodland and forests in Slovenia irrespective of ownership and encourages woodland and forest owners to:

· manage the forest in accordance with regulations, management plans and administrative acts issued on the basis of this act;

· allow free access to and movement in the forest; and

· allow beekeeping, hunting and recreational gathering of fruits, herbal plants, mushrooms and wild animals in accordance with regulations.

The Communist period

Immediately after the Second World War, about 20% of private forests were nationalized; nevertheless, two-thirds of Slovenian forests were still privately owned. New regulations introduced after world war two obliged farmers to sell timber to the state. In the 1960s, farmers were compelled to be members of cooperatives engaged both in agriculture and forestry. In the 1970s, cooperatives were separated into two categories – ‘forestry only’ and ‘agriculture only’.

In private forests, owners retained the right to carry out all operational silvicultural activities. About 65-70% of the selling price of timber was paid to forest owners. Under the system, many foresters tried to work with and educate forest owners, in a kind of ad hoc extension work. However, as owners felt repressed by not being able to make their own decisions on the sale of forest products from their land, the relationship between foresters and forest owners was strained. The management system collapsed in the late 1980s when farmers began to sell timber on their own.

In December 1990 the electorate of Slovenia voted for a sovereign and independent Slovenia from Yugoslavia. The constitution of the Republic of Slovenia was adopted in December 1991, this followed laws on denationalisation and privatisation of all state owned assets. The establishment of the Republic of Slovenia enabled the Forestry Act of 1993 and therefore the creation of the current Slovenian Forest Service (Zavod za Gozdove Slovenije).

Ownership patterns have changed since independence and the end of communist regime of Yugoslavia, as land has been given back to historical owners or their descendants through the policy of denationalisation, many of whom now live in towns or other countries. We saw one example in the Kocevje forest visit where a small area within the historically managed area had been split amongst 73 owners which was making it very hard to agree any management plans.

Woodland ownership – 1985


Woodland ownership 1995


Partly as a result of these changes, the national annual wood harvest has not kept pace with the expanding woodland area, and is now only 60% of national annual increment. It is a national policy aim to increase this, for example by providing financial technical and advisory help, and assisting forest road construction. The harvesting shortfall is almost all in broadleaved forest.

On the other hand there is still a very strong woodland culture and active engagement in managing woods and integrating this with small- scale farming and with hunting. Up to 20% of family farm holdings deal with wood processing (not clear what proportion of this is worked by contractors or as standing sales), and a quarter of these use wood for craft activities such as the hill farm we visited on the Tuesday evening (farm Marolt), who make beech and maple wood spoons and butter dishes.


Beech firewood pile

Domestic firewood is a very important product and 30% of households use it for heating, which consumes a high proportion of the annual broadleaved harvest. Nearly all of this seems to be composed of split logs, often beech, which are traditionally cut and stacked outside nearly every house; but the Government aims to increase the share of chips and pellets and build commercial heating capacity.

Firewood prices seem less than in Scotland; we were told of seasoned beech split logs at 50-60Euros/m3 delivered and stacked (£40-£50) compared to about £80 here.

Annual increment is 2.5% of standing volume which averages 280m3/ha in ‘managed forests’ and the national aim is to achieve an optimum range of 320-360m3/ha of standing volume. Yield classes are typically in the range of 6-10 m3/ha.

1.3. Ecology, silviculture and biodiversity

Slovenia is naturally highly biodiverse due partly to biogeography (it is a confluence of several zones) as well as a high proportion of limestone geology. Close- to-nature management and a small scale integration of agricultural and woodland use historically have maintained and even enhanced some aspects, for example by creating flower and insect rich meadows and marshes. Most large carnivores are still present, though lynx was exterminated and re-introduced. The continuing presence of wild bear, wolves, lynx, boar and beaver ranging across large areas is inspiring and amongst the biggest ecological differences from Scotland.

Another illustration of the rich biodiversity here is that the Krokar forest that we visited (Tuesday 10th) holds 10 species of owls, including the giant Ural owl.

Forests in SW Slovenia are mainly dominated by beech and silver fir with sycamore and Norway spruce as significant species; as well as pines (Scots and Austrian pines mainly) ash, oaks, lime, elm and a rich underwood of hazel, hornbeam, field maple, whitebeam, dogwood, spindle, guelder rose, and others less familiar to us such as walnut. Diversity is often high in shrub and field layers. As a simple example in one small patch of the understorey of a stand of silver firs outside the inn where we stayed, we counted 18 woody species in a few square metres.


Large silver firs and underwood

The intensity of light (higher sun angle than in northern countries), base-rich soils and the presence of many native shade- bearing trees and shrubs all contribute to allow quite vigorous regeneration, except on some thinner soils on steep limestone slopes, and the generally sheltered climate also allows tall tree growth.

We found the conifer tree form to be generally good especially for silver fir and Norway spruce (tall cylinders with slender branches and narrow crowns); it was also good for much of the beech and other hardwoods in comparison with Scottish broadleaves.

Over half of Slovenian forests are in Natura sites (and 35% of all of Slovenia) and all 11 European forest types found here are reported as being in good condition.

The typical silviculture we saw was single tree selection or cutting of small groups of around 25-50 metres across. We heard that in the Karst limestone region single tree selection has been the preferred method for over a century, mainly to safeguard water quality. This leads to a predominance of strong shade bearers like beech and silver fir which are most able to grow up in small gaps. The less shade- tolerant ash is rare in the canopy. In the virgin forest visit on Tuesday we saw plenty of ash seedlings and small saplings but very few had made it to the canopy. We would have expected to see more elm and lime in the canopy however and it was not clear why they were uncommon.


Natural colonisation of trees and shrubs in meadows

Expansion of forest onto meadows and pastures is occurring very quickly in the areas we saw. Norway spruce, or more often hazel and hawthorn, can scrub up areas within 10 years if annual cutting is stopped.

In the Nanos area we were told that almost the whole valley below the farm we visited had been colonised by forest in the last 50 years as farming contracted there and cutting of beech timber for Italian markets had declined.

Open and scrub montane areas seemed rare in our region (altitudes up to 1500m). However at Nanos at 1100-1200m we saw scattered scrub and grassland which supports golden eagles and chamois antelope.

clip_image018 Nanos hill

1.4. Protected forest and ecological reserves

Some 100kha is listed as ‘protective forest’ in Slovenia, often on steep slopes, to protect areas from erosion and flooding. Forests cover over 90% of the steep land (over 35 degree slopes). This is a concept which is not well developed in Scotland, but as landslips and torrential rain events increase we should look harder at the pros and cons of creating protective woodlands and scrub on steep slopes.

In addition to protective forests, some areas are designated as ecological reserves which total 9000ha, just 0.8% of Slovenian woods. This is pretty low but when most woods are diverse and native in character, perhaps there is not such a need for minimum intervention areas as well.

We visited Krokar Forest at Kocevje in the mountainous area close to the Croatian border. This area had always been remote and woodlands had been used for local building and firewood plus hunting. In the 19th century the Austrian lord who owned it had planned an iron smelter and prepared a forest plan for the region that included designating some of Krokar hill in the 1880s as a protected ‘virgin forest’ reserved for hunting and not to be harvested. This low intervention regime continues to this day, and part of the Krokar wood 73 ha is designated as a strictly protected forest reserve.


Virgin forest


Dead wood and old trees are still scarce in this reserve but are building up gradually. They seemed to be quite rare generally in the forests we saw, although this may partly reflect a rapid decay rate on warm fertile conditions.

The term ancient semi-natural seemed more accurate than ‘virgin forest’ here, as it seemed the area had been partly exploited in the past, for example for firewood and building. And the present canopy, dominated by what seemed to be a cohort of 150 year old trees (80% beech), suggested a major intervention in the mid-19th century. This may have involved fire according to the forester, but she was sure it was not a clear felling.

This reserve illustrated that low- intervention forests are not necessarily the most diverse in the medium term at least as much depends on the starting condition and site character. We saw significantly richer forest, at least in terms of tree and shrub diversity, in various managed forests in our travels.

One thing that seemed rather informal was monitoring of changes in this reserve. There had been some sample plots established by interested students some years ago but there did not seem to be a systematic monitoring in place. We have similar problems in Scotland; it is always a challenge to develop a systematic approach that can be maintained and resourced over long periods.

1.5. Forest regulation and planning

All forest owners must agree plans with the state for felling and other operations. Some incentives are available to help private owners, for example agri-environment payments and support for forest road maintenance and construction.

We heard from one private owner that State forest service foresters check individual tree selection for thinning and agree the allowable cut to maintain standing volumes.

In Kocevje we were shown management plans for a state forest area by the local forester who had worked there for about 25 years and knew it intimately. These 10- year plans were based on detailed knowledge of each compartment, and the forester also marked and number tagged every tree to be cut.

There did not appear to be any GIS system in place, but we may have missed this.

In recent years stakeholders have been invited to comment on plans and more environmental information is being collected and built in to plans, in addition to that already used for traditional hunting management. An example was where a rare butterfly was identified and the experts lobbied for specific management of glades to sustain it.

However my impression was that this stakeholder input is at an early stage compared to Scotland, and there is not yet a comprehensive attempt to gather and store environmental information, such as GIS systems facilitate in Scotland. Our experience of this could be of value. Reliance on local knowledge seems strong still and our guide clearly had a great deal of it.

1.6. Hunting and Game management

This is well organised and regulated by the state, across all land in Slovenia, but it is carried out by a series of local hunting ‘families’ or associations. Crucially compared to Scotland, wild game animals in Slovenia (i.e. those that can be hunted) are considered the property of the state. Local culls and management measures such as habitat provision and artificial feeding need to be agreed in annual plans prepared by hunting families for state approval. These seem to be based on a balance of land use interests and maintaining the game species populations and wider biodiversity. Deer culls had recently been stepped up in response to increased populations. We heard that target annual cull was 25% for deer. We also heard of areas where wolves had brought deer numbers sharply down, for example at Nanos.

However what is really striking to a Scottish visitor is the comparatively low amount of browsing damage to trees and shrubs. We noticed very little and it certainly didn’t hold back a rich diversity of natural colonisation and regeneration in most places. Deer numbers were not clear but, despite apparently high quality forage, they seemed much lower than in much of Scotland as far as we could tell. Here are 2 examples:

· The hunter/farmer at the Nanos tourist farm told us of 250 deer in his hunting family area of 3500ha of mostly forest, a density of 7 deer per 100ha, from which they plan a 25% annual cull to maintain numbers. This cull is in addition to predation by wolves, lynx and bears.

· The National forest programme booklet we saw includes cull records that suggest the recent annual culls over south west Slovenian regions have been about 0.1 -2 per 100ha of hunted area for red deer and 1-2 per 100ha for roe. Assuming these are based on 25% culls, this would suggest that average populations are in the range of 0.4-8 red deer per 100ha and 4-8 roe per 100ha. (maybe different in the north-east where higher roe culls reported.)


In both cases these are close to our ideal deer densities which allow diverse tree species regeneration and field layer diversity; targets which are seldom achieved at present in Scotland.


There are 420 hunting clubs in Slovenia and 20,000 hunters which is about 1% of the adult population; the equivalent figure in Scotland would be 50,000.

Hunters need to pass theoretical and practical assessments including a 1-year ‘probation’ with an experienced colleague. I got the impression that whilst this hunting system is still strong it may come under increasing pressure from conflicts with increasing tourism and access to the countryside and a global trend to urbanisation and reduction of numbers of people living in and managing the countryside.

Social attitudes of urban populations to hunting and local people’s tolerance of large carnivores in the vicinity are other factors that may change and indirectly affect deer numbers in future.


Forest landscape with meadows

1.7. Recreation and Tourism in the Slovenian Forests

Recreation and tourism in the Slovenian Forests are relatively underdeveloped in the Slovenian Forests in comparison to Scotland. The sites we visited did have differing levels of recreational infrastructure on them with Interpretation at most entrance points (including information in English) and waymarked trails going through sites but this wasn’t on the same level of the recreational infrastructure on sites in Scotland.

From discussions with the owner of the accommodation where the Arch group stayed,  Miha Mlakar, there was extreme frustration on his behalf that he was unable to establish forest based recreation in the woods surrounding his hotel, including recreational trails and Bear based recreation. Miha put this down to the well-connected influence of the hunting clubs in the Slovenian Forests. Miha is still keen to develop recreational opportunities in the countryside surrounding his business and is currently developing a cycle based recreation upon the current public road network surrounding his hotel.

Mijam Mikulic at Krokar Virgin Forest

Mijam Mikulic explaining interpretation panel at Krokar Virgin Forest

Surveys carried out by the Slovenian Forest Service indicate that 60% of tourists visit Slovenia because of its unspoiled nature and that increasing numbers are visiting the country for recreation in the Slovenian Forests. There needs to be a fine balance achieved so that recreational development does not affect the unspoiled nature of these Forests.

Recreational development in the Slovenian Forests is being implemented in the Slovenian Forest Service primarily by educating forest owners, managing forest educational trails and other tourist routes. The development of recreation facilities in Slovenian Forests is implemented by defining the adequacy of forest areas for the intensity of tourist and recreational activities by recreational zoning with a greater emphasis being developed on urban areas and forest areas adjacent to schools. The progress of this development is evaluated on an annual basis by measuring the area of forests accessible to the public and the number of “educational” paths to achieve the objectives of the forest act 1993.

1.8. Some issues and impressions that arose from discussions

· There is discussion of forms of taxation to encourage landowners to manage woodlands or farmland that is neglected, for example by taxing for potential value

· How to grow more high quality timber and develop markets for it (this is a stated Forest Policy aim). We heard that Italy is a market for good beech for furniture-making but that is currently depressed in recession.

· How to balance interests and concerns of farmers and residents in relation to bears and wolves (lynx not really mentioned as an issue). There seems to be concern about these animals fed by tabloid media amongst a more urbanised population. Mixed accounts about how much livestock they take.

· Achieving the right balance of forestry and open and agricultural land. Preventing succession in places to conserve biodiversity and cultural heritage (High nature value farming).

· There seemed limited interest and awareness yet amongst farmer and forest owners of EU RDR opportunities and a tendency to suspicion of (another) remote bureaucracy dictating their lives.

· Insect damage to NS increasing from bark beetles in Kocevje (and nationally?), due partly to drier warmer summers. A forester suggested this was because of planting beyond their optimum site types during afforestation in post war years, plus declining hygiene standards in harvesting operations.

· The national aim is to increase old trees and dead wood; would this help or hinder forest hygiene?

· Wild boar do a lot of crop damage and are increasing and the cull is increasing to respond. The meat is eaten in Slovenia unlike UK we think. Our approach to managing these animals in Scotland needs to be developed before it is out of control.

· Capercaillie were reported to be declining in the Nanos mountain area we visited. Factors mentioned included increases in foxes and possibly wetter springs. Familiar!

· Eco-tourism seems fairly undeveloped despite the huge biodiversity. Local attitudes seem ambivalent about tourism as a respectable occupation, which rather reminds me of Scotland, at least until recent times.

1.9. Take home messages


Slovenia made a very good impression as a warm and friendly country with a strong cultural identity and high quality natural environment which people still seem well connected to.

It is a very young country as a political entity and is unsure of the path ahead as part of the EU and global economy. We heard varied views about embracing international tourism as a driver for rural economic growth; with some keen and some reluctant perhaps concerned over possible loss of quality of life.

Forestry and biodiversity: are there any lessons for us in Scotland?

The experiences that we had on this visit and the contrasts that many of them provide with Scotland do suggest lots of things to think about: Here are just a few.

· Slovenia demonstrates truly landscape- scale forest habitat networks with all the fauna and flora able to thrive, largely without species-specific management prescriptions. How far can we go in this direction at least in some areas of Scotland?

· The close-to-nature silvicultural methods using native species are suited to Slovenian conditions and don’t transfer easily to Scotland with few shade tolerant productive native species and lots of wind. But again it is inspiring as an approach to adapt to our conditions where we can.

· The presence of large predators and a more systematic approach to deer and game management to balance land use interests help to achieve dramatically more vigorous regeneration and diverse woodlands with the full range of potential plant and animal species that we experience in most of Scotland. We can realise how impoverished our environment often is by comparing to countries like Slovenia, and this should help us to understand how our deer densities are often far too high for healthy ecosystems.

· Customary use of Slovenian woodlands for firewood, shelter, beekeeping as well as hunting has kept them locally managed and valued. Can we build up more local use of Scottish woods such as for firewood? Does this go hand in hand with a more diverse ownership pattern?

· Protective forests on steep slopes that can be sustained with low intensity management and continuous cover may be increasingly important in Scotland, and we can learn from countries like Slovenia. So far we seem to have put more emphasis on floodplain and riparian woods.

on the path to Hell

Group photo, minus the author, ‘on the path to Hell’


2. Conservation and people – conflicts and relevance to Scotland

Mike Daniels, Head of Land & Science, John Muir Trust

During our visit, we met foresters, hunters, farmers, conservationists and local people and were able to discuss conservation issues with them. Whilst not necessarily a representative or a structured sample, we got a good insight into some of the issues facing people engaged in this sector. Through our field visits and these discussions three main areas of conflict between people and conservation emerged:

· Conservation versus human safety / livelihoods (brown bears),

· Conservation versus other land uses (agriculture, forestry & hunting),

· Conservation versus tourism (mass tourism, nature based tourism).

Each of these is briefly explored below, in terms of the nature of the conflict and its relevance to land management in Scotland, particularly with regards to potential lessons that could be learned.

2.1. Conservation versus human safety / livelihoods


Nature of the conflict


The brown bear is a protected carnivore in Europe, and Slovenia holds an estimated population of 400-550 individuals. Despite their protection, bears are hunted in Slovenia with an annual cull around 10% of the population. Culling is largely centred around feeding stations. Bears come into conflict with humans through direct attacks on people and on livestock. Reported attacks on people are very rare and usually result from surprising a bear or disturbing its cubs. In 2000 (the latest year for which figures are available) around 140 attacks on livestock were reported the vast majority on sheep and goats.

During our visit we heard a range of views on bears from hunters, foresters, farmers, conservationists, and local residents living in the vicinity of bears / or who had encountered bears. Most were quite positive about bears and believed that they were part of Slovenian culture, posed little threat to humans and were an ecological and potentially a tourist benefit. On the other hand, despite none of those we spoke to having been physically threatened by bears, we did hear of one attack where someone had touched or attempted to touch a bear cub. The perception of others we spoke to was that bear numbers were increasing on village edges such that people were afraid to walk at night and their children had to take a bus to school. One famer also asserted that he could not keep sheep because of bear attacks and that politicians were benefitting from bears financially whilst stinting on compensation for livestock losses.

Stealing honey

Beehive panel depicting a story involving bears stealing honey


Relevance to Scotland


While bears have not been present in Scotland for over 1,000 years and their re-introduction is not being seriously considered, other carnivore re-introductions have taken place and generated similar conflict – mostly focussed on livestock. Most recently, the re-introduction of white tailed sea eagles has caused controversy over perceived and actual predation on lambs. The re-introduction of lynx and wolves are also frequently mentioned in relation to Scotland.

It is clear from Slovenia that as in Scotland:

· Relevant data (e.g. on number of human or livestock attacks) is either missing or incomplete.

· Regardless of data, most views tend to be based on strongly held beliefs (likes and don’t likes).

· Despite society making a choice (through national or international protection), individuals feel that their concerns are not being listened to.


2.2. Conservation versus other land uses


Nature of the conflict


Small scale mixed farming – consisting of very small patches of cultivation (barley, potatoes, beans, corn etc.) surrounded by flower rich grass or hay meadows and occasional livestock – was observed throughout the area we visited. This mixed, low intensity system appeared to be extremely high in biodiversity (flora, insect life and bird life) epitomizing the concept of high nature value (HNV) farming. We were told this agricultural pattern was under threat for a number of reasons. Firstly because of a decline in the number of younger people prepared to work the land in this way and secondly because of the inability to obtain financial support (in terms of agricultural subsidies). This latter was due to a number of reasons including the relatively recent introduction of the CAP system, complexity of the system, and distrust of officials.

Areas of HNV agriculture, particularly high meadows within woodland are also being encroached by natural regeneration of forests. This poses a particular dilemma because a high biodiversity system is being replaced by a natural ecosystem as part of a natural process. Conflicts between hunters and conservationists were not raised during the visit, and we learned that hunting plans are produced by hunters and signed off by regional or state authorities.


Discussing issues regarding agriculture in a flower-rich meadow



Relevance to Scotland

There are a number of similarities with the HNV agricultural system we saw and crofting in the west and north of Scotland. Like Slovenia, this type of agricultural activity is under threat of decline in Scotland because of a lack of young people willing to take on this type of management. Arguably in Scotland, however, the high biodiversity of crofting has been lost for many years now, with small scale cultivation and manual hay making generally abandoned in favour of sheep production. In addition a large number of croft sites have been developed for houses and then sold on. Unlike, Slovenia, the agricultural support for crofting in Scotland is well developed and well used.

In terms of natural succession or one habitat replacing another, this is familiar situation for Scotland although it is rarely caused by naturally regenerating woodland due to high deer numbers. Instead, a mosaic of features are designated within protected sites leading to natural succession replacing one habitat with another. Unlike in Slovenia, in Scotland hunting quotas are largely unregulated leading to high deer densities which have direct impacts on agriculture, forestry and conservation objectives.

It is clear from Slovenia that as in Scotland:

· Traditional, low intensity, labour intensive, high biodiversity cropping systems are under threat and that CAP funding mechanisms are not currently effective at delivering HNV agriculture,

· Conflicts over changes in land use due to ‘natural processes’ present a challenge to conservation objectives – particularly when these are designated features under EU legislation and take place against a backdrop of potential climate change adaptation,

· Unlike Scotland, there appear to be fewer conflicts between hunters and conservationists perhaps because hunting is statutorily regulated instead of relying on the voluntary principle.

2.3. Conservation versus tourism


Nature of the conflict


The tourism industry in the areas of Slovenia we visited appeared to be under-developed. Despite the incredible biodiversity and natural wonders (such as caves) lending itself to a flourishing eco-tourism industry, we encountered relatively few tourists and very few foreign tourists. There appears to be little co-ordination or drive to encourage tourism. While on the one hand this represents a lost opportunity in terms of generating sustainable income (particularly at a time of global financial difficulties), it is perhaps also a positive in terms of low impacts on protected and biodiverse sites (with little erosion, litter or disturbance). One example is the Jama cave system we visited. Here there were 44 species (33 of which were confined to water) – making it the fourth most biodiverse cave system in the world. Due to the apparently low number of visitors and a quota on those that did visit, the protection of this ecosystem appeared to be strong.


Education set-up in cave tour

Relevance to Scotland


In Scotland, tourism is one of the biggest industries. Nature based tourism represents a significant and growing component of this market. Increasingly politicians are suggesting that ‘nature should pay its way’ and as such nature based tourism and recognition of ecosystem services are increasingly used to ‘justifify’ conservation. The challenge in Scotland, therefore is protecting nature from the impacts of too many tourists. Erosion on footpaths, litter and general disturbance poses both a cost to landowners (who do not necessarily benefit directly from tourism spend) and a direct threat to wildlife in certain areas.

It is clear from Slovenia that:

· There is currently a blockage in developing tourism and nature based tourism, which may represent a missed opportunity to provide economic revenue to sustain wildlife protection and management,

· On the other hand tourism takes off there will be challenge in regulating it to avoid adverse impacts and potentially destroying the very thing that tourists come to see.

3. Potential for tourism development: a look at the benefits and conflicts and how this relates to south west Scotland

Sarah Sall, Project Officer, East Ayrshire Coalfield Environment Initiative

During our visit, we met hoteliers, restaurant owners, foresters, farmers, conservationists and local people and were able to discuss tourism with them. As a group we travelled extensively around the south west of Slovenia and although we were not visiting in the capacity of tourists we naturally saw many areas of interest and specific attractions. Through our field visits and these discussions some reoccurring themes emerged:

· The effect communism has had on society,

· The newness of Slovenia’s democracy and role within the EU/world markets,

· The strong values rural Slovenians have for their natural surroundings

3.1. Political Background


Slovenia has a complicated political background but key moments in its recent history are:

· Yugoslavia became re-establishment during World War II; Slovenia became part of Federal Yugoslavia. A socialist state was established, but because of Tito’s leadership, economic and personal freedoms were greater than in the Eastern Bloc.

· In April 1990 the first democratic elections took place.

· In December 1990 the electorate voted overwhelmingly in favour of a sovereign and independent Slovenia.

· On 25th June 1991 Slovenia became officially independent.

· On 27th June 1991 the Yugoslav People’s Army mobilised to prevent further measures towards establishing a new country.

· This is known as the Ten-Day War and on the 7th July the Brijuni Agreement was signed on the Brijuni islands, Croatia, by representatives of the Republic of Slovenia, Republic of Croatia and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia under the political sponsorship of the European Community. This document put a stop to all the hostilities on the Slovenian territory and so ended the war, in return Slovenia (and Croatia) froze independence activities for a period of three months.

· By December 1991 a new constitution was drawn up, with laws on denationalisation and privatisation following in 1992.

· On 15th January 1992 Slovenia was recognised by the European Union as an independent state, with the United Nations accepting Slovenia as a member in May 1992.

· Slovenia joined the European Union on 1st May 2004, the same year it joined NATO.

· Slovenia is the first transitional country to join the Eurozone (January 2007).

· Slovenia is the first post-Communist country to hold the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (during 2008).

Slovenia is a parliamentary democracy republic with a multi-party system. The head of state is the president, who is elected by popular vote. The president is elected for five years and at maximum for two consecutive terms, and has mainly a representative role and is the commander-in-chief of the Slovenian military forces. The executive and administrative authority in Slovenia is held by the Government of Slovenia, headed by the Prime Minister and the council of ministers or cabinet, who are elected by the National Assembly.

3.2. Issues arising from tourism in Slovenia

From numerous conversations it appears that the general public in Slovenia find the democratic system fairly weak and open to abuse. There are worries that too much power is being held by just a few people. Earlier Communist values after World War II have instilled a feeling within society that making extra money while your neighbour cannot is not acceptable – this can lead to conflicts when tourist ventures are established. The socialist state also resulted in vast numbers of people being reallocated to industrial centres, therefore leaving their farms and land. A stigma still remains today where farming is seen as a poor profession and so vast areas of Slovenia remain abandoned – on a positive note though this has resulted in a huge area of natural regeneration of Slovenia’s vast woodlands.

These underlying social aspects have resulted in tourism growing slowly in Slovenia – with still no mass developments. Tourists mainly come from neighbouring countries and other European countries – in Scotland most tourists come from neighbouring England and Wales so this similarity shows that such a market can sustain a reliable tourism industry.

Feelings of mistrust could hamper efforts to expand tourism in the future, but for the time being the industry is becoming well promoted ( and is taking advantage of European initiatives such as Maribor (north east Slovenia), becoming European Capital of Culture for 2012. An international summer festival (Trnfest) takes place every August and some industries are using tourism to help promote their products (Piranske Soline – artisan salt company). Added to this the compact nature of the country enables tourists to experience wide ranging landscapes, biodiversity, local cultures and varying architecture in relative ease as infrastructure is good and travel times are relatively short.


To help illustrate tourism in the areas visited during this trip the following interpretation boards were photographed. Comments about the photograph come from personal observations and conversations with guides and local people:


Križna Jama cave had good interpretation panels on the hut where visitors wait to be kitted out by the guide who spoke very good English. The internal interpretation panel clearly showed the cave system and the guides’ explanations of where certain features could be found sparked interest in the visit.

Lake Cerknica interpretation panels were placed at the side of the road where a layby with picnic benches and bins was present. The English translation was useful for this site where there were no guides.

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ocal restaurant had received funding for their interpretation board – although it was only in Slovenian the owners could speak good English and talk through the various attractions and how to get there.


Reško Jezero interpretation boards in a layby overlooking the dam and reservoir, this was only in Slovenian but the use of photographs helped non Slovenians understand the information presented.



The Piran salt pans have investment from a large mobile phone company, who used their marketing and promotion experience to provide a suite of high quality interpretation pieces at the visitors centre. This was the most impressive interpretation seen on the trip in my opinion.


The remains of Haasberg Castle. This was not well signposted and down a side road off a country lane. The group visited this as part of the trip with input from Bojan and Helena which started an interesting conversation about the value of such buildings in Slovenia. The castle is privately owned by descendants of Slovenian aristocracy but maintained by the state. It was burned down by Slovenians as part of a revolt against the powers in charge after World War II. As such the feelings still appear to run close to the surface and there are worries that if the castle were to be restored the descendants would just come back and claim it as their own. There were also feelings towards why they should remember people who were bad to the Slovenian people resulting in unwillingness to preserve it just for the sake of tourism. These were interesting conflicts to witness as I personally enjoy seeing old buildings and getting a feel for a country through the history those buildings relay – I’d never had this notion challenged before by the fact that people find the existence of such buildings offensive. It is easy to see why they would not wish to spend taxpayers money on a restoration project!

Comparison to Scotland

· Scotland has been fortunate in not suffering as Slovenia did in terms of occupation by hostile troupes during World War II, and has not been ruled by Communist parties, so finding relevance in terms of this section of history is not possible.

· However Scotland is looking towards independence – albeit from a background of democratic power rather than Slovenia’s recent turbulent past. The Eurozone economic crisis has affected Slovenia badly as most of their income is from exports to the European Union – however this has been an issue for most European countries.

· Tourism is seen on the whole in a positive light by people wanting to develop their communities in Scotland, although the low tourist numbers in Slovenia could be used as a good model for safeguarding the natural environment here.

· Slovenia’s landscape, natural beauty and warm climate in summer does seem to give it some key advantages over tourism in Scotland – particularly with regards to East Ayrshire where in my current role I aim to support tourism as a way of helping economically deprived communities. With the visual effects of surface coal mining and wind turbines often present from vantage points it can be easy to forget the areas of natural beauty that are present, such as Ness Gorge near Dalmellington, the River Ayr running past Sorn Castle and the Afton Water flowing through Glen Afton.

· The use of interpretation seems important and the use of photographs and pictures for non-English speaking people is an important lesson I will take back to my organisation.

3.3. Cultural Exchange Evening, Wednesday 11th July


Our Slovenian host Bojan had arranged for a cultural exchange evening where three ladies from the Society of Rural Women volunteered to teach four of us how to cook traditional Slovenian dishes, while three more were taught by the remaining three Scots how to make traditional Scottish dishes.

The cooking was pretty hectic but all was completed in time for our presentation to a room of over forty Slovenian locals, about our lives in Scotland, covering the area we work in, what work we do and what we like to do in our spare time. We started with welcome drinks (various single malt whiskeys) an introduction from Bojan, Libby and the Mayor before running through general Scottish statistics and then continuing with our individual presentations. After this we had Slovenian presentations, a lady who explained the Scottish Quaich and the tartan she was allowed to wear as a Keeper of the Quaich, a gentleman came out with a rural costume on and large club and axe to relay the story of ????? a national hero who avoided the salt tax imposed by ???? To finish a lady came out in traditional Slovenian rural dress, and talked through each garment, some of which was amazingly 60 to 100 years old.


This all went smoothly and during this hour, the wonderful ladies from the Society of Rural Women had been busy putting together the final touches for the meal and were ready right on cue to bring out the food. We took it in turn to stand with our respective teacher/pupil to talk through the dish produced – Gordon gave a brilliant introduction to the haggis! And that was it; we tucked in and ate and talked with various people, we taught many of them the dance Strip The Willow with varying success, although everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves. In return we were taught a traditional Slovenian dance – in comparison it was very tame and a good way to wind down the evening!


The cooking group Teaching the strip the willow dance

4. Piran Saltpans: an example of local industry and nature coexisting

Katrina Martin, Environmental Administrative Assistant, University of Stirling Student’s Union

The salt pans of Piran have been a source of salt since the beginning in the 9th Century. Today the saltpans are a state-owned but privately-run infrastructure with two main departments:

1. Salt-making

2. Nature conservation

The Piran Saltpans provide an interesting example of:

· nature and industry coexisting

· large corporate companies taking responsibility and doing their bit for nature

· a local industry providing local economic benefits

4.1. Industry background over the past century

Prior to World War II, salt was a valuable resource and used like currency is today. Following the war, importation of cheap salt from Africa commenced, causing the collapse of around two hundred local salt pans. Salt production in Piran ceased in 1967 as it was no longer economically viable.

The trend of people becoming increasingly environmentally conscious provided an opportunity for the Piran Saltpans to reopen in 2002, where salt harvest resumed using traditional methods and thus fulfilling a marketing niche of a green, handmade, traditional product. Indeed, all that has really changed in comparisons over the past 700 years are the clothes that the employees wear! One kilo costs around one euro (compared with fifty cents for a kilo of African salt). With one family consuming around 20 kg salt per year, it provides a great example of how people can support the local economy and do their bit for the environment without too much of an increase in expenditure.


· The fact that, despite the higher price, this traditional salt pan can exist in the modern climate where there are many economic concerns demonstrates the demand on industry for green products.


Traditional salt production in modern clothes!


4.2. Nature conservation


As has been touched upon, the production of the salt itself is environmentally friendly. In addition to this, 6.5 km2 of the area is set aside and dedicated to nature conservation.

Following the closure of the salt pans in 1967, natural succession commenced and remained undisturbed for over forty years. With the reopening of the salt pans, it was identified that this area had become important for nature and was classified as a RAMSAR site. Despite this, it was recognised that improvements could be made to benefit the wildlife even more and since the reopening of the salt pans, conservation work has been carried out to achieve this (see Table 2). Notable tasks have included restoring dykes to prevent uncontrolled flooding to breeding areas, spawning location and to the halophyte plants.

Table 2. Increase in species number between 2002 and 2011

Species 2002 2011
Avocet 19 pairs
Black-winged stilt 20 pairs 65+ pairs
Kentish Plover 30 pairs 70 pairs
Little tern 8 pairs 65 pairs

The conservation work not only benefits the wildlife, but the wider community. A large sum of money has been placed into the project, allowing for it to be developed into an excellent education tool that reaches out to a wide range of audiences, from local schools to tourists. As with outreach work in Scotland, this is essential for reconnecting people with nature and generating our value and respect.


An area of the nature reserve

Despite the infrastructure being state owned, the area is run by a private company and the conserved land is managed according to a state-produced management plan. This is one of very few examples present in Slovenia.

Perhaps surprisingly, the private company funding the conservation of the Piran saltpans is Mobitel, one of the two largest mobile phone companies in Slovenia. The fact they invest money here is a big selling point. Whilst its competitor puts huge sums of money into large-scale advertising, Mobitel use their involvement in the Piran saltpans as a tool to promote themself and so put less money into general advertising. According to research, the conservation funding is generally the second or third most important reason why customers sign up with the company.

It could be questioned whether the huge corporation is hiding behind their work here to direct positive attention while continuing environmentally unfriendly practices within other areas of their business. Similarities can be drawn with companies over in the UK who are causing large-scale devastation to the environment, while “cleverly” having logo’s and adverts designed to portray positive links with the environment (although this is far more detrimental without giving anything at all back to the environment). However there is no question that the fact that Mobitel are putting so much money into a conservation project is a sign that society wants more responsibility placed on caring for our environment, and the positive benefits that this specific example is bringing for the local wildlife of the Piran Saltpans are evident.


· The recommencement of the Piran salt industry has benefited wildlife rather than become of detriment. This provides a promising example and relays a positive message regarding industry and nature coexisting.

· The consumer demand for companies to be environmentally aware and move in a direction that supports this is evident, illustrating the power and influence individuals have through purchasing decisions.

4.3. The local economy

There is no doubt that having local industry brings benefits for local people. Table 2 illustrates how the salt pans have grown in terms of employees, visitors attracted and salt produced.

Table 2. Increase factors between 2002 and 2011

Factor 2002 2011
Employees 15 96
Visitors 8000 40,000
Salt produced (tons) 150 4000

As seems to be a growing case in many places, unemployment is an area of concern. The re-opening of the Piran saltpans has therefore provided local employment opportunities, and as the popularity of traditionally harvested salt grows, so do the benefits to the community.


Large quantities of salt in storage

Tourism clearly plays an important role within this. As has been discussed in previous chapters, the Slovene culture seems to view tourism with suspicion. But the benefits for the saltpans, and no doubt the wider community within this area of Slovenia have become an essential aspect for bringing in money to the local economy.

The popularity of the saltpans – as both a draw for its traditional salt production and for its harvested product – continues to grow and with it so does the demand for salt. Today there are six Piranske Soline shops across Slovenia selling salt products and the Piran Saltpans are exporting salt to wider Europe, America and Japan.


Piranske Soline shop in Piran


· By valuing traditions, tourists can be drawn in and these practices can also reignite the recognition of our important links with nature.

· Our time in Slovenia has given a small insight into employment concerns especially in more remote areas. The Piran saltpans provide a unique insight into how recommencement of local industry using traditional methods, whilst simultaneously respecting the environment, can provide essential jobs within the local community.


5. Tourism and Economic Development: Contrasts and opportunities between Slovenia and Scotland

Andrew Blunsum, Dumfries and Galloway Council, Countryside Ranger

The contrasts seen by the Scottish group on our Leonardo da Vinci visit to Slovenia were stimulating to observe. The groups tour guide and support staff introduced us to a cross section of individuals involved in the rural environment. These people offered their insights and described the challenges found in their working lives to us in ways that showed there are opportunities for development available to be taken for economic and tourism benefits across the regions we visited.

The background should be lightly set to demonstrate the differences between the two countries:

· Slovenia – moving away from a political past that has shaped its peoples thinking into a future which offers a range of entrepreneurial challenges. These challenges will need a balanced approach that only takes on the best and most appropriate means of expanding tourism and economic development from within or selected from other counties and adapted to Slovenia’s countryside and circumstances’.

· Scotland – moving towards a less dependent future and working from a stable political base within Europe, with historical social drivers that have influenced how people use countryside for recreation.

5.1. Contrasts


From the areas visited in Slovenia’s Southern regions, the group saw distinct differences. Scotland has mainly acid soils and hard rock formations, while Slovenia is limestone and dolomite and is alkaline and similar to other parts of the United Kingdom.

This difference coupled with the southern European climate with lower rainfall allows a diversity of species; insects and butterflies being particularly noticeable. Scotland having just suffered its wettest June since records began has few butterflies showing this year as a result. Only our infamous midges and mosquito’s survive and thrive.

The Slovenian forests are mixed and diverse, and managed on a longer term approach while Scotland’s are plantations managed for production through clear felling and replanting.

With regards to agriculture, the Slovenian strip farming contrasts sharply with the Scottish farm system of large blocks of land held by one farmer. This has lead to field scale monocultures on Scotland farms as part of Agri –Businesses: grass; cereals or oil seeds; and grass for large animal herds, in grazing fields or for winter feed as ensiled grass silage. Furthermore, cereals, other crops and oil seeds are grown on a large scale for sale into brewing, distilling, super markets and industry.

These differences highlight the contrasting landscapes of the two countries. Slovenia has forested hillsides with open valley and plateau farming while Scotland has larger open hill landscapes with long vistas consisting of plantations of foreign trees for commercial exploitation. The lower lands managed in field blocks around the farm to offer best grazing and cropping management.

There are contrasting cultural differences that have raised expectations of tourists who visit Scotland. Scottish castles and other sites have been drawn into the ‘tourism industry’ to deliver a tourist experience for visitors. This currently does not appear to be as developed in Slovenia with only a few castles and sites close to cities offering this kind of experience.

In Slovenia there exists a greater sense of care and respect for the rural areas. There was very little evidence of litter anywhere throughout the week. The presence of very few litter bins suggests that the people care and carry home anything they brought with them to the countryside.

This contrasts sharply with Scotland, where litter and litter management infrastructure are evident throughout the land. Some visitors to the Scottish countryside do not look after the sites they visit, causing many complaints from site owners and managers. All major tourist sites are moving towards a recycling culture as are the regional authorities that remove and manage the waste issue with cost implications for any commercial operation.

An additional contrast is within health and safety. In Scotland, site owners have duties of care to deliver safety for visitors, providing their sites with paths and hand railed bridges and other safety infrastructure that almost eliminates risk to and for visitors. This leads to high entry fees and the need for retail outlets at the sites.

Comparisons can be made with visited tourist areas in Slovenia, including the Natural Park Rakov Skocjan and the Pekel waterfalls. Here the group walked and scrambled up and down narrow paths and over rock outcrops that would have required risk assessments and other paper work in Scotland.


Climbing up steep rocks to view the Pekel waterfalls.

Both sites where a delight to visit and seen in an almost natural state, with only minor site modification. This highlights the difference in cultures around the acceptance of risk and the laws that govern our respective uses of our countryside. From the contrasts highlighted, differing opportunities have and are developing.

5.2. Tourism – the route to follow: evolve or exploit?

The historical influences that opened the Scottish Highlands and nurtured tourism are evident and contribute to today’s tourism in Scotland. Books, maps and history have provided economic benefit for Scotland from various tour opportunities that are available to visitors and highlighted by our garden visit on the 14th of July whose owners had undertaken a whiskey trail tour in Scotland.

Scotland has become driven towards maximising commercial opportunities. Leading to developing sites and delivering tours along safe prepared routes that cater for parties, which are lead through the site ending at the sites retailing area in the hope of trading with the tourists and feeding them.

There is a risk averse culture in Scotland that drives and delivers the tourist into controlled and managed low risk tours. Health and Safety would not have allowed any member of the tour group to lead a group into situations or any other member of the public without considerable consideration. Tourists and visitors in Scotland could not have taken on the Pekel waterfall trip the Scottish group under took.

Slovenia’s approach appears to be less driven. The exception being in the coastal region where the European brand names are to be seen, and provide ‘retail therapy’ for those who are of that culture.

From what the Scottish group observed the tourist in the rural areas where content to rely on the local accommodation providers to advise and recommend sites and places to visit. The majority of the site information was specific to around the accommodation site. All visitors accepting that they moved through countryside at their own risk.

The visit to Secovlje Salt-pans revealed an innovative approach to developing a self-sustaining project. With the aid of 3 million euros from the national mobile phone company Mobitel, the salt pans initially set up and developed a business that protected the reserve area and developed the salt pans during the first 3 years.

Mobitel continues to support the project with promotion and advertising expertise from its advisers, who are guiding salt pans site’s managers in the promotion and protection of the reserve and the salt pans.

The nature reserve and salt pans are operating as a self-sustaining operation using this innovative business models approach to funding and long term sustainability.

5.4. Opportunities

Slovenian tourism is at an early stage in entrepreneurial growth terms. This will offer organisations and group opportunities to shape local strategies for tourism if they adopt a co-operative approach. Small groups of rural professionals coming together could offer guides and guidance to groups so that they can visit sites which show Slovenia’s wildlife to the wider nature based travelling. Green tourism trips could be an area that can be offered because of the variety of wildlife that can be seen.

For Scotland the chance to step back from the managed trip culture to a more self-reliant and responsible culture, particularly in the countryside would be an improvement.

Care of rural environments in Scotland is in the hands of countryside professionals and they have to tidy up after some visitors. We hope to be able to take the Slovenian example of care for the countryside back with us aiming to disseminate the information across our respective organizations and user groups in the hope of improving our countryside.

The challenges for both Slovenia and Scotland will lie in sensitive and innovative development or expansion that recognises the needs of the environment, wildlife and rural development as both countries strive to progress.

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