Slovenia – enriching experience

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Participants of previous visits talk about their experiences.

Richard Thompson

This report describes the wooded landscapes of central and southern Slovenia visited during the 2013 ARCH Network study tour. This tour was funded by the Leonardo da Vinci Lifelong Learning Programme, promoted by ARCH and hosted by Vitra.

A varied programme was arranged for the week by Bojan Znidarsic, our impassioned, energetic, thoughtful, knowledgeable and genial leader. Bojan is the main man at Vitra and, along with Libby in Scotland, has now organised 10 of these trips. Bombarded with questions all week, he did not grumble but made learning fun and memorable. Bojan knows an excellent range of warm friendly and extremely knowledgeable folk who worked with him to make our visit enjoyable, informative and memorable. We stayed in a wonderful, friendly and relaxed guest house in Markovec ran by wild life photographer Miha Mlahar who entertained us with pictures of Brown Bear that he had taken locally, in recent days. There are many other Slovenian people to thank for making this trip unforgettable. These include Miriam Mikulic (state forester in the Kocevska region), Judita Unetic (Begunje woodland guide and welcoming hostess) and Janja Urbiha and her colleagues from the Society of Rural Women for teaching us how to cook and dance!

Bojan scaling a mighty beech, fallen in the Krokar forest

We were seven participants in all, from quite different backgrounds. This made for a particularly enriching experience as we exchanged knowledge, views and new perspectives.

My first glances from the plane window gave an immediate impression of heavily wooded country interspersed with small and scattered fields. I knew I was in for an amazing week.

The envelopment of the land

Woodland cover in Slovenia is currently 64% but was only 36% in 1875 and 44% in 1947. What’s changed to bring this about? A number of complex and interrelated factors are responsible and these gradually began to fit into place as our exploration of the forests, grasslands and villages unfolded.

The underlying geology of all areas visited was limestone or dolomite and this obviously had a substantial impact on the ability of trees to regenerate. Beautiful and diverse calcareous “grassland” (almost exclusively herbland in fact) is highly conducive to tree regeneration, the sward being open and free-draining and turning readily to woodland over much of the remaining open ground of Slovenia. We were told that some areas were burned in the past on a 10 to 20 year cycle and, without doubt, an awful lot more grazing mouths were present within the historic landscape. During our tour, we saw very few grazing animals, the majority of agricultural ground being managed for hay. Some hills farms now keep livestock indoor whilst the majority of the nation’s meat is produced in large industrial units. Most Slovenian farms today are around 5 hectares. As with the forest, successive generations divided their landholding between several children, creating a highly complex pattern of land ownership. This approach to land inheritance has now been stopped by the government; only one child can inherit their parents land but must pay siblings the equivalent of their share. Some of the remaining open ground around villages and towns is managed intensively, for hay, vegetable allotments or orchards. This was exemplified by some tiny gaps in the dense forest beside Slovenia’s motorway, each with one or two round hay bales in their centre. However, based on our observations, this intensity does not include the use of fertiliser in the majority of cases. Hay fields remain extremely botanically diverse and the hay itself smelt amazing and seemed almost good enough to eat!

Slovenia is a land affected profoundly by predators. The country supports around 500 European Brown bears. These suppress the impact of large herbivores on tree regeneration; deer numbers are maintained at a low level and the threat of bear attacks on livestock has resulted in a reluctance to graze domestic animals – a problem amplified as the forest encroaches on low lying farmland and into the edge of villages. We saw one herd of goats (goats and sheep being rare even historically). They were browsing the field layer and bark within an old orchard bordered by forest. The risk from bears is a real concern and the goats are taken indoors every night – a laborious process for today’s typical lifestyle. Bojan, Miriam and Judita showed us many extensive landscapes with dense forest occupying land that was open fields within living memory. The typical pattern in the past was for hay fields and arable ground to occupy the low lying land around villages and pasture to extend up into the lower slopes. Miriam gave us some telling statistics about her region: in 1860, it was 39% wooded with 36 villages and 2,800 inhabitants. Today, with 90% woodland cover, there are 11 villages and 800 people left. The view from our table in the Kočevje Reka was dominated by extensive forest in the valley bottom. This had been open fields in her father’s memory.

We learned from Judita that every house had at least one cow in the past, usually 6-10 cows per family. “There are no big farmers left in the countryside” she said. In the woods around Begunje, she showed us extensive stands of Scots pine that had freely regenerated on former fields composed of thin base rich soils – difficult to grasp for a species normally seen on very acidic soils in Scotland. There were also extensive oakwoods with a dense hazel understorey that were open fields within living memory and reminiscent of my childhood woods in Worcestershire. In Judita’s opinion, there are too many predators; not enough deer to suppress tree regeneration – also too many for small holders to feel happy about letting their livestock graze outside. We passed an apple tree within the forest and learned that these were deliberately planted in the past to provide food for wild animals and keep them away from settlements.

Juniper, Blackthorn and Alder Buckthorn colonising

Whilst colonisation of low lying fields is a common issue, we also saw similar processes taking place in the High Karst on Nanos Mountain. Here, the steep boulder slopes have possibly always been wooded but flat plateaus above have historically been grazed. A new experience for me was to think of abundant Juniper, Blackthorn and Alder Buckthorn regeneration as a negative issue. We felt that we were witnessing the decline of a botanical and entomological paradise, with exotic flowering plants, several species of enormous cricket and countless exquisite butterflies of all descriptions all around us. A grass thatch had begun to develop in amongst the flowering plants and regenerating seedlings were only moderately browsed – presumably by deer.

We asked Bojan if it is permissible for land owners to clear forest from formerly open ground. It would seem that forest regulations don’t allow this once scrub becomes forest (i.e. when trees reach 10cm diameter at breast height).


I hope a solution can be found to keep the remaining open habitats in good condition. If grazing or burning are re-employed, a cautious approach is recommended as modern practices seeking to emulate traditional processes often have unintended consequences. It is not too late to practice “maintenance management” on the open areas that we visited and it would be relatively straightforward to reduce the grass thatch and suppress seedlings in the sward. Recovery management in former open fields that are now dense woodland is a different matter and would need to be approached with care to achieve the desired results and not result in open habitats of lower biodiversity value than the developing woodland. Most of all, in a country with an unstable economy, any restoration of open habitats needs to be driven by the needs of people. Innovative thinkers such as Bojan are key to making communities think in a different way about how they can live sustainably off their landscape and capitalise on its resources. However, this can only happen if there is central government support to revise regulations and allow these changes to come about.

Into the forests

Slovenia has 72 native tree species. We saw very few non-native trees during our entire visit, the vast majority of forest composed of native species with a semi-natural structure. Statistics on the internet suggest that large scale felling of beech forests and subsequent replanting with Norway Spruce took place in the 18th and 19th centuries but this was not evident in the regions that we were in. Nor were the plantations of pine that were apparently established in the Kast to provide shelter.

clip_image011We visited several areas of forest in Zelini Kras (The Green Kast- our base for the week). Rakov Škocjan is a protected area near Cerknica. Its limestone character is characterised by amazing natural arches, bridges, caves and “windows”, all mantled with a tremendous diversity of trees. This area was protected after the Second World War and, apart from some low key interpretation and an informal path, seems almost undiscovered. The nearest woodland community we have to this in Scotland is our NVC W8 classification but this was much more diverse in tree species; Sycamore was intimately mixed with Beech, Hornbeam, Ash, Small-leaved lime, Norway maple, Wych Elm, and Sessile oak, with an understorey including Hazel, Hawthorn, Dogwood, Guelder Rose and Whitebeam. We visited this area on our first day and the ground flora was almost too rich to comprehend. I was fortunate to share this study tour with John Hooson, an ecologist with the National Trust in North-west England and an excellent botanist. We were often found catching up with the group having dawdled in astonishment at the beauty and complexity all around us. Shortly after leaving the mini-bus for the first time on the trip, I incautiously proclaimed “Look, Sanicle.” A closer look revealed that this was fairly Sanicle like but something different. A number of other species of a similar appearance tripped me up over the next two and a half days until we finally saw what we were reasonably confident to confirm as Sanicula europaea. Species that I would normally consider notable (e.g. Green Spleenwort ) were abundant. A few of the bryophytes looked similar to some of our common species; something akin to Neckera crispa clothed the base of many Ash and Plagiomnium undulatum carpeted the rocky floor. Perhaps the most astonishing species to me was a Sphagnum moss growing on a dry limestone rock, albeit in a gorge that must be relatively humid in a Slovenian context.

A species of Sphagnum moss growing on limestone


According to internet sources, each owner is required to have a 10 year management plan for their woodland. Most owners use their small parcels of woodland as a source of firewood. The majority of houses within the villages (and some around the edge of towns) have extensive timber stacks that the wood burners amongst us shamelessly drawled over. The woods are criss-crossed with small tractor tracks. I walked the lanes around Markovec early on Saturday morning and could hear a number of tractors heading to the wooded hills all around me, getting ready to take home this year’s cut – no doubt to be burned in two years’ time. At a broad scale, the complexity of ownership can be seen due to a subtle patchwork in the canopy. Some of this is due to colonisation of old fields but, in other cases, it seemed to be due to different intensities of thinning. A few patches had been thinned to produce sawn timber but the majority appeared to be thinned in a fairly informal way, simply to produce fuelwood. Clearfelling is forbidden in Slovenia due to the fragility of the soils and the scope for erosion. Whilst we may view this complexity of ownership and stand structure as a utopian vision, Bojan expressed frustration at the lack of central Government leadership and absence of co-ordination between woodland owners. Bojan and others told us that, during the Communist era and before, there was a strong feeling of community spirit and everyone worked together. Now, we were told, it was everyman for himself and money was the main motivator. The warmth and hospitality that was shown to us and the incredible community event that took place towards the end of our stay made me feel that the old ways were still very much in evidence but we were also left with the impression that Slovenians feel abandoned by the state.

So, without more of a joined up approach, it is hard to see how a prosperous wood using industry can develop. Occasional timber wagons passed us on the road, loaded with long straight logs of Beech or European Silver Fir and apparently heading for another country to be processed, but the wood using industry that I had seen at the heart of many Slovakian settlements was absent here.

Twenty per cent of Slovenian forests are state owned (this statistic was 65% before political change in the 1940’s), the management of which contrasts with those in private hands. On the Friday, we visited Kočevsko regional park in the south of Slovenia where the majority of the state forest is to be found. This region is 90% wooded! Here, we met Miriam Mikulic, a forester with the State Forest Service who provided us with much fascinating information on the forests in general and a guided walk around the Krokar virgin forest. Miriam was brought up in this region, closed to outsiders for many kilometres around during the Communist era owing to the presence of a nuclear bunker. She manages 2,800 hectares of forest. She is a classically trained silviculturist and, judging by her description of the flora, a very good ecologist. Some elements of Miriam’s office reminded me of the dens of eminent research scientists whilst others could have belonged to an NNR manager. Her international trophies for cross country skiing filled us with admiration. The vast majority of Miriam’s time is spent in the forest, even during the winter when she skis around her patch above deep snow. 10 year plans are worked to and Miriam is tasked with identifying which trees should be felled to improve the remaining stand and gradually develop regeneration. Each tree is identified from the point that it is marked for thinning, right through to the sawmill, providing a clear chain of custody. Although we didn’t visit any of this managed woodland, I got the impression that there has been a change in approach from small gap regeneration to more of a shelterwood approach due to the difficulty in controlling deer impacts within small gaps. Miriam’s patch is divided into circa 30 hectare coupes within which she manages the yield of timber and the quality of the regeneration. One can only dream of this level of detailed management in British forests where the average manager probably looks after an area at least 10 times bigger and then, mostly virtually, through a computer screen. Pro Silva (a respected group of European “Close to Nature” silviculturists) have visited Miriam and learned how she manages this forest.

I asked Miriam about the types of protected forest in Slovenia. These range from 100m diameter -“Eco-cells” around features such as bear caves, to extensive non-intervention reserves. There are also measures to increase biodiversity at the stand scale by retaining 1 to 3 trees per hectare to mature and die naturally. The state forests are certified and Miriam modestly indicated that the UK auditors were impressed with her forests. Five per cent of Slovenian forest is protected (either Eco-cells or Natural Reserves). In Miriam’s “beat”, 500 of the 2,800 hectares are protected.

Miriam’s place of work

Within Kočevsko regional park, 90% of the forest is managed by the state, 5% is privately owned and 5% is managed by community groups.

This high state ownership in this region is due to a fascinating and disturbing recent history. Since the beginning of the middle ages, this region was home to German settlers. At the beginning of the Second World War, they emigrated to Germany fearing that they would face hostility if they remained in Slovenia. At the end of the war, the country came under Communist rule and most local people of Germans ancestry remained in Germany with the exception of one very unfortunate group in a distant village who were arrogantly, forcefully repatriate by a high ranking Englishman. Each one of them perished in a terrible massacre by the Communists. In 1949, Slovenian owners realised that the state would claim their forest and lots of small areas were felled so that they could realise the value of the timber. We saw an amazing tiny strip of Norway Spruce that had been planted by the state in one of these felled strips immersed in what was otherwise mostly deciduous woodland. In 1993, after the end of the Communist regime, the original owners were offered their land back. Very few returned. Many of those that did claim their land now live in far corners of the world. Miriam manages the private ground on behalf of the owners. They often have a different attitude to the State Forest Service, many being reluctant to leave standing dead trees as they see this as a waste of firewood. Private owners are often uncertified and struggle to sell timber to other countries. It was encouraging to hear that, in this region, there is now a private owners association. This will hopefully lead to greater co-operative working across land holdings.

We asked about working in the forest and the wildlife that Miriam encounters. She regularly meets bears – they are often to be found in the stands that she wants to work in.clip_image017 “I just talk to them and they quietly move away. I then carry on talking to myself whilst I’m working.” She said with a relaxed smile. Someone truly at home in their environment! Wolves are more rarely encountered, Miriam has only seen 2 of these in her whole career to date. There are maybe 20 to 50 in total in Slovenia and they move through the Kočevsko region in winter “ I now hear them howling on moon lit nights” we were told. We saw Miriam’s wee cottage close to the forest office later and thought of this.

Fine Beech forest. Part of the buffer to the Virgin Forest

On our way into the forest, Miriam inspected a pheromone trap. This contained tens of Ips typographus beetles and more than a hundered Ips cembrae. Owing to a lack of spruce trees in her beat, she only loses 80m3/ annum. Other foresters from her office report losses of 2,000m3/ each year to these beetles.

Krokar virgin forest

This area of forest is named after the call of the Raven. The first management plan was written in 1892. The forester writing the plan came across this extensive old growth forest and declared “Let stay this virgin forest”. This extends to 74.5 hectares (the largest in Slovenia) with a 46 hectare buffer zone (or Borovec). There are six Natural Reserves in Slovenia with virgin forest, totalling 218 hectares. 236 other Natural Reserves have been established. Krokar occupies the mid to high slopes, from 880m to 1190m asl. We walked through the buffer and only got glimpses into the true virgin forest. The buffer was established prior to 1995 and an accumulation of deadwood can already be seen. Much of this was caused by ice and snow damage; “trees falling like dominoes”. Beech are the main species (80%), 12% silver Fir and 6% Sycamore. The remaining 2% are made up of a large number of other species including a maple; Acer optozatum which is apparently restricted to this region. Beech trees live for 250 years and Silver Fir live for 400 years. Miriam showed us some classic Silver Fir trees waiting patiently beneath the beech canopy that readily respond to canopy gaps. Extraordinarily at this altitude, there are, on average, 805m3 of standing trees per hectare. Even more extraordinarily, there is an inventory of all trees every 10 years. Thirty people take one week to measure and locate all trees over 10cm DBH; that’s 38,734 trees!


Throughout this walk, Miriam showed us many beautiful species of plant, including several species of Helliborine, Cyclamen, Bird’s Nest Orchids, and many other species unfamiliar to us. We ended the walk in a hay meadow that forestry staff cut every year, principally to conserve the wild Narcissus. Again, the diversity of flowering plants and insects was overwhelmingly beautiful.


The Forestry Act of 1993 proclaims that wild animals are national property. This is in stark contrast with the situation in Scotland. In the state owned forest, hunting leases are issued to foreign trophy hunters for wild boar and stags. Private owners are in hunting organisations. Due to the arrangements for deer hunting, Miriam can’t buy venison locally, all animals are sold centrally through offices in Lublijana. We asked if the wild boar helped with regeneration. No, they were seen as a hindrance – a reminder of just how easily this uncompetitive vegetation will regenerate with trees. Around 50% of seedlings are browsed by deer despite the presence of bears and hunters – a sign perhaps that the hunters are motivated by trophies rather than the needs of the forester. Most of the regeneration is Beech; maples and Silver Fir being selectively browsed. Silver Fir can only establish successfully on north facing slopes as the surrounding vegetation is not so palatable and deer are more attracted to more southerly aspects. We asked Miriam about Roe deer. “There are less than in the past but more predators would be good”.

100 bears are shot each year in Slovenia; 20% due to them causing damage (i.e. presumably killing livestock), 20% due to road accidents and 60% hunted.

Lynx became extinct in this country and were unofficially re-introduced in 1972. Three Males and 3 females were brought here from Slovakia. Due to this low genetic base and unregulated hunting of this species, after an initial rise in numbers, there are now thought to be only around 10 left.

We saw hay feeding stations and were told that they were used to feed the deer in the winter to stop them causing damage to trees. It would be interesting to know whether, without this feeding, deer numbers would be lower due to winter mortality or whether the same number would survive by stripping bark and browsing saplings.

In contrast to the state forest, Judita Unetic took us for a walk “in the Bear’s Foot prints” through the woods above the village of Begunje. Hunting and the impact of predators was one of the main themes of our conversation. Hunting groups are set up locally, individuals paying €150/annum for membership. Cull targets are set by the government and hunters are fined significant sums of money if they exceed these. Hunting groups are responsible for limiting damage from large herbivores to land owner’s property. If a vegetable allotment is ruined by deer, for example, then the hunters must pay compensation, but only if the allotment owner has taken trouble to fence (which they rarely seemed to do). Hunters pay €5-6,000 to shoot a bear under licence. German or Italian clients then pay the group to show them where and how to shoot the bear and pay the licence fee.

A land of living traditions

clip_image022Our study tour included several visits to the homes and restaurants of artisan food producers. We were enormously privileged to receive such warm hospitality and partake in some of the most mouth-watering home cured meats, beautifully made breads and exquisite home produced plum brandies. Forest and orchard fruit were prominent ingredients in many of the fine preserves, including some surprises such as use of Cornus sanguinea fruits to make jam and an interesting addition to the Plum brandy. The Dogwood in question is the pride of Kmetija T bolenja farm, estimated to be 500 years old and of considerable height for this species. The creative use of the abundant fruit seemed an appropriate tribute to this living monument that shared this wonderful familiy’s environment. Whilst we tasted many amazing hams and salami during the trip, I didn’t taste any finer than the ham at this farm which, I was told by Katriona’s master craftsman husband, was dry cured for 4 months and smoked twice during this process go to the website. At Judita’s home, her Mother and Daughter cooked us the finest herbal tea I have ever tasted. This was brewed from dried flowers of Elder, St John’s Wort and what looked like Valerian (no wonder we all felt so peacefully sleepy on Monday!).

Prior to the Second World War, Slovenia had a tradition of wood working, with craftsmen and carpenters in every village. In most regions, the wood working craftsmen appear to have gone, most quality timber being exported to Austria and other countries to make furniture. One exception to this is the region of Ribnica where there has been a very long tradition of making wooden ware. The poor people who lived in this region were given permission by cesar Fredrick III in 1492 to export woodenware, hazel hoops and pine rims to Croatia and other neighbouring countries. This tradition lives on. We passed a gentleman at the roadside using a modern hydraulic splitter to make spoon blanks and Miriam’s forest office wall proudly bore a fine wooden ladle.

Evidence of exquisite craftsmanship and fine artwork was present in every door handle and shelf in Bojan and Mihalar Klančar’s amazing new home. We were all filled with admiration and inspiration at the imaginative and innovative way that they had built and filled this unique space.

Carpentry skills appear to be alive and well in most households. I admired the fine veranda at the back of Miha’s guest house in Markovec which was constructed from substantial sawn timbers and assembled with mortise and tenon joints. I was assured that every farmer would possess the skills to put up a building like this and we were to see many examples as we were driven around the landscape.

A somewhat bizarre tradition (to my western ears) is Edible Dormouse hunting. This was the only animal that poor people were allowed to eat in the past. Small sprung wooden boxes are still used today to trap this possum like creature. The Glis glis or “Polh” in Slovenian responds to mast years in the beech woods and produces up to 5 young when the food supply is plentiful. Hunting only takes place in mast years to ensure that a healthy population survives. As well as meat, the Polh provided fur for hats and was boiled down to make a salve for sun burnt skin.

We didn’t talk about mushroom harvesting. According to internet sources, an incredible 1,200 tonnes of wild mushrooms were exported from Slovenia in 1994 (this was from a paper on the economy of EU transition countries!). There were fears at the time that the growing nature conservation movement would put a stop to this. In 2009, there are references to continued export to Italy and annual sales of 10 tonnes of mushrooms in Lubljana market.

Lessons learned

1. I have come back from this study tour with fresh energy and enthusiasm. My advice to anyone who is offered such an opportunity in the future is to grasp it! Never refuse because you are too busy. You can always make up time and will probably work twice as efficiently when you get home in any case.

2. Slovenia is an excellent place to study the interaction between natural heritage, human history and today’s society. These facets of landscape evolution should be kept in mind when trying to influence changes in how we manage Scottish landscapes.

3. We are incredibly lucky in the UK that we have not faced direct conflict on our land for a considerable time, although the state of our nation’s natural heritage has perhaps been influenced by the Second World War to a similar extent – with entirely different consequences.

4. Whilst I am passionate about trees and wooded landscapes, this tour has emphasised to me the value of some open habitats and the need to plan carefully where trees are established. Appreciating the beauty and enormous biological diversity of the limestone “grasslands” was a formative experience.

5. I have been working on guidance in Scotland for the selection and management of Natural Reserves. In the Krokar reserve, Miriam gave me some excellent advice on monitoring and classifications of different stand types. I will think about how this can be adapted for use in some of our Natural Reserves.

6. The time that Miriam spends in the forest reflects her deep understanding and appreciation of the ecosystems that she works in. The quality of her forests is respected by certifiers and esteemed international groups. British foresters and ecologists need to find the right balance between time spent in the field and in front of the computer.

7. A nation in crisis needs innovative thinkers. These in turn need support and empowerment from their funders and central government.

8. Things can change. 100 years in Slovenia has transformed the landscape. The sporting estates of the Scottish Highlands are a relatively recent phenomenon and change to a more sustainable use of the land is possible, particularly if driven by economics and the wider needs of society.

9. The wonderful event with the Society of Rural Women demonstrated the value of community participation and has encouraged me to become more involved in my local community. You get out of life what you put into it!

Dissemination of this experience

I hope to get the core of this report published in the Native Woodland Discussion Group newsletter. This group is composed of a wide range of woodland managers and advisers in Scotland and Northern England. A number of articles on overseas study tours have appeared in the past and have led to interesting debate and further discussions as well as a wider appreciation of how woodland ecosystems have evolved and function in different countries.

Further involvement with Vitra and ARCH

I would be interested in meeting those on study tours from Slovenia and should be in a position to facilitate visits to some of our state forests. There are a number of interesting issues that we could explore including our programme to restore native woodlands on ancient woodland sites that were planted with non-native trees in the 20th century.

Cycling Tourism Potential in Southern Slovenia

– By Craig Robb (Lecturer in Travel and Tourism: Dundee College)


This section of the report is based on observations and discussions during the six days the group were in Slovenia (8th – 15th July 2013). Although not a comprehensive analysis of the current and potential tourism offerings, it is hoped that the information and data can be used to assist in further tourism development or research. All comments and discussion statements have been made anonymous.

During my time in Slovenia it became clear that the country has many parallels with Austria and Switzerland, in that the country offers mountainous areas along with Alpine accommodation to service both the snow sports and ‘Lakes and Mountains’ holiday markets. In addition the local guides and residents all stated that there was a lack of tourism business in the south of Slovenia and that the majority of visitors were based in Ljubljana (City Breaks, Stag and Hen Parties), Kranjska Gora and Lake Bled (Snow Sports and Lakes & Mountains) or Portoroz (Beach), all of these areas in central and eastern Slovenia, as seen below.


Figure 1: Map of Popular Tourism Areas in Slovenia (Creative Commons, 2013)

During a visit to the south west we encountered many cyclists on the road and it was clear that the area was well used by professional and amateur cyclists on tour and appeared to be the single most identifiable tourism activity. Having come from the south east (where there were no observed cyclists, see ‘Area for Development, Figure 1) it struck me as being an opportunity for further study. As such, this section will explore cycling tourism potential in particular as an area for growth and potential tool for tourism development in southern Slovenia.

Having identified cycling holidays as primer for future tourism development it was decided that a short questionnaire aimed at cyclists may be a good indication of UK based cyclists’ knowledge of Slovenia as a holiday destination. The questions were as follows:

1) Have you ever been cycling abroad?

2) Would you consider a cycling holiday in Europe?

3) Are you aware of Slovenia as a cycling holiday destination?

4) How much would you be willing to spend on a 7 night spring/summer cycling holiday? This would include flights from Scotland, transfers, bed and breakfast accommodation, airline bike carriage and 20kg of main hold luggage

5) Please list the other facilities or activities you would look for on a European cycling holiday (historic building tours, forest walks, restaurants etc)

6) What accommodation would you prefer on a European cycling holiday?

The survey was created on Survey Monkey (Available at The survey does not have a ‘Close’ date and further results can be supplied on application to Craig Robb at the following email: . It was sent to fifteen Scottish cycling clubs and also posted on the Outdoor Fitness magazine website with the kind permission of Jonathan Manning, Editor.

Survey Results and Discussion

Survey Results

During survey data collection and analysis there was a total of 46 respondents.


Figure 2: Survey Question 1

As shown in Figure 2 over 63% of respondents had taken a cycling holiday outwith the UK. In the sub-question ‘If ‘Yes’, please list the destination(s)’ the results were analysed through Wordle, a world cloud generator:


Figure 3: Survey Question 1: Word Cloud

From Figure 3 we can see that by far the largest destination visited by cyclists is France. This is then followed by Canada, Spain, The Netherlands and Germany.


Figure 4: Survey Question 2

As can be seen in Figure 4, the overwhelming majority of over 95% of respondents would consider a cycling holiday in Europe.


Figure 5: Survey Question 3

In Figure 4, Survey Question 2, we can see that over 95% of respondents would consider a cycling holiday in Europe which is a postive for cycling tourism on the continent. However what we can see in Figure 5, above, is that over 82% of respondents were not aware of Slovenia as a cycling holiday destination. This is probably a result of many factors but may include accessibility (frequency and range of transport options from the UK), marketing & advertising (both of Slovenia and its suitability for cyclists) and facilities & infrastructure (accommodation, cycle routes, ease of cycle storage etc).


Figure 6: Survey Question 4

It is recognised that this question was focussed on Scotland as the UK departure point and that the majority of readers of the Outdoor Fitness magazine would be based in England. No supplementary question to determine the respondents access route to the survey (Scottish cycling club or Outdoor Fitness website) was created and that the answers may not be a true reflection on the original question. With the data in Figure 6 all that can be deduced is that approximately 88% would not pay more than £500 to £700 for a 7 night cycling holiday. This would work in Slovenia’s favour as living costs appeared to be generally lower than in neighbouring countries such as Austria and Italy, this would be reflected in package prices offered by UK tour operators.


Figure 7: Survey Question 5

The data for Survey Question 5 was analysed through Wordle as all individual responses cannot be displayed on one page:


Figure 7: Survey Question 5: Word Cloud

As can be seen in Figure 7 the largest single additional factor for cyclists was ‘Food’. Many responses simply stated ‘Good food’ and the culinary offerings in Slovenia has similar offerings to that of its Alpine neighbours of Italy and Austria, with obvious regional recipes such as ‘strukli’ (a rolled pastry dish with either savoury or sweet fillings). Having experienced Slovenian dishes through our stay at Mlakar, meals in local family homes and the final night of communal cooking with the Women’s Institute of Markovec, I believe that Slovenia can certainly satisfy the ‘Food’ element of a cycling holiday.

Other elements which have perhaps not come through as strongly as they should, due to the word cloud generator not recognising alternative words for the same subject, is that of ‘tours’ and ‘walks’. In most cases replies stated ‘walking tours’ or ‘hillwalking’ but the general consensus was of some form of walking tour. Forests, scenery and history were also important to potential holiday makers and the southern Area for Development in Figure 1 has a wide range of activites and attractions. Most notably the limestone cave systems, including Krisna Jama (visited by the group) and the popular Postojna Jama (Slovenia’s largest commercial cave). Many tourists may also appreciate the Virgin Forest area in the south-east of the Area for Development.

Three respondents also highlighted the need for ‘safe cycling routes’ with clearly defined paths and maps being readily available.


Figure 7: Survey Question 6

In Figure 7 there appeared to be a problem with the survey design, in that respondents seem to have chosen, or ranked, accommodation rather than selecting one as a clear preference. The ‘B in the Y axis should read B&B, which it clearly does in the survey question but not when converted in data analysis. As the data are ambiguous no firm conclusions could be made. In addition ‘camping’ was not given as an option but was stated as a preference in the Comments section.

Survey Discussion

It is clear from the survey that there is a desire for cycling holidays on the European continent and that more than half of respondents have already done so. In addition, the vast majority would consider a cycling holiday in Europe. What is less encouraging for Slovenia is the awareness of the country as a destination for cyclists from the UK, even though the south west appeared to support this form of tourism. The cyclists observed may have come from neighbouring Italy or other European countries where marketing is more aggressive. A cursory study of the Slovenian Tourist Board’s website itself focuses on the north and west as cycling destinations ( ). Major UK tour operators such as Inghams and Thomsons also focus on these areas which appear to have the widest choice of accommodation. This could be a major factor for the Area for Development, as seen in Figure 1.

Encouraging data are the spend range for a 7 night holiday (£500-£700). Basic holiday costs investigated through major UK tour operator Thomson Holidays are as follows:




These holidays are from the Thomson Lakes and Mountains programme, based on 2 adults. The above are minimum three star. Bike carriage from the UK with Thomson Holidays is £15 each way per item. From these cursory investigations it appears that Slovenia, even in high season, easily falls within the budget range of the majority of respondents. It must be noted that these accommodations are based in the established resorts in the north of the country.

A comparison of price and holiday package with Austria is given below as a contrast:




From these search results it is clear that Slovenia offers a similar holiday package for approximately £150 per person per week less than Austria.

General Observations and Discussions

From discussions with guides during the trip it was clear that locals were generally not prepared to offer spare rooms for tourism in a guest house or B&B format. The main reason cited was that people believed that their homes were for family use only and the perception of tourists renting a room or building could lead to damage to property. Added to this, the economics of building tourism accommodation were considered too risky. Under pre-European and ex-communist regimes credit was secured by a friend or neighbour counter-signing loan agreements with a bank which is now less common due to job losses leading to defaults. Counter signatories were becoming legally responsible for other people’s debt which has resulted in less building development. Unless supported by a tour operator or external grant or loan, tourism infrastructure projects appear to have stalled in the south.

Marketing and availability of information for the south is limited to the Slovenia Tourist Board offerings, which are heavily focussed on the north and east. The lack of tourism accommodation in the south appears to be a determining factor, although there are a small number of chalet-style hotels and smaller hotels which are not used by UK tour operators. This leaves small businesses in southern Slovenia dependant on word-of-mouth and the Slovenia Tourist Board for marketing. During a conversation with one tourism business we visited they stated that they did not even have a website, adding to the difficulties for the promotion of their business. Most of these small-scale tourism business owners also have a main or supplementary job other than their tourism operation.


Southern Slovenia has vast tourist potential with landscape and scenery on a par with its commercially successful Alpine neighbours. The lower cost of holiday should be a major tool to attract cycling tourists to the country but the current accommodation offerings are perhaps sufficient for UK tour operators to provide a summer season (May to October) package holiday programme. In addition, the seasonality of such tourism development may not be the best solution in southern Slovenia as resorts further north can switch to winter sports operations due to the existence of ski resorts, which are lacking in the south.

Tourism may not be the ‘silver bullet’ for economic development in southern Slovenia but its potential for cycling tourism is clear. The suitability for the south within an established ‘Lakes and Mountains’ programme would perhaps attract lower level walkers and tourists who do not want to conquer the larger peaks in the north and who would appreciate the cave tours and forests walks. The two main barriers to development I can identify is 1: The range of accommodation and 2: Awareness of southern Slovenia as a tourist destination. These two barriers would be the basis from which to conduct further study.


Creative Commons, (2013), ‘Energy in Slovenia’, Available from, Correct at 09:43 on 01/08/2013

Dr Jennifer Carfrae, 1st August 2013

Biodiversity in Slovenia

1.0 Introduction

Biodiversity in the UK encounters many threats including: habitat loss; pollution; over-use of resources (such as wood); invasive species, and climate change (Natural History Museum, 2013). In Scotland the amount of mire and bog habitat has dropped since the 1940’s from ~2.3 million ha to only ~1.8 million by the 1980’s; as Figure 1 shows only 1% of our grassland in Scotland is now natural, and enclosed farmland at only 11% has declined from 1.3 million ha to 950,000 in the 2000’s (UK NEA, 2011). Figure 1 also illustrates that woodland occupies around 17% of the land in Scotland with planting rates at less than 5000 ha per year and almost no natural regeneration (UK NEA, 2011). Declines in natural habitat such as this have profound implications on a countries biodiversity and ecosystem services. Studies of other EU countries allow for an assessment of the benefits of different land-based activities with regards the biodiversity in that area, and provides potential for ideas regarding sustainable land management to be communicated between countries.


Figure 1: Land-use in Scotland (Source: UK NEA, 2011)

Slovenia is almost four times smaller than Scotland (Slovenia ~ 20,273 km2, Scotland ~ 78,387 km2) but this is covered by significantly more natural vegetation including forestry which covers ~58% of the territory (Government of Slovenia, 2013) although this is continually increasing, and in some areas extend to above 90% of the land cover (Miriam Mikulic pers. Comm., 2013). This forestry is continually encroaching and as such management issues are very different in comparison to in Scotland. Such extensive natural habitats are in evidence due to there currently being significantly less threats to biodiversity from over-use of raw resources and pollution for instance,and thus can provide prolific biodiversity support. As such a study of land type and use in Slovenia will allow for an interesting comparison with Scotland with regards land use,land management and biodiversity.

2.0 Exchange Description

Table 1: Itinerary of Slovenia Trip
Day Date Activity
1 Tuesday, 09. July, 2013 Welcome dayCollect group on Ljubljana airport (Slovenia) at 16:05. We need 1.5 hour for trip to accommodation.Dinner, discussion of LdV programme and objectives of Nature Exchange. Confirm details.19.00 Dinner in Mlakar pension
2 Wednesday,10. July, 2013 Natural park8.00 Breakfast9.00 Leave Markovec9.30 Drive, walk and swim in Natural park Rakov Skocjan, together with small and big natural bridge.13.00 Lunch in tourist farm Kontrabantar, Dolenja vas14.30 Drive and walk (and swim) around Cerknica Lake17.00 Visit Krizna cave with guide (1,5 hour),

21.00 Back to Markovec

19.00 Dinner Helena Kotnik farm

3 Thursday,11. July, 2013 Sea day,6.00 Breakfast7.00 Leave Markovec to Adriatic sea (2 hours)9.00 Visit Secovlje Salt-pans, Landscape park, http://www.kpss.si13.00 Lunch in Portorose14.30 Visit Fiesa and walk by see to Piran, swimming17.30 Visit natur reserve Skocjanski Zatok

20.00 Dinner somewhere

4 Friday,12. July, 2013 Virgin day 7.00 Breakfast8.00 Leave Markovec, via Bloke plateau to Kocevska Reka10.00 Visit virgin forest Krokar (crow) in Kocevje,,, leading by forester Mirjam Mikulic, lunch (sandwich) somewhere in the forest.19.00 Dinner in Mlakar pension
5 Saturday,13. July, 2013 Karst day8.00 Breakfast9.00 Leave Markovec, visit Planina field11.00 Visit Nanos (mountain above Vipava valley)13.30 Light tipical Karst lunch jota14.30 Visit old medieval willage Goce (short walk) and town Stanjel, with garden and path around the hill, where is Stanjel located18.00 Dinner (dry ham, chees and karst wine) in karst cellar
6 Sunday,14. July, 2013 Sustainable development in countryside day7.00 Breakfast8.00 Leave Markovec,8.30 Walk by Bears footprints path with Judita Unetic, members of Tourist association Menesija. Valk will be long cca 2.5 hours (6.5 km) from Selscek (Locice) to Bezuljak), walk to Spicka hill12.00 Visit art and low energy house in willage Topol Visit new house of Judita and parents, testing home brandy, light lunch, discussion.16.00 Practical afternoon – cooking special dinners (mix Scottish and Slovenian food), participants together with the Society of Rural Women

19.00 Lecture (presentation Scotland)

20.00 Dinner in Mlakar pension

7 Monday,15. July, 2013 Parting day7.00 Breakfast8.00 Leave Markovec11.00 Departure from Ljubljana airport


Craig Robb: Travel and Tourism lecturer at Dundee College

Richard Thompson: Native woodland ecologist for Forest Enterprise Scotland.

Rory Syme: PR Communications and Officer for the Woodland Trust Scotland.

Jennifer Carfrae: Lecturer in Pollution, Waste and the Environment

John Hooson: Wildlife & Countryside Adviser, National Trust, North West Region

Alison Austin: Nevis Conservation Officer for John Muir Trust

Jonathan Pinnick: Visitor Centre Assistant Manager at the Loch of the Lowes

Mr.BojanZnidarsic Landscape architect, driver, guide, mother and father of group, leader of Vitra, energy advisor for householders, facilitator, lecturer

2.1 Slovenian Geology (Rakov Skocjan Natural Park, Planina and Nanos Mountain)

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Figure 2 a-b:a)Location of study area in Slovenia with b) identification of underlying geology (Source: Agencija Republike Slovenije za Okolje, 2013).

The study areawas located, as indicated in Figure 2a, in the South West corner of Slovenia (this can also be identified as the back leg of the running chicken framed by the overall map). Study began in the area of Cerknica Lake and ran down to the coastal town of Piran. As illustrated in Figure 2b the geology of this area is largely carbonate based with a predominant Karst region running the extent of the studied area (Agencija Republike Slovenije za Okolje, 2013). Now part of Natura 2000 this area demonstates a topography typical of Karst areas with a proliferation of below-ground caverns and rivers (over 15,000 underground caves with only ~20 open to tourist), natural arches as illustrated in Figure 3 (resulting from limestone weathering) and stunning limestone protrusions in the higher altitudes at Nanos (Figure 4). In addition to this, the area supports a myriad of different flora and fauna due to it’s comparatively untouched and natural nature. Indeed according to Natura 2000 Slovenia is at the top of the European list with regards its proportion of Natual territory included in the network, and the number of protected species in evidence (Natura 2000, 2013).


Figure 3: Small Natural Bridge, Rakov Skocjan Nature Park, Slovenia (Source: Leonardo Group, 2013)


Figure 4: Limestone Protusions of Nanos Mountain, Slovenia (Source: Leonardo Group, 2013)

A good example of this is the Krizna cave system(Figure 5) which supports ~44 species of cave dwelling animals along it’s 9km expanse, 33 of which are aquatic and 7 are bats that hiberante over winter (Gasper pers. Comm. 2013). There are many such caverns that are incapable of supporting such extensive life due to the aspect of the cave entrance and the internal cave conditions (this is particularly an issue for a number of bat species). This cavern in Slovenia however has very little decline in depth as it runs in an almost horizontal direction directly under a mountain, it has a constant temperature or ~80C, and supports 23 lakes within this area.In this system crustaceans predominate the fauna in evidence (Table 2) together with a rich protozoan fauna (Culver and Sket, 2000).


Figure 5: Mineral curtain formed in ceiling of Krizna cave at historic point of water entry (Source: Leonardo Group, 2013)

Table 2: Number of organisms of each Higher group observed in an assessment of the fauna of Krizna Jama cave conducted by Culver and Sket in 2000 (Adapted from Culver and Sket, 2000)
Higher Groups Number observed species in 2000 assessment
Aquatic Fauna
Protista: Ciliata (epizoic) 1
Turbellaria: Tricladida 1
Annelida: Oligochaeta 6
Mollusca 6
Crustacea 15
Aquatic Subtotal 29
Terrestrial Fauna
Mollusca: Gastropoda 2
Crustacea: Isopoda 1
Arachnida 4
Diplopoda 1
Insecta: Collembola 1
Insecta: Coleoptera 6
Terrestrial Subtotal 15
Total number of species 44

Above ground a similar level of biodiversity is evident in the Notranjska Regional Park, and Cerknica Lake, down to the coastal region near Piran that is largely driven by the soil type and land use in the area.. Figure 6 below identifies the soil within the study area as being mainly Rendzina soil (Humus rich young soil forming above carbonate bedrock) and Ranker soil (Well drained young silica based soils) in the upper areas of Slovenia, with Terra Rossa evident in the Kras region and Brown earth in the forested areas (Repe, no date). This diversity of soil provides a stong basis for the large pland and animal diversity evident in this area, together with minimal intereference from man’s activities in comparison to the Scotland.

The European Environment Agency indicate Slovenia as having above average biodiversity with 26000 known species, of which 800 animal and 66 plant species are endemic (EEA, 2013). Indeed, it was suggested that in evidence on the salt pan reserve there were 3000 Lepdiopteran species recorded, 300 of which were day flying, and 5 were listed Natura 2000 species (Figure 7). In Slovenia under the National Environmental Action Plan (2005-2012) a National Biodiversity Progamme has been developed with the aim of preserving biodiversity and reducing biodiversity loss; achieving a favourable state for threatened species and habitats; and protection of the characteristics that resulted in parts of nature being declared valuable (EEA, 2013). The EEA (2013) list 3266 species of native fern and seed plants in Slovenia ranging from Alpine through to Mediterannean characteristics and they attribute this large diversity to the range of habitat types available and low intensity human activity in many areas. A good example of divesrity that we are not used to seeing in Scotland are the number of large carnivores present (Table 3).



Figure 7: Examples of arthropod species, Slovenia (Source: Leonardo Group, 2013)

Table 3: Wild Carnivore and Large Animal numbers (Miriam Miculik, pers comm. 2013)
Examples of Large Animals Present and Approximate Numbers:
Bears 450 – 500
Lynx ~ 10
Wolf ~ 50
Boar Many
Deer Many (less than Scotland – predators in Slovenia)
Chambois ~ 50
Examples of Predatory Birds Present
Mountain Eagle
White toed Eagle

Anillustration of the miriad of habitats present within a small area in Slovenia is within the Notranjski Regiski Park that contains both dry and wet meadows, transitional mires, numerous caves, approx. 70% forest, and a number of wetlands. Supported in this habitat there are 34 species of orchid, 15 species of amphibian (including the yellow bellied toad), 9 indigenous fish species (inlcuding the Northern Pike), 130 butterfly species, 500 moth species, 700 beetle species (Figure 7), 50 species of grasshopper (Figure 7), and 40 dragonfly species.. Similarly, in the North on the Nanos mountains the plains / meadows are full of mountain flowers, herbs and shrubs from early spring to late Autumn (Table 4, Figure 8).

Table 4: Examples of Flora on the meadows of Nanos Mountain Range
1. Cumin (Cuminumcyminum) 1. Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.)
Arnica (Arnica montana) Elder (Sambucus nigra)
1. St Johns Wort (Hypericumperforatum) 1. Chicory (Cichoriumintybus)
Mint (in wetland areas and Cerknica Lake)(Mentha spp.) Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Sage (Salvia officinalis) Justin’s Bellflower (Campanula justiniana)


Figure 8: Diversity of flora in evidence on Slovenian wildflower meadows (Source: Leonardo Group, 2013)

As mentioned previously Slovenia is approximately 4 times smaller than Scotland and yet has 286 designated Natura sites within this area in comparison to Scotlands 393 (Natura 2000, 2013) demonstating the high biodiversity of this country that is protected.

2.2 Forestry (Krokar Virgin Forest and Rakov Skocjan)

Following Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia in the early 90’s the land was handed back to it’s original owners, the Slovenian people. Parcels of land that had been owned by the Yugoslavian state were again seperated out into Slovenian families which currently has had interetsting repercussions on land use and biodivesity in Slovenia, particularly in the area studied. Land was divided back into the resident families of the area, and this has since been further divided into smaller areas as families expand and land is passed onto younger generations in equal amounts. Each family was given back both an area of agricultural land that will be discussed in section 2.4, together with an area of forestry and due to further splitting this now means that some private forested areas are no larger than 5m wide (Mirjam Mikulic pers. comm., 2013). In addition, after gaining it’s independence from Yugoslavia the timber industry for furniture making for an international market has significantly declined (Bojan Znidarsic, pers. comm., 2013)

meaning that many of these areas of private forest are now only used for firewood and otherwise are left relatively untouched further enhancing forest encroachment in the area as illustrated in Table 5 with a natural increas of forestry from 1996 to 2009 of ~ 3%.

Table 5: Percent of area forested from 1996 to 2009 (Source: Slovenian Forest Service)
1996 54.2%
2000 55.9%
2007 58.4%
2008 58.5%
2009 58.5%

As such the forest stands are very thick with in areas at least 3 levels to the upper canopy. Furthermore, unlike in Scotland, despite this thick forestry there is an almost permanent carpet on the groundlayer of grasses, mosses, young tree sapplings, and herbacious species including examples such as the Saprophytic Bird’s Nest Orchid (Neottianidus-avis)illustrated in Figure 9.


Figure 9: Birds Nest Orchid (Neottia nidus-avis, Source:

In areas such as Rakov Skocjan the forested area is around about 70%, in Slovenia overall there is close to 60% forestry (lower due to more intensive agricultural activity in the Northern areas as discussed in section 2.4), and in the Krokar virgin forest area there is ~ 90% of the area forested. Of this ~80% is Privately / Publicly owned and only ~20% is authority owned and managed. As such the tree is highly revered in Slovenia with certain species located in specific areas, for instance: the Chestnut (Aesculushippocastanum) and Walnut (Juglansregia) trees are commonly found near housing, and Lyme is commonly observed in cemetaries. Indeed in Slovenia there are no fewer than 72 species of tree (further examples of tree species illsustrated in Table 6), and indeed a similar number of tree species can be found in Scotland although many have been brought in for landscaping purposes, and certainly the abundance of each species is much lower. In addition, in Slovenia trees can be found to the summit of almost all hills and certainly up to 1,600 – 1,800 m (~xy feet) above sea level which is not the case in Scotland.

This high percentage of forestry in the Krorkar area has not always been the case, as during the German occupation of the area the population was higher (~2500 people) and agriculture more prevalent. Today the area of forestry is high due to a lower population (~800 people) in the area once the Germans left resulting in less agricultural activity, less forestry removed after the split from Yugoslavia, and currently very little management.

The first Forest Management Plan for the Krokar area was developed as early as 1892 by a German count with the aim of preservation of the virgin forest.. The Krokar area is approximately 72 ha of virgin forest today and within this there are ~ 519 trees per ha largely made up of Beech, Spruce, Maple, Elm and Fir and a requirement of the current management plan of the virgin forest areas is to map and identifiy every tree both live and fallen over the entire area. Figure 10 demonstates the proportion of the predominant trees in the Krokar virgin forest.

Table 6: Some examples of tree biodiversity in Slovenia
Tree common name: Latin Name:
European Beech Fagus sylvatica
Norway Spruce Picea abies
Silver Fir Abies alba
European Hornbeam Carpinus betulus
English Oak Quercus robur
Sessile Oak Quercus petraea
Turkey Oak Quercus cerris
Field Maple Acer campestre
Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus
Norway Maple Acer platanoides
European Alder Alnus glutinosa
Small leaved Lime Tilia cordata
Black pine Pinus nigra
Scots pine Pinus sylvestris
Common Aspen Populus tremula
Silver Birch Betula pendula
Wych Elm Ulmus glabra
European White Elm Ulmus laevis
Common Juniper Juniperuscommunis


Figure 10: Proportion of predominant tree species in the Krokar virgin forest (Source: Slovenian Forest Service).

Another significant difference between the vegetation within / surrounding forested areas in Slovenia compared to Scotland is a lack of Heathland and acid specialist plants largely due to unique Karst nature of the soils. As such, at higher altitudes there tends to be a prevalence of Pinus mugo and rock / tundra vegetation, and slightly lower down such as on the edge of Krokar forest there remain wildflower meadows that are home to Natura species such as the Narcissus poeticus spp. together with other endangered species such as Orchis pallens (Orchid spp.), Orchis tridenata (Orchid spp.), Fritillaria tenella (Lillacea spp.), Salvia officinalis (Garden Sage), and Campanula justiniana (Justin’s Bellflower) growing on the nutrient poor grasslands near the forest.

In addition to an abundance of tree and other plant species, the expansive forested areas also support a large diversity of bird species (some illustrated in Table 3) including the Ural Owl, Boreal Owl, and Three-toed woodpecker (Miriam Miculik pers. Comm. 2013). It is evident that the Habitats and Bird Protection Directives have had a very positive influence in this area with regards mainaining biodiversity.

2.3 The Water Environment (Cerknica Lake, Skocjanski Zatock Nature Park, and Secovlje Salt Pans)

Cerknica lake (Figure 11) is a unique environment for wildlife in that over the very dry Summer periods it almost completely disapears and yet is one of Slovenia’s largest during the wetter spring and autumn seasons when it can extend to ~26 km2 (Bojan Znidarsic pers. comm, 2013). Within the lake the main fish species is the Pike that have specifically adapted to life in this changing habitat and for spending time in the sink holes over dryer periods. To do this they tend to alter morphilogically and can survive in a slim form on limited food until the water rises again. Indeed, if young are spawned in the underground water system they tend to have a slimmer morpholohgy to those spawned within the lake itself (Bojan Znidarsic pers. Comm., 2013). More than 250 bird species have been recorded in the Cerknica and Notranjski Regijski Park area ,and in the wetland areas this includes species such as the endangered corncrake (Crex crex, Figure 12) that is so rare to see in the UK, together with curlew, common snipe, and yellow wagtail.



Figure 11: Cerknica Lake at start of Autumn Figure 12: Corncrake (Crex at Cerknica (Source: crex) Lake (Source: Leonardo Group, 2013)

The Skocjanski Zatok Nature Park is another great example of a Slovenian haven for biodiversity, particularly with regards bird species. The 122 ha site is host to around 230 bird species, approximately 60% of all bird species recorded in Slovenia (Rezervat Skoganski Zatok, 2013) and table 7 provides some examples of these over the different seasons.

Table 7: Bird species present in Skocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve (Source: [Yellow = observed on study trip)
Breeding Species Wintering Migratory Stationary
Little Grebe (Tachybaptusruficollis) Tufted Duck (Aythyafuligula) Night Heron(Nycticoraxnycticorax) Great Cormorant (Phalacrocoraxcarbo)
Little Bittern (Ixobrychusminutus) White Fronted Goose(Anseralbifrons) Little Crake(Porzanaparva) Little Egret (Egrettagarzetta)
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) Common Gull(Laruscanus) Spotted Crake(Porzanaporzana) Common Buzzard (Buteobuteo)
Moorhen (Gallinulachloropus) Wren(Troglodytes troglodytes) Common Quail(Coturnixcoturnix) Northern Lapwing (Vanellusvanellus)
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) Water Pipit(Anthusspinoletta) Grey Plover(Pluvialissquatarola) Black Headed Gull (Larusridibundus)
Little Tern (Sterna albifrons) Common Crane(Grusgrus) Common Redshank (Tringatotanus) Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
Blackbird (Sylvia atricapilla) Goldcrest(Regulusregulus) Black Tern(Chlidoniasniger) Little Owl (Athenenoctua)
Crested Lark (Galeridacristata) Hen Harrier(Circus cyaneus) Wood Pigeon(Columba palumbus) Grey Wagtail (Motacillacinerea)
Reed Warbler(Acrocephalusscirpaceus) Short-eared Owl(Asioflammeus) Wood Lark(Lullulaarborea) Hooded Crow ((Corvus (corone) cornix))
Yellow Wagtail(Motacillaflava) Yellow Hammer(Emberizacitrinella) Song Thrush (Turdusphilomelos) Common Raven (Corvuscorax)
Blackcap(Sylvia atricapilla) Reed Bunting(Emberizaschoeniclus) Redwing (Turdusiliacus) Long-tailed tit (Aegithaloscaudatus)
Collared Dove(Streptopeliadecaocto) Woodcock(Scolopaxrusticola) Marsh Sandpiper(Tringastagnatilis) Corn Bunting (Miliariacalandra)
Greenfinch(Carduelischloris) Merlin(Falco columbarius) Wood Sandpiper(Tringaglareola) Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)
Goldfinch(Cardueliscarduelis) Common Kingfisher(Alcedoatthis) Great Snipe(Gallinago media) Eurasian Curlew (Numeniusarquata)
Great Spotted Woodpecker(Dendrocopos major) Skylark(Alaudaarvensis) Common Cuckoo(Cuculuscanorus) Common Sandpiper (Actitishypoleucos)

The large bird diversity of Skocjanski Zatok Nature Park is largely due to the varied habitat types available, and mix of freshwater with saline water in the nearby Secovlje Salt Pans that host a similar array of bird species annually. Land management in these areas is also very important, and all access to these areas is monitered with regards numbers and attraction (i.e. walking, bird watching, visit to see salt pans) to ensure the land-use in the area can be managed sustainably with a view to protecting these divresity rich habitats. There are a few similar sites in the UK with similar biodiversity with Minsmere (Suffolk) as a good example in England. However within Scotland it is more common to have sites known for an abundance of a particular species such as the Puffin (Fraterculaarctica) although Baron’s Haugh near Motherwell in Scotland has recorded over 170 species of bird.

2.4 Slovenian Agriculture

As mentioned previously, agricultural land has since Slovenia’s move to independence been split back in to the Slovenian families and then further divided as these families expand. As such, similar to the forested areas there are many small plots of land owned by one person at perhaps only 10m wide. However, in terms of biodiversity this has proven to be very fruitful as it has prevented many of the issues that Scotland faces with loss of biodiversity in the face of monocultred crops.

Within the study area, as Figure 13 illustates, the land is largely marginal agricultural land with agriculture primarily located in the valleys between mountainous areas. In the North the land is much more sutiable for agriculture and as such there are many more large farms that farm more intensively but in the South it is still very much small holdings with crops grown for owner consumption primarily, or for fodder.

As a result of this there is a large variation in crop type in evidence within the study area ranging from a range of crops as illustated in Table 8 through to root crops and vegetables for use in the home.

Cerknica lake (Figure 14) is an interesting example of an area that has been separated into families as outlined previously, but also faces the added complication of much of the land only being dry for ~3 months of the year allowing for only livestock and growth of Silage. It is not surprising then that the farms in this area are mainly small holdings supporting cattle, horses, pigs and poultry with manufacture of jams and brandy for use in the home (Bojan Znidarsic pers. Comm., 2013). In the agricultural areas near the Krokar forest farms tend to keep only 5 – 10 sheep for wool that they use during the winter together with goats and again growth of vegetables and fruits for use in the home. In a similar manner to Scotland a number of these farms have now moved into the tourism area providing for instance Horse-riding and household fare, a good example of this is the Farm Kontrabantar near Cerknica that provides riding expeditions and home cooking to tourist guest increasing the income of the farm (Slovenia Information, 2013).


Figure 14: Land seperation at Cerknica Lake (10m strips in places)(Source: Leonardo Group 2013).

Table 8: Total number of varieties by groups of crops registered and confirmed for sale (Source: EEA, 2013)
1990 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2008 2009
Stubble cereals (common wheat) na 108 108 129 126 116 135 135 136 136 59
Root crops – potato na 50 50 62 58 61 60 60 60 58 59
Root crops – sugar beet na 21 21 20 20 21 18 18 18 13 5
Maize 460 111 111 133 156 157 184 184 189 234 250
Fodder crops – grass na 66 66 75 78 75 76 76 69 66 21
Fodder crops – grass (decorative) na 34 34 44 45 46 50 50 49
Fodder crops – legume crops na 48 48 49 46 40 42 42 41 66 12
Fodder crops – other fodder crops (incl. grain legumes, vetch and green manure plants) na 62 62 71 65 56 60 60 50 43 9
Industrial plants (excl. sugar beet) – oil plants na 37 37 39 34 34 30 30 22 24 7
Industrial plants (excl. sugar beet) – fibre crops na 8 8 8 9 10 10 10 9 9 0
Industrial plants (excl. sugar beet) – hops na 12 12 13 13 13 14 14 14 14 15
Industrial plants (excl. sugar beet) – other na 10 10 10 6 3 3 3 3 1 0
Fodder crops – legume crops na 48 48 49 46 40 42 42 41 66 12

3.0 Dissemination and Utilisation of Skills Aquired

The knowledge I have aquired will be utilised within my undegraduate and MSc lecture material for Scotland’s Rural College to provide a good comparative case-study for biodiversity and land management practises within Scotland. In addition to this I intend to submit this report to my department at all six campuses to allow them also to use material contained here, or contact me for more information.

4.0 Future Co-operation

Having returned to my organisation I have made contact with Dr Colin Norton who has also visited Slovenia as a guest of the Leonardo exchange trips with VITRA and am workingon collaboration with him and a number of groups within Slovenia and look forward to our next meeting with Bojan in October to advance these connections and hopefully attending the conference at the Biotehniski Center Naklo next November.

5.0 Conclusion

During my visit to Slovenia it was made very apparent from the first day that biodiversity in this country is extraordinarliy high, and as Slovenia moves forward it is vital that it does so with protection of this in mind. As such, it is crucial that when considering advancements in agriculture, food production and the environment as the Slovenian population flourishes and tourism to the area is enhanced that these are undertaken with sustainability at the forefront. Organisations such as VITRA and the Biotehniski Center together with passionate individuals such as those we met on this visit will be an important driving force in the future to ensure that advancements are made with the appropriate local level understanding of impacts, and how to progress in a sustainable manner working with the environment and not against it.

With regards comparison with Scotland there are certainly a number of take home messages and the largest one is the continuation of our push to move away in all areas from a monoculture system to allow our own biodiversity to again flourish. In a similar manner to Slovenia we too need to continue to strive for land management techniques and uses that are of benefit to todays society but are also sustainable in the longer term.

Wildlife Tourism in Slovenia – an unrealised opportunity?

John Hooson

The Nature Resource – first impressions

As an ecologist arriving at our rural hotel accommodation my immediate reaction was “Wow, check out the wild flowers and just listen to the buzz of insects!” Within an hour we were being delighted by video and still photos of a brown bear and cubs taken the previous evening by our host Miha Mlakar. It turned out that the bear encounter had occurred only 20 minutes drive away – might we get the chance to see wild brown bear?

Each day of our stay in Slovenia revealed an extraordinary diversity of wildlife, and much of the time we weren’t even specifically looking for it! Just to give a taste of the experience I will list a few personal highlights:

Day 1 arrival – fall asleep to a cacophony of young grey herons squawking and squabbling as the sky darkened.

Day 2 – fabulous dragon and damselflies including a stunning, electric blue demoiselle. Purple emperor butterfly amongst many other unidentified species.


Figure 1; Purple Emperor

Hearing of 7 bat species, including 2 horseshoes, which use Krizna Jama cave system – and of course the spine-tingling `cave bear` story. Corncrake rasping from damp meadowland of the Cerknica Lake whilst enjoying meal at tourist-farm.

Day 3 – myriad butterflies plus huge metallic green beetles at Secovlje Salina. Breeding black-winged stilts, Kentish plover and waders such as Greenshank I didn’t expect to see. White stork nest on chimney stack.

Figure 2; Carnic lily

Day 5 – breakfast with Red-backed shrike perched in view. Fantastic herb-rich limestone pasture on Nanos Plateau. Golden eagle soaring overhead and large grasshoppers/bush-crickets underfoot.


Figure 3; Enormous grasshopper

Day 6 – Magical fireflies emitting phosphorescent glow along roadside near hotel. Finally identified regular, monosyllabic `hoot` as coming from Scops owl.

Nature Conservation Legislation

The conservation of wildlife in Slovenia is underpinned at a national government level by a comprehensive “Nature Conservation Act”, adopted in 1999, for which the stated objectives are:

(1) This Act shall lay down biodiversity conservation measures and a system for the protection

of valuable natural features with the purpose of contributing to nature conservation.

(2) Biodiversity conservation measures shall be measures by which the protection of wild plant and animal species (hereinafter referred to as plant and animal species), including their genetic material and habitats and ecosystems, is regulated; the sustainable use of biodiversity components facilitated; and the maintenance of natural balance ensured.

(3) The system for the protection of valuable natural features shall be a system which lays down procedures and methods for the designation of the status of a valuable natural feature and the implementation of their protection.

Implementation of the Act is through The Environmental Agency of the Republic of Slovenia (ARSO).

Slovenian Biodiversity on a European Stage

A remarkable 36% of the country is designated Natura 2000; a figure which puts the country at the top of the European list. Much of the Natura 2000 land is native forest habitat but there are also substantial areas in the Alpine zone, karst landscapes and also species-rich grasslands. Partly it is the variety of geology, topography and climatic zones (Mediterranean, Alpine & Continental) encompassed in a relatively small country which drives the exceptional biodiversity resource.

On a global scale it is the extensive cave systems and their associated endemic fauna which is outstanding – and we witnessed one of these awesome caves ourselves at Krizna Jama. However, from the perspective of this UK visitor, it was the extent and diversity of native forest, flower-filled meadow and pasture which made it so special.


Figure 4; bones of the Cave Bear, Krizna Jama

The Non-Governmental Conservation Sector

During our exchange visit the only NGO involved specifically with wildlife conservation we came across was DOPPS which is the Slovenian Birdlife International partner. We encountered this organisation at Skocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve near Koper where management for birds is the priority.

Whilst in the UK there is a conservation charity covering most species groups and some habitats, this doesn’t appear to be the case in Slovenia. The reason for this is unclear but perhaps it’s a reflection of the young nature of the republic, the recent change from a communist psyche and a certain complacency regarding the future of the enormous wildlife resource.

The people who we formally met during our exchange all had a strong affinity for the natural history of the country and were often very knowledgeable about the flora and fauna. I was particularly struck by the fact that many people knew the Latin names of plants; not something you generally find in the UK. This knowledge helpfully allowed me to discuss species across the language barrier. However, although there was a powerful individual relationship with nature among the people with met, this is not reflected in the development of active NGOs. Perhaps the impetus for the formation of such organisations comes only when a serious threat to the future of wildlife and its habitats is perceived?

A Changing Landscape

Repeatedly we were told about the ongoing and rapid expansion of woodland cover onto previously open agricultural grassland. And repeatedly we saw examples of this change in progress; both where meadows were just beginning to succumb to tree and shrub encroachment, and where the process had taken place over decades and lead to young forest cover.

This abandonment of High Nature Value farmland seemed to me to be the most pressing nature conservation issue we witnessed. Although `semi-natural` in the sense that these grasslands are maintained by cutting and grazing in a farming system, they are incredibly species diverse in terms of flowering plants and insects. The danger is that agricultural intensification takes place on the most productive valley soils and the alpine-type meadows and pastures continue to disappear.

In the UK agri-environment schemes, such as Higher Level Stewardship, are often targeted at the maintenance of the remaining fragments of herb-rich grassland. Abundant Agency resources are made available to encourage farmers/landowners to take advantage of EU and national funding for grassland habitat conservation. Conversations I had with a few farmers in Slovenia left me with the impression that similar schemes were not being well promoted or optimised. The fact that so much valuable grassland is reverting to forest, such as on the Nanos Plateau, despite designated Natura 2000 status in some cases, seems to support the need for more focus on re-instating grazing management through encouragement of low-input farming. The natural and cultural history is intimately linked and dependent.


Figure 5; Juniper & Hazel invading pasture

Potential for Wildlife Tourism

The exchange revealed that there is a huge potential for the development of wildlife tourism, particularly perhaps from the UK. There is a great appetite in the UK for wildlife oriented holidays and Slovenia could capitalise on this market sector. Currently there are only a very few specialist providers (from an internet search) and their itineraries tend to be focussed on Triglav National Park and certain cave experiences. There is so much more! One big selling point could be the chance to see wild brown bears in their natural habitat but this doesn’t seem to be available in any formalised way at present.

The impression I got is that Slovenian’s currently underestimate the potential for foreign eco-tourism were it be given the necessary promotion and infrastructure. British people will travel miles and spend a great deal of money to see bottle-nosed dolphins, ospreys and other charismatic species; you can’t much more charismatic than brown bears in the woods! A further market is that of specialist interest groups which could be attracted to see the flora, the butterflies & moths, and the birds.

Generally these nature tourists are interested in the wider landscape, the cultural as well as the natural history. Accommodation based around rural hotels, such as the excellent Gostisce Mlakar, would be ideal.


Figure 6; characteristic local hay rick style by Gostisce Mlakar


Return to UK pressed home how ecologically impoverished our country is in comparison with Slovenia – depressingly so! However, there is a nature conservation `industry` attempting to prevent further losses and perhaps reinstate some of the previous interest. The exchange leaves me feeling that we must be more ambitious and more effective.

I intend to promulgate the experience of the exchange with National Trust colleagues through placing a copy of this report on appropriate pages of our intranet; by giving a lunchtime talk to immediate colleagues; by sharing the knowledge gained with other associates.

I am investigating an internship opportunity with NT in the field of historic landscape research on behalf of a well qualified but unemployed landscape architect/art historian we met. I have also provided Miha Mlakar with a link to a UK based eco-holiday/cycling provider suggesting there may be potential for development of another tourist base.

I wish to sincerely thank all those, in both UK and Slovenia, who made this exchange visit such a memorable and worthwhile experience.

John Hooson

Wildlife & Countryside Adviser,

National Trust

Jonathan Pinnick, Scottish Wildlife Trust

Wildlife watching in Slovenia


Slovenia is a former member of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. An independent nation state since 1991, it sits within Central Europe, bordered by Italy to the west, Austria to the north, Croatia to the south and southeast and Hungary to the northeast (see map below). It is a relatively small country, covering 20,273 square kilometres (approximately ¼ the size of Scotland) but has an incredibly diverse geography, lying at the crossroads between the Alps, the Dinaric Mountains, the Pannonian Plain, and the Mediterranean, with a small portion of coastline along the Adriatic Sea.


As a consequence of its complex geography, Slovenia is exceptionally rich in biodiversity. It contains a mosaic of habitats which are home to mammal species including brown bears, wolves, Eurasian lynx, wild cats, boar, red & roe deer and chamois (mountain goats), as well a wide variety of bird, invertebrate, plant & fungi species. Under the Natura 2000 scheme there are 286 designated protected sites, comprising 36% of the country’s land area – the largest percentage of any EU member state. These include the Triglav National Park, three regional parks and around 45 natural parks. These sites are not only havens for wildlife but also serve as places for people to relax and enjoy Slovenia’s natural beauty.

We visited a number of these sites during our exchange visit which was funded by ‘The Leonardo da Vinci Lifelong Learning Programme’, promoted by ARCH and hosted by Vitra.

Traditionally agriculture has always played a major role in the day-to-day of the Slovenian people. However, the majority of the population is now urban and the economy as a whole has shifted away from a reliance on agriculture in favour of the service & construction industries. Farming is still a way of life in the rural areas which make account for most of the country’s land mass. During our visit we were able to see how some farming communities have diversified to take advantage of the small tourism market which exists at present.

Wildlife watching infrastructure

Due perhaps in part to the shear abundance & variety of the wildlife to be found in Slovenia, there would currently seem to be little in the way of purpose built wildlife watching infrastructure. When visiting most nature reserves in Scotland and the rest of the UK you expect there to be a number of hides or viewing platforms/screens from which to observe the local wildlife. In Slovenia this was not the case – most of the sites we visited gave open, unimpeded views of the surrounding habitats and wildlife.

During the afternoon of the first day we spent several hours in the vicinity of Cerknica Lake; a seasonal lake within the River Ljubljana catchment. It has no surface outflow, instead discharging all of its water underground via sinkholes into subterranean river systems. These transport the water through a series of caves before re-emerging into a karst valley called Rakov Škocjan, which we had visited earlier in the day. The lake reaches its fullest extent during heavy periods of rainfall when the below-ground water level rises and the sinkholes can no longer drain the lake. The lake area is listed as a wetland of international importance under the RAMSAR convention (one of 3 in Slovenia) for its breeding populations of Corncrake, Red-Necked Grebe, Redshank & Ferruginous Duck – just a few of the 100 or so bird species that have been identified as breeding in the area. There are no hides, viewing platforms or a formal path network, although Bojan (our host) told us that it is possible to walk around the lake. The Notranjska Regional Park Authority who are responsible for the management of the lake have aspirations to improve the wildlife watching facilities for visitors but a tourism strategy has yet to be developed.


Cerknica Lake

On the second day of our exchange we visited two wetland nature parks by the Adriatic Coast. The first of these, Seĉovlje Salina, is a 650ha nature park in the extreme south-west of Slovenia, on the border with Croatia. Run by a private company, part of the site is managed as a nature reserve & saltworks heritage museum, whilst the other part continues to make salt commercially using traditional methods. It is home to over 280 bird species and is highly protected. As well as being listed under Natura 2000, it is also a RAMSAR site designated for its internationally important populations of breeding, wintering & passage waterbirds. During our visit we saw numerous wader species including Black-Winged Stilt, Kentish Plover & Spotted Redshank, as well as other unfamiliar species such as Pygmy Cormorant, Yellow-Legged Gull & Black-Headed Wagtail. Most of these could be viewed at a distance from the gravel path which ran along the perimeter of the salt pans, without the need for hides or viewing screens. Visitors were excluded from the interior of the reserve to prevent disturbance of the birds. Despite this the site is popular, receiving 35-40,000 visitors per year – mostly Slovenians or people from neighbouring countries.


Seĉovlje Salina Natural Park

The second site we visited, Škocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve was unusual amongst the places we saw in that it did provide purpose built wildlife viewing facilities. Lying on the outskirts of the major port city of Koper, the reserve which is the largest brackish wetland in Slovenia has been created from scratch after years of urbanisation & industrial activity had largely destroyed the original wildlife habitat of the area. Run and managed by DOPPS (Birdlife Slovenia) it is now home to a range of wetland bird species including Purple & Squacco Heron, Little Bittern & Little Egret, as well as a herd of grazing Water Buffalo and Coypu, a non-native semi-aquatic rodent introduced to Slovenia and other parts of Europe from South America. There were large viewing platforms allowing you to see into the lagoon, wet meadows and reedbeds at regular intervals along the reserve trail which ran around the circumference of the site. The platforms were constructed of long wooden beams held together by sturdy wooden posts secured into the ground. Top-hinged window flaps had been attached to the beams at varying heights for different users.

These platforms, which I have seen smaller-scale examples of in the UK can serve very well as cheaper alternative to hides. The main downsides to the design are the lack of window ledges or seating. The other problem if they were used more widely in the UK would be the lack of cover as we have much more rainfall than in Slovenia – a good idea nonetheless. According to a reserve leaflet which I picked up DOPPS had plans to construct hides, including a central observation tower which were due to have been in place by the end of 2009, however there was no sign of these.

Other wildlife watching opportunities & visitor facilities

As mentioned earlier, although there is no path around Cerknica Lake it is possible to walk through the fields around the edge of the lake. Guided nature walks are available upon request at Kmetija T’dolenj, a local tourist farm with a Venetian sawmill, an 18th century granary & a small shop selling liqueurs, spirits & vinegar made from home-grown fruits. They offer these to generate additional revenue to what they make from the shop.

clip_image141A guided visit to the Kriẑna Jama cave can generate more opportunities for wildlife watching than you may imagine. The cave, which stretches for over 8km and contains 21 underground lakes, is ranked fourth in the world for the number of species it supports. They are home to 44 animal species, a number of which are rare or endemic. These include 7 types of bat, a cave beetle and a cave salamander. 20,000 years ago the caves were also home to a giant cave-dwelling bear – as part of the tour you are shown the preserved skull & bones of one of these bears, beside the skull of a modern day brown bear (for size comparison).

Skull & bones of a giant cave bear and brown bear at Kriẑna Jama cave

During the tours, which range in length from one to seven hours, the guides will inform you about the natural history of the caves and point out any species encountered. There is an information hut at the entrance to the caves where you pay for tours, collect safety equipment (headtorches, helmets etc.) and can pick up leaflets for other local attractions. This also serves as a small shop, selling postcards and locally produced food & drink.

Similar facilities are provided at Seĉovlje Salina – there is a small manned visitor hut where visitors pay their admission to the park and can pick up an information leaflet. They also sell small bags of salt, postcards & sun hats and toilet facilities are provided in the form of a single portaloo. I understand that there are much more extensive facilities on the other side of the site by the Saltworks Museum, however we did not see these during our visit. Guided group visits with a warden can be booked in advance (minimum 15 people) for a fee on top of the standard admission – binoculars are provided to those who need them. This is something we occasionally do (generally free of charge) at Loch of the Lowes for VIP groups (journalists, politicians, local celebrities) but perhaps we should consider offering guided group visits as a premium chargeable service.

Information Hut at Škocjanski Zatok Nature ReserveŠkocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve seem to have a particular focus on providing educational facilities for children & young people. They run an environmental education programme which is tailored to suit different age groups from pre-school to university students, as well as a range of natural history days, talks and other educational events. The trail and viewing platforms are fully wheelchair accessible and provisions are made to allow people with mobility issues, the blind or visually impaired and the deaf to participate in reserve activities. The hub of activity is the information hut which is part-way round the reserve trail.

There is limited provision for visitors to the Krokar Virgin Forest Reserve near Kočevje in the south-east of Slovenia, which we visited on our third day. Covering an area of 74ha, it is the largest single parcel of virgin forest in the country. Despite its size very few people go into the forest apart from small numbers of locals walkers, foragers or joggers. This is apparently common throughout Slovenia as most people are afraid of encountering bears or wolves so tend not to venture into the forest. There is a single waymarked trail through the forest indicated by waymarkers that have been painted onto the trees. The path is unsurfaced and very uneven in parts. Due to the steep terrain and the fact that the forest is unmanaged, there are sections of the path which have been blocked by fallen trees or suffered from landslip. In the UK a path such as this would be closed immediately but in Slovenia they seem to take a much more relaxed approach to health & safety. Mirjam Mikulic (our guide) who is the area forester for the Slovenian Forestry Service told us that every year she brings a number of school groups on guided walks along the trail – this would be unthinkable in the UK! There is also a National Forest Week with events taking place across the country including a guided walk through Krokar Forest.

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Krokar Virgin Forest Reserve Trail

On the final day of our trip we went on another guided forest walk, this time through an area of community owned woodland, along the Bears Footprints Path from Selsček to Bezuljak, two small villages just outside of Cerknica. Our guide Judita Unetic, a local tourist guide, told us that the trail had been created in 2005 at minimal expense from a pre-existing unofficial path used by locals. Funding was provided by the local tourism group, VITRA and a few other sponsors to install signage, put in a small section of fencing and make some hand crafted benches. The trail was more clearly signposted than the one in Krokar forest appeared to be better maintained, however because it is still not an official footpath we reached a section which had been bulldozed to make way for a forest track and there were no diversion signs in place.


Bears Footprints Path

We didn’t see wild brown bears during our time in Slovenia, however from speaking to Miha Mlakar who runs the Gostišče Mlakar where we stayed, I learnt that there are a number of bear watching hides where you can go in the evening with a guide to watch bears feeding. These are generally operated by hunters trying to supplement their incomes.

On the fourth day we visited Abram Tourist Farm, high up in the Vipava valley near the Nanos mountain. This large tourist farm has a bar/restaurant serving food made from ingredients produced on the farm and accommodation for guests wanting to stay there. They have an orphaned brown bear (now fully grown) that they have raised with the permission of the Slovenian government. It is kept in an enclosure beside the farm and has become their star attraction, even featuring on their advertising logo. For many people this is likely to be their only experience of seeing a brown bear close up which I feel is a shame.

Interpretive signage & leaflets

Many of the places we visited had colourful interpretive signage & leaflets which gave information about the sites, the wildlife that could be seen and other points of interest. Often these were bi-lingual (Slovenian & English) and some were even multilingual. This is something we could learn from in the UK as our signage & leaflets tend to only be in English.

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Examples of interpretive signage (top left to bottom right: Seĉovlje Salina, Škocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve, Krokar Virgin Forest Reserve, Bear Footprints Trail)


Leaflet selection

Barriers to growth of wildlife watching & nature based tourism in Slovenia

As discussed already, Slovenia has a wealth of natural attractions and wildlife, unmatched by many countries in Europe. However at present wildlife watching and nature based tourism is very limited. Searching the internet I was able to find only 3 UK-based companies who offer wildlife watching holidays in Slovenia. Through speaking to Bojan and the various guides we met during the week, it became apparent that there are a number of barriers.

Firstly, as most Slovenians grow up surrounded by nature it is part of their everyday lives and many don’t see it as something exceptional which can be used to sell the country to foreign visitors. This limits the domestic market for these kinds of activities and hinders the promotion of wildlife watching in Slovenia at an international level.

The sites that we visited are doing their best to promote themselves locally but they receive little support from the national tourism body to market themselves more widely. There is no national tourism strategy – at present much of the focus is on promoting Llubljana and the Lake Bled area whilst the rest of the country gets little coverage.

There is also a general lack of investment by the Slovenian government in visitor facilities at nature reserves and similar sites. Despite owning most of the land that these sites sit on, they leave it to private companies or charities to manage them, with no financial support in return. They are therefore largely reliant on EU grants or corporate sponsorship for funding.

Direct international air travel to & from Slovenia is mainly limited to flights from other central & eastern European countries. There are 2 international airports, Ljubljana Jože Pučnik being by far the busiest. It has only been possible to fly directly to Llubljana from the UK since 2008 when Easyjet began operating flights from London Stansted. The number of routes is slowly growing but is limited by the current low carrying capacity of the airport.

For visitors wishing to stay in the country there is a real shortage of accommodation outwith Llubljana and the Lake Bled area – for example, in Cerknica (the nearest town to where we stayed) there are no hotels or guest houses. This presents a major obstacle for tour organisers or independent travellers.

Links to UK Wildlife Watching Holiday providers who operate in Slovenia: ,

How can I disseminate the skills, knowledge & experience gained?

Aside from submitting this report to ARCH, I also intend to share it with my colleagues within the Wildlife Trusts movement by publishing it on Wildnet, the UK wide intranet for Wildlife Trust employees. By doing so this may give staff who read the report ideas for new facilities or services they could offer at their site.

Within the next few months I will be preparing and giving a presentation on my experiences in Slovenia to the staff and volunteers at Loch of the Lowes. If this goes well then I may consider offering the talk more widely to local interest groups (Scottish Wildlife Trust members centres, RSPB local groups, local natural history groups etc.).

I hope to raise people’s awareness of what an incredibly diverse & fascinating country Slovenia is, and by doing so encourage more people to visit.

How can I put what I have learned into action?

There are a number of specific ideas that I gained from visiting Slovenia which along with my colleagues at Loch of the Lowes we could consider putting into action:

  • Offer guided group visits to the reserve & visitor centre as a premium service
  • Sell locally produced jams, marmalades, curds etc. in the gift shop
  • Develop foreign language signage/leaflets
  • Installing a loch-side viewing platform towards the far end our walking path

The first two would be the easiest to put in place; the latter two would require funding and the installation of a loch-side viewing platform would likely require approval from SNH.

Future co-operation

Due to the involvement of myself and other Perthshire based staff within the Scottish Wildlife Trust in ARCH exchanges to Slovenia, we already have a pre-existing relationship with Vitra and some of the other organisations visited. We have hosted day visits from Slovenian exchange groups on a number of occasions at Loch of the Lowes, and individuals have been placed with the ranger team for several months’ work experience. The feedback from these placements has been that they have been very useful in terms of personal career development and for taking ideas back to Slovenia. We would be happy to continue this relationship going forward and could perhaps consider offering work placements in the visitor centre as well as on the reserve.

Developing an effective marketing strategy to promote Slovenia’s natural assets would be a major step forward for the country. VisitScotland, the national tourism agency for Scotland have been very successful in this respect, and there is a particular focus at present with 2013 being the ‘Year of Natural Scotland’. Perhaps future co-operations could be developed between VisitScotland and organisations like Vitra or the national tourism agency in Slovenia?

Alison Austin

Communities, wilderness, nature and potential for rural development in Slovenia

1 Introduction

clip_image159In the UK we tend to avoid the use of the word wilderness to describe our natural landscape or wild places because of the complex interplay and influence humans have had on our landscapes, habitats and species, both as a direct result of management for particular objectives, and indirectly through historical and cultural behaviour. Not much of our landscape can be described as truly natural and those small pockets of ancient semi-natural woodland do not cover a wide enough extent to merit the title wilderness in the opinion of many.

Slovenia with around 60% woodland cover, although similar in area to Scotland’s woodland, is almost entirely native and natural with close network and linkage between the more extensively wooded areas. The overall view of the country is pockets of small scale farming, towns and corridors of human activity and economic development within a wooded landscape in comparison to Scotland’s general appearance of pockets of woodland in wider open human influenced landscape.

Slovenia is around 1/4 the size of Scotland with 40% of the population of Scotland. 25% of this population resides in the major towns and the rest seems evenly spread throughout the rest of the country. Therefore a large proportion of the population lives in close proximity to the surrounding natural landscape home to species such as wild boar, brown bear, lynx and wolf; wild animals that are long gone from our ecosystem due to loss of habitat and direct persecution both causes attributable to humans. In the southern Kocevka region 90% of the area is forested and in other areas large swathes of former pastureland are becoming naturally re-wilded as farming of these periphery areas decreases and the woodland encroaches on new or possibly past territory.

How does the above affect the Slovenian relationship with nature and wild land and the potential for rural development and regeneration in comparison to Scotland and what can we learn from the differences in perception and interaction with our wild landscapes and wildlife.

2 Protected areas and people

It is telling that in a country with 60% native woodland or forest, 35% of the country is protected under Natura 2000. In Scotland with 17% woodland (2% natural) 15% of the country is designated under Natura 2000. Direct comparisons are difficult to make as each country has a different governmental system and structure of national protected sites to administer and report upon. These protected areas and what those titles or a designation actually affords as protection can also be questionable. In some cases in Scotland economic development has been given priority over designated and supposedly protected sites.

Natura 2000 sites, though celebrating and protecting valued biodiversity can also be seen as a barrier to economic development. There appears to be some feeling amongst Slovenians that these designations are a barrier in developing wind power amongst other things. Having 35% of land protected for the amazing diversity of species and habitats could easily be seen as negative, preventing or delaying potential economic development that would be detrimental to the protected areas but may bring income to the country. There is a similar story to be told in the islands of the far west of Scotland where the government agency SNH has designated marine protected areas and proposed areas to be protected under marine national parks. There has been a huge backlash against this within a number of rural communities who see such designations as purely preventing rural economy from developing and encouraging further stagnation and contributing the net depopulation of the island by a younger generation with few opportunities or jobs. Being a peripheral area far from the main stage of the countries management does not help and Slovenia with a smaller country and more evenly distributed population should be able to avoid alienating one area in particular but only if shared opportunities are created to harness the potential in these protected areas. This could underpin some economic growth probably primarily in terms of tourism potential.

clip_image161This amazing diversity should open doors for accessing European funding to support important species and habitats which would bring income and development jobs into these areas. A number of individuals told us that the structure for applying for fund is excessively bureaucratic and there is not a support structure or monitoring system to ensure the grants and funding are steered into strategic projects which enable growth and lead to further permanent management, development opportunities or ‘jobs on the ground’, rather than a series of small capital projects in individual businesses or agencies.

3 Forest and Agriculture

In should be celebrated that Slovenian woodland management practices champion continuous cover forestry as it appears that clear felling is not allowed or acceptable. In a country with such amazing regeneration potential it is amazing that the state does not accept clear fell as a means to creating income for the country and the majority of those we speak, even to those who are not trained ecologists/foresters, really appear to value to mixed age structure of forests and the wonderful diversity of age, species and associated habitats and see this as essential, long may this continue. It seems mostly the periphery or easy to access sections of each individuals parcel is actively harvested and the greater depths of ‘wilderness’ is left untouched leading to among others the Kocevska Virgin forest reserve. To the UK visitor the periphery and easy to access area appear wild and wonderful enough to inspire and sustain many visitors who are interested in spending time in these places and perhaps Slovenians don’t quite realise what a treasure they have in comparison to many other counties that would be greatly appreciated and valued by many visitors.

In Kocevska region 90% of the forest is state owned due to the previous occupants being displaced. In 1993 previous owners claimed back land and in most forest regions, according to a state forester, state ownership is more like 35%. Each landowner has his own desire and needs in relation to their forest parcel but is trying to operate on an extremely small scale. These areas would perhaps benefit from common management plans and shared cost of harvesting and processing operations. At a one on one neighbour level this sharing of resource and manpower does happen but not at the strategic level that would have clear impact on economic development leading to more jobs income and greater value being placed on this immense resource. Having spoken to a number of individuals it does not a appear that a state imposed structure would be welcome and perhaps each region need to create bottom up forest planning groups to share vision, resources and development, this requires time and potential development of NGO’s to fill the gap and input from individuals may need spearheaded from community development group with ability and access to funding

clip_image163Most of the timber is exported and a way of bringing extra income would be development of stong forest product economy at a strategic scale which would perhaps need to be led by government economic development departments with support for training and development grants. As it is small scale high value products will only bring small income to limited individuals and not the country as a whole. An example of a community taking a lead in developing woodland resource is the Sunart Oakwood initiative where a continuing programme primarily funded by EU grants has helped develop resources, training, buildings, capacity to utilise forest resources and develop products, tourism infrastructure and signposting.

In central southern Slovenia where we visited a number of rural farms and areas there is a close connection between agricultural and forest. Many of the small to medium sized farms are a combination of agriculture; some small scale crops and food production, some animals and a closely linked section of forest where owners harness the resource for their own needs. It is resembles 6the pattern of activity in the crofting townships of Northwest Scotland, albeit in Scotland most crofts are unlikely to have a close link to a woodland for their use. This presents and amazing mosaic of habitats across the entire region which is spectacular for biodiversity and very appealing to visitors. However it means that each individual is probably struggling to survive on piecemeal subsistence farming without access to cost savings of combined harvesting, processing, marketing and export.


There is a net depopulation of rural areas and abandonment of previously worked small, farms patched of woodland, hayfields and orchards. There appears to be some drive form governmental level to address this with tax breaks in relation to insurance costs for farmers which has encouraged some families to repopulate rural areas. More is needed if these areas are not lost to the thriving forest and further resentment grows over lack of opportunities for development grows. Speaking to one local resident there was the feeling that in the past people did work more together and helped as a true community whereas within the last 20 years there has been a great switch to being protective of ones own land. This is perhaps an understandable response to the fall of socialism perhaps there will be a return to community led endeavour that is led from the bottom up rather than being imposed. Certainly we saw abandoned community orchards that are no longer managed with the potential to supply enough fruit for a small local business to create and sell products. The area in question has been reclaimed by the previous owner of the land perhaps there is no need or desire for this and a desire to retain closely what they have regained rather than let it out and risk loosing it again.

Given the coexistence of people and native woodland with small subsistence farming/crofting allows diverse native woodland to thrive it would be sad to see woodland seen as negative or encroaching on potential income/pasture and support for rural existences to allow biodiversity to thrive would be useful. We were amazed to see the number of small croft style farmed areas many rural houses not only had extensive vegetable patches, large allotment style patches but also an area for hay which was unusual to our eye. This close connection with nature and providing for yourself should be celebrated.


Meeting a father and son managing their beehives in the forest was a real treat. We were amazed that these movable beehives were transported to different areas for different pollen and that the forest system allow individuals to use certain location something that we could definitely use in Scotland to encourage more beekeeping and potentially have an impact on the very serious threat to honey bees both in the UK and further afield. It would a great system to promote and emulate over here.

A number of small farms in rural areas appear to have benefited from ERDF funds and which have had a clear positive impact on the survival and success of these individual farms allowing owners to bring extra revenue to a farm through diversification, developing new income from products and tourism services. But it is not always a success story, more than one individual tells of difficulty of the administration of these funds, how the outcomes and actions are not measured and checked at a local level and there are fewer support structures in place than in the UK to help ensure the priorities for which the grants were created are achieved. Concerns over the bureaucracy involved in applying and claiming this support were also raised while we suffer similar barriers in Scotland. I get the impression that it is a bigger issue in Slovenia compounded by the newness of some of the governmental structure and the perceived high levels of corruption.


The development of shared goals for harnessing local resource will prove difficult after the fall of socialism. A number of those we spoke to appeared to believe the desire to keep and hold onto own rights almost swung to far the other way. Cooperative working and partnerships are becoming the norm in the UK and whilst this can lead to inevitable delays and disagreements and/or inability to agree to common goal, where this works shared ownership leads to greater upkeep and stewardship of any potential development of resources for a rural area be that buildings, processing implements for small businesses, trails or waymarkers, promotional material to draw visitors to an area

4 Wildlife and nature tourism links to rural economy

Most of our visits and discussions with local people, tourist farms and forest areas were in the central south area of Slovenia. Discussion with a number of residents, farm owners and members of Ostranice Women’s Rural group and 2 members of local tourism groups describe a strong feeling of lack of opportunity and jobs with a number of their friends and families being unemployed and unable to find work and keep people and family living in the area and a desire to try and address this perhaps by drawing more visitors and developing rural tourism. A situation has evolved where some small local groups and individuals were struggling to piece together information, promote and advertise their area to bring in income and develop a strategy to draw and guide tourists in the area. In much of Scotland we seem to experience the same issues of depopulation, lack of jobs for younger members of communities and the draw to the cities. In Slovenia this is compounded by the draw of young educated drivers of the tomorrow society being driven or lured away from Slovenia to look for employment abroad which can only be a negative drain the collective resources of this country.

clip_image171At a national level most tourism is directed to the northern and mountainous regions This has parallels with West Lochaber where it is found that most European visitors will feel the draw of Cairngorm National Park or Loch Lomond NP as well as a fleeting visit to Fort William to see Ben Nevis. After interviewing 9 different individuals or families from Scotland who have recently visited Slovenia it seems clear that tourism infrastructure and web based tourism information for those interested in walking and wildlife directs those visitors primarily to the Northern part of the country especially Triglav National Park and Julian alps which was reported to be extremely busy with tourists during the same week that we visited a number of locations that were much quieter in the central south region. The National Tourism agency, the draw of the National Park title and the walking guidebooks published and available in English all contribute to this. Research prior to our visit and subsequent searches confirms this. It is very difficult to find information and directions to the area we visited.

In Scotland various different volunteer led local groups have been set up to drive and promote the area for tourism as a way of addressing fragile tourism based economy in the area e.g. Outdoor Capital of the UK and the European Geoparks Network, Another initiative that links the management of the land with opportunities to walk within and view the wildlife is Sunart Oakwoods which would be an excellent model to investigate for integrating and developing capacity in a local area to not only to manage and protect the local landscape but to engage and train and reenergise the local community to take full advantage of the opportunities this landscape provides and support the disparate tourism opportunities by creating further opportunities for visitor to engage with wild places so that they stay longer spend money in area support jobs. The European Geoparks Network status could provide a similar draw visitors and the karst region is an ideal location to choose to link in with this network to help create opportunities to stay longer and to take advantage of the learning and funding opportunities this network provides.


We experienced an amazing variety of opportunities for recreation and tourism in the area we visited. There are great opportunities’ for following trails, exploring caves walking around lakes, following walking and intermediate biking routes through forest. None of the sample interviewed from Scotland had any idea of those opportunities from their research and indeed follow up research proved it almost impossible to find out about the Scojevke Regional park, educational trails, or to locate maps of potentials mid level mountain biking trails or suggested touring routes with wildlife viewing opportunities.

The type of visitor who wishes to do these things is often self led and wishes to find the information for these visits in an easy format, perhaps maps. Replicating Lochaber’s Wild Trails or Rock Routes (nature trails/geology trail leaflets) and making these accessible on the web, suggesting routes with highlighted stopping places for food and craft similar to the Road to Isles website from West Lochaber could be created from a bottom up approach. This would allow local community to feel in control of their destiny and opt in to deciding their future rather than relying on government agencies that not address their community’s needs. There is a clear need for these communities to emulate community drive and initiative in west and north of Scotland to draw visitors to the wealth of experience that they already have in their amazing landscape which would hopefully bring economic input in a area leading to the local community placing a greater value on this important natural heritage.

The initial elements or bare bones of this type of network are already there for example it is clear that local guides care for environment and supporting the local rural economy, one example being krizna jama cave with clear controls on the number of visitors and impacts to protect an amazing location and a burgeoning connection local farm selling homemade schnapps to their visitors clearly signposting visitor to anther tourism location. Further development of this signposting and connecting all the smaller activities finding a way for gathering the information that is there on the ground for these walks, horse rides, caves, bird watching opportunities into a location where potential visitor can access before reaching the country would be hugely beneficial. We have the same problem in Lochaber region with national tourism drive focusing on top 5 or 10 locations mainly the hugely marketable national parks and castles of Scotland leaving area like Lochaber doing it ourselves pulling together all the regions opportunities and promoting them via a local website that needs to be maintained and marketed abroad. This needs to be easy to find for some one searching for holiday information, with maps and downloadable guides, suggested itinerary with local providers, tourism guides, cafes, artist residences and would certainly encourage the British visitor who probably wants to plan ahead what they might do and what they can achieve in a 10- 14 day holiday.

5 NGO’s

In Scotland many local organisation that gather and promote an area via the web with nature trails , geological trails, food trails and stopping places all mapped out.In the UK we have strong NGO’s and community volunteer led organisations that support and protect our natural heritage as well as developing ways try to harness the great draw and power of our natural heritage to develop the economic potential in rural areas in particular in an environmentally sustainable way.

Without this community there needs to be a either a government led initiative to find the opportunities for economic development within the parameters and requirements of the designations before national feeling against the natural treasure of the country develops.

Final thoughts

Slovenia has an amazing opportunity to develop sensitively within this biodiverse landscape without the recourse we in the UK need to address the re-creation and redevelopment of endangered rare and decimated habitats and species. Indeed their forest management of continuous cover and their predilection against clear fell is envied by many further afield trying to encourage and support more biodiversity friendly forest management, while still extracting timber and bringing in income.

In Slovenia with such a wonderful natural diversity and wilderness there is a great opportunity to continue to live alongside and develop opportunities for employment without threatening the extent of this. Existing connections with the land and the use of periphery woodland, pasture land should be supported and maintained. In order to alleviate any growing resentment against woodland taking over income opportunities greater dissemination or the existing opportunities to explore for tourists in the southern regions could be made.

Walking in the bear’s footprints

Report by Rory Syme of the Woodland Trust Scotland on the ARCH Trainer Exchange in Slovenia 9th – 15th July 2013.


There are many differences between Slovenia and Scotland, notably in terms of forest cover. However, the hospitality that was shown by many Slovenians who welcomed our group into their homes and shared traditional Slovenian food with us was extremely humbling and much appreciated by everyone. I believe that many links can be made and strengthened between Slovenian and Scottish people to complement the exchange that is funded through The Leonardo da Vinci Lifelong Learning Programme, and that ways can be found to return this hospitality in some way.

Thanks to project promoters ARCH and host partners the Vitra Centre for Sustainable Development.


Looking over the forested hills of Slovenia towards Croatia from Krokar Forest reserve


Slovenia is one of the most forested countries in Europe. In the European Union only Finland and Sweden have more tree cover.

Around 60% pf the country is forested, in comparison to Scotland which has 18%. In further contrast to Scotland, forest cover is naturally expanding in Slovenia, which causes problems for small farmers who have land close to the edge of the forest.

The vast majority of Slovenian forest is native and the most common tree is beech.

Slovenia’s tree line extends above 5,000 feet, much higher than that of Scotland which tends toward 1,500 feet. This means that the landscape offers many uninterrupted views of forested hills, which contrast sharply with Scottish vistas of hills with woodland limited to glens and low lying land.

Our group visited a remnant of Krokar Forest in Koceveje region. This woodland contains the largest remnant of virgin forest in Slovenia. We were led on a guided walk through the wood by Miriam Mikulic, an experienced woodland manager employed by the Slovenian forest service. Krokar Forest is made up of around 75% beech, but also contains small amounts of silver fir and sycamore, and smaller numbers of Norway spruce and wych elm.

Nature Trail markers

There are many forest trails, which are managed both by the forest service and local communities. One is a nature trail which is being left to re-wild to an extent. Until a few years ago trees that fell across the path were cleared by foresters, now they provide challenging natural obstacles to walkers. Interestingly way markers are painted on trees along this path rather than marker posts.

This path crosses a small section of virgin forest which is designated under Natura 2000, an EU-wide network of nature protection areas established under the Habitats Directive. The aim of the network is to assure

the long-term survival of Europe’s most valuable and

threatened species and habitats.

We also walked the 6.5 km ‘Bear’s Footprints Path’ from Selscek to Bezuljak. This rather beautiful route was a well maintained walk through native woodland, led by Judita Unetic, a local person who was proud of her surroundings. However, we discovered that forest workers had carved a new road for extracting timber through the path.

There were no signs or posters to warn of this development, or to advise on a diversion route. This seems an unlikely thing to have happened on Forestry Commission land in Scotland, though it could well occur within privately owned forest if the owner is insensitive to recreational users.


The majority of tourism in Slovenia is internal. However, significant numbers of people come into the country from neighbouring countries including Italy, Hungary, Croatia, as well as the rest of the Europe. There are also visitors from countries such as Israel.

Leaflets and information boards are often bilingual in Slovenian and English. In the Italian minority area, in the south-west of Slovenia, Italian becomes the second language, replacing English. Italian and Hungarian are official minority languages of Slovenia. One board, at Skocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve, was tri-lingual, with information in Slovenian, English and Italian. Notably those of the state forest service appear to be only in Slovenian.

Links between Italy and Slovenia are being developed through a project that is co-funded by the  European Regional Development Fund – this fund has supported initiatives including an archeology and cultural heritage project around Ad Pirum, the site of a Roman fort on the Hrušica plateau, close to the Italian border.

Ad Pirum also has a small social media presence, with a Twitter feed and Facebook page, although it seems to have a small following. Much of Europe has been ‘behind the curve’ in terms of social media compared to the UK, and there may a rewarding project to link digital experts in this country with people seeking help from abroad.


Hunting platformHunting is a traditional activity in Slovenia and regulated culling of species including bears, wolves and deer is seen as an essential part of land management, especially in the forest

Hunting is regulated by the forest service and also by the Slovenian Government. Hunting rights are bought by hunting clubs, private collectives of individual hunters. Deer are hunted in large numbers, and a small amount of large predators are culled when numbers become out of balance. The number of animals that can be killed each year is set by the Slovenian forest service. Animals killed by accident, such as being hit by a car, are included in these figures.

There is pressure from farmers to kill predators such as bears when damage to crops or livestock occurs. It is the legal responsibility of farmers to ensure that their property is protected from predators, for example through adequate and well maintained fencing, and if this protection is found to be lacking then no compensation will be awarded to the farmer.

In Scotland much stalking is done on the ‘open hill’, and stalkers crawl for miles to get a sniff of a red deer. In the forests of Slovenia we saw a number of raised platforms that have been erected for hunters, as well as cabins that are owned by the hunting clubs that can be used by visiting hunters.

There is a system of fines for unlicensed hunting. Illegally killing a bear can be punished by a EUR 20,000 fine, which is payable by the hunting society. In this way the clubs have an interest in policing their own membership.

Future cooperation between Scotland and Slovenia

The Woodland Trust Scotland is a partner in the European Tree of the Year competition. This contest seeks to identify the best loved trees from around Europe. In 2014 Scotland will take part in the competition for the first time.

Slovenia's oldest walnut tree in Kocevska Reka

A number of trees encountered on the Nature Exchange, including Slovenia’s oldest walnut tree in Kocevska Reka, would make ideal candidates for inclusion in the contest.

The owners of another tree at Farm T’dolennj have expressed an interest in entering the contest. This old tree was seen as a nuisance because it grows alongside the farm building and the legal protection provided to the tree was seen as a negative rather than a positive.

However, fruit from the tree has now been included in the produce which is made on the farm and so it ‘pays its way’ within a sustainable business. The tree is therefore seen as an asset.

Currently seven countries including Slovakia, Romania, Poland, France and the Republic of Ireland take part in the competition and each has a national organiser. I would be pleased to introduce the interested parties to the organisers of European Tree of the Year in the hope that something can be organised in Slovenia.

It was interesting to note that the lime or linden tree is a national symbol of Slovenia. A lime tree was planted to mark the independence of Slovenia and these trees continue to be planted to note special occasions. One of Slovenia’s oldest and most symbolic trees is the Najevnik lime tree, which again would make a very good candidate for inclusion within the contest.

I would also be happy to recommend Woodland Trust Scotland woods for visits by future groups from Slovenia. For example, Pressmennan Wood in East Lothian has highly creative sculptures within the wood to offer an experience which is both culturally and ecologically stimulating, and Moncreiffe Hill in Perthshire also offers a sculpture trail and examples of interpretation of ancient hill fort sites.

The Trust’s staff and volunteers may be available to lead guided walks around these woods and answer questions on their management.


I would like to thank Libby Urquhart (ARCH: Project promoter) and Bojan Znidarsic (VITRA: Host Partner) for collaborating and making this trip possible.

Also many thanks to the‘The Leonardo da Vinci Lifelong Learning Programme’ as the funding agency, allowing for these invaluable knowledge transfer experiences.

 Introduction and Report by Richard Thompson

Cycling Tourism Potential in Southern Slovenia By Craig Robb

Dr Jennifer Carfrae, 1st August 2013 33
Wildlife Tourism in Slovenia – an unrealised opportunity?

John Hooson
Wildlife watching in Slovenia

Jonathan Pinnick, Scottish Wildlife Trust)
Communities, wilderness, nature and potential for rural development in Slovenia

Alison Austin
Walking in the bear’s footprints

Report by Rory Syme of the Woodland Trust Scotland


Agencija Republike Slovenije za Okolje, 2013. (Accessed 23/07/2013)

Bojan Znidarsic (VITRA and study trip organiser) personnal communication, 9th – 15th July 2013.

European Environment Agency, 2013. Nature Protection and Biodiversity (Slovenia). (Accessed, 23/07/2013)

Culver D.C., and Sket, B. 2000. Hotspots of Subterranean Biodiversity in Caves and Wells. Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, 62(1), pp11-17.

Gasper Modic (tour guide in Krizna Jama cave) personnal communication, 10th July 2013.

Government of Slovenia, 2013. Forests in Slovenia. Webpage: (Accessed, 18/07/2013).

Mirjam Mikulic (Department of Forestry) personnal communication, 11th July 2013.

Natura 2000, 2013. (Accessed, 22/07/2013).

Natural History Museum, 2013. UK Biodiversity Portal. (Accessed 22/07/2013)

Repe, B. (no date). Soils of Slovenia. (Accessed, 23/07/2013)

Rezervat Skocjanski Zatok, 2013. (accessed, 31/07/2013)

Slovenia Tourist Information, 2013. Farm Kontrabantar. (accessed, 01/08/2013)

UK National Ecosystem Report, 2011. (Accessed 22/07/2013)

Vrscaj, B., Prus T., Lobnik, F. 2000. European Soil Bureau, Research Report 9.…/Slovenia.doc(Accessed 26/07/2013)

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