Description of the Protected Area

Škocjanski zatok Nature Reserve is a coastal wetland located in the outskirts of the city of Koper on Slovenian coast in North-East Adriatic. It’s a state-owned nature reserve (IUCN category IV) and from 1999 on managed by an NGO - DOPPS-BirdLife Slovenia. It was designated in 1998 in quite degraded state, but after extensive habitat restoration finished in 2007, reserve hosts a huge variety of birds and other fauna and flora. Birds are the most outstanding fauna group: a reserve area of only 122 hectares hosts over 259 species, recorded in the period from 2001 to 2020, and the number is still increasing. This is over 65% of all bird species observed in Slovenia. The outstanding biodiversity is a direct positive result of the carefully planned and implemented restoration and management of the reserve. Due to the extremely positive impact on the reserve’s biodiversity increase, the restoration is considered one of the biggest success stories of modern nature conservation in Slovenia.

In the beginning of March 2016, the reserve was reopen after the construction of visitor facilities with a primary goal to improve the quality of the visitor experience. Besides the visitor center, the majority of the buildings were built for the observation of wildlife. Among them, the round central observatory is definitely the most exciting one, showing the views all around the reserve as well as the underwater view of the freshwater marsh. The construction of the facilities followed the sustainable construcion principles and was co-financed by European Regional Development Fund. Besides visitor centre, several observation hides and a theme trail illustrate the area's diverse range of plant and animal life, including many rare and endangered species. Camargue horses and Podolian cattle, which help to maintain the vegetation balance of the freshwater marsh, add to the diversity of the Reserve.

Management system

Škocjanski zatok is a state nature reserve, being managed by an NGO, DOPPS - BirdLife Slovenia for over 20 years, which represents the first successful example of NGO managing a protected area as well as of public-private partnership in protected areas management in Slovenia. Normally, a public institute is established to manage a protected area. Different system was chosen due to the particular history of Škocjanski zatok before its protection and restoration, which was inspired by remarkable commitment and love for nature by DOPPS and other conservation NGO members. DOPPS proved to be an excellent manager of this area, bringing together its own expertise and wider knowledge from BirdLife International and other bird conservation and protected area management groups, including AdriaWet - informal network of North Adriatic wetlands managers. Due to DOPPS' successful work, the Government prolonged the management contract until 2029 in November 2019.


Biodiversity and ECOSYSTEMS conservation measures

The habitat restoration of Škocjanski zatok NR is considered one of the biggest success stories of modern nature conservation in Slovenia proved by extremely positive impact to the reserve’s biodiversity. The principal objective of the project, supported by EU LIFE programme, was to restore and manage habitats of Škocjanski zatok Nature Reserve after industrial degradation in the 1980s in order to support endangered birds of national and European importance. The restoration, carried out in the period from 2006-07, included both ecosystems: (1) terrestrial through creation of freshwater marsh in the area called Bertoška bonifika to substitute the wetlands lost during the previous urban development of Koper and (2) marine through dredging 185,000 cubic metres of sediment out of the brackish lagoon depositing it at a nearby disposal area and using additional 40,000 cubic metres to create mudflats and nesting islets in the lagoon, enhancing Natura 2000 habitat types of annual and perrenial halophytes and coastal lagoons as well as breeding and feeding habitats for different species of birds. Also the habitat management is carried out in terrestrial and marine ecosystems to support the favorable conservation status of habitats and species.

The favourable conditions of habitats and species in nature reserve after the restoration are maintained with the proper habitat management, based on the management of water levels, controlled grazing, late moulching of the vegetation after the completion of breeding season and removal of the invasive species. With balanced habitat management, the populations of targeted species as well as their numbers are still growing, that's why the management itself is also part of the Škocjanski zatok Nature Reserve best practice.

Application of ESS approach and related activities

The restoration project was planned in the period from 1999-2003 when the ESS approach has not been widely used in practical nature conservation yet. But later on, for Agadir Symposium on Wetlands in 2012, we have prepared an ESS approach evaluation of the nature reserve conservation and restoration in comparison with municipal scenario, which foresaw the complete destruction of the whole wetland, which would be resulting in a complete loss of its provisioning, regulating, supporting (by the complete ecosystem destruction) and cultural ecosystem services. At this stage we have to point out that the whole wetland area before degradation throughout 1970-90s covered around 230 hectares and that the conservation scenario has included the protection of the remaining part of the wetland, 122 hectares, which have not been urbanised by early 1990s, when the conservation movement finally resulted in the several temporary protections leading to final protection of the site by Škocjanski zatok NR Act, proclaimed by the Parliament. With conservation scenario, which came true with this act and later restoration project, 60-65% of ecosystem services of the area were maintained as follows:

  1. provisioning ESS were lost due to: degradation and protection regime prohibiting the use of natural resources of the nature reserve, but positive impact on fish reproduction was kept within the brackish lagoon functioning as fish nursery;

  2. regulating ESS were reduced in quantity but importance of some increased, such as carbon sequestration, purification of water and air, flood prevention (for 93 ha of urban areas) and crop pollination;

  3. supporting (habitat) ESS were first reduced with destruction & reduction of wetland area, but restored with the restoration of the area and they are crucial for the development of the most important cultural ESS and maintenance of all the final ecosystem services of the area;

  4. cultural ESS were substantially increased after the reserve has been restored and equipped with basic visitation infrastructure in 2007 and were enforced with the construction of the visitor facilities. After re-opening of the completed nature reserve in 2016, the cultural ESS are the main ESS group of the nature reserve, supporting the majority of the sub-groups.

The location of nature reserve in the urban setting, in the adjacency of the city of Koper and the port, and the fact that the reserve doesn’t have a buffer zone, where the urban pressures would be neutralized, contribute many negative impacts which have been analysed during the preparation of the actual Management Plan (MP). Those pressures mainly relate to pollution of water inflows to the NR, noise, impacts of different business activities nearby as well as invasive species. They are linked to some of the regulating ESS, such as bioremediation of polluted waters, dust filtering, lowering of noise which were listed as unwanted ESS due to their negative impacts on the ecosystems of Škocjanski zatok NR. MP already includes the measures to deal with those pressures and they are being resolved within other projects and activities. After the adoption of MP in 2015, also the pressures related to climate change have increased and the measures to adapt the habitats to new situations and decrease the flood hazard within the nature reserve are prepared and will be carried out in 2019-20 and co-financed by the state Fund for Climate Change. In this way, NR can keep the important regulating ESS in increasing the flood protection of adjacent urban areas and transport infrastructure on one hand and at the same time eliminate the flood hazard of the reserve infrastructure.

Premises, equipment and tools for the ES/ESS management systems

The restoration of Škocjanski zatok NR was an important project for Slovenia at that stage, and requiered substantial financial and other resources to cover the damage done by previous spatial planning which was excluding natural capital from its evaluations. Regular habitat management is carried out by DOPPS reserve staff (approx 9 FTE in 2019 in total, including also staff which works on visitation, education, monitoring and other issues) using reserve equipment and other tools, owned by the reserve manager or state. The average annual budget of NR is 300,000€, including the costs of all the regular management work, work with visitors, maintainance of visitation infrastructure etc. For additional works in brackish lagoon to reduce the climate change risks and restore the capacity of the lagoon to provide regulating ESS, particularly in the flood risk reduction, additional 440,200€ have been reserved for the period 2019-2020. The premises used are the Škocjanski zatok visitor centre, which also hosts the reserve management & administration.

Involvement of stakeholders in the management system

Firm and successful partnership between DOPPS – BirdLife Slovenia and the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning, which is quite unique in the field of co-operation between governmental and non-governmental sectors in Slovenia, was one of the basis of the project success. That’s how we managed to implement the restoration project, which at its time doubtlessly ranked among top restoration projects of degraded natural areas in the Mediterranean part of Europe.

The main stakeholders in Škocjanski zatok management system are the state, represented by the Ministry of the Environment and its bodies, and local municipality. These main stakeholders are organised in NR Board, which is nominated by the minister of the environment. The aim of the Board is to oversee the management of the reserve by the reserve Manager, confirm the annual Workplans and Reports, upon which the regular management is financed and provide opinion about more important management documents, such as Management Plan.

ecosystems MANAGEMENT MEASURES: best practices



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