|air||water||environmental protection||nature||Climate change||Weather||Seismology|
Why should we care?
Slovenia is characterised by extremely diverse and relatively well preserved nature. The relatively small territory has great biodiversity which can be attributed mainly to the convergence of various types of climate, geologic features and a considerable elevation range and also to largely traditional agricultural land use.
According to estimates, approximately 60 % of the environment is in a natural or semi-natural state, including landscapes and areas that were managed in a traditional way in the past and where activities were abandoned a long time ago.
Slovenia is among the regions with above-average biodiversity with 26 000 known and an estimated total of 45 000-120 000 species. Of these, 800 animal and 66 plant species are endemic. Especially characteristic are forests, subterranean and water ecosystems, wetlands, the sea, alpine and mountainous areas, and dry grasslands. Slovenia covers less than 0.004 % of the Earth's total surface area and 0.014 % of its total land area. However, more than 1 % of all known species of all living organisms and more than 2 % of all terrestrial species live in Slovenia. Such a large number in such a small area ranks the country among the naturally richest areas of Europe and even of the world.
On a global scale, Slovenia boasts one of the largest subterranean biodiversities in the world (NB04). Most of the exclusively subterranean species are endemic. Water fauna with 200 species is the richest in global terms, while terrestrial fauna with 150 species is perhaps only surpassed by southern parts of the Dinaric karst. Five Slovenian cave systems are listed among the 20 richest in the world. The Postojna-Planina cave system with 50 aquatic species and 35 terrestrial species is by far the richest. The Cave Protection Act protects the subterranean environment as a whole. Nevertheless, it is threatened by pollution that mostly originates from the surface.
In 1999, Slovenia adopted the Nature Conservation Act (ZON) which lays down biodiversity conservation measures regulating the protection of wildlife species, including their genetic material, habitats and ecosystems, enabling the sustainable use of biodiversity components and ensuring the preservation of natural balance. ZON also regulates the protection of valuable natural features – natural heritage – and is based on the realisation that, for practical reasons, as we cannot protect the whole of nature, we should rather focus on those parts of nature deemed as valuable, using social awareness and, ultimately, legal measures.
In the Republic of Slovenia, goals and measures in the field of nature conservation are defined by the Nature Protection National Programme which is a component of the National Environmental Action Plan for the period 2005-2012 (NPVO). The goals and measures are:
Figure 1: Number of cave-living species in selected sites in Slovenia with the highest subterranean biodiversity. (*Note: There are no terrestrial underground fauna in the interstitial water of the Ljubljana Plain)
What are the state and impacts?
The populations of many plant and animal species are decreasing and are threatened: some may become extinct. Forty-five percent of species are included in the list of threatened species, including more than 80 % of all known amphibian and reptile species and almost half, 41, of mammal species.
In the last 50 years, no species of mammal was exterminated on the territory of Slovenia.
Of the species that became extinct before then, the lynx (Lynx lynx) and beaver (Castor fiber) are again present in Slovenia. Lynx, which disappeared in previous centuries, was reintroduced in Slovenia in 1973, while the beaver was reintroduced in Croatia in the 1990s from where it spread to Slovenia. The brown bear (Ursus arctos) population in Slovenia is part of the population occupying the Alps-Dinaric Mountains-Pindus Mountains which is one of the largest populations in Europe. In accordance with the Brown bear (Ursus arctos) management strategy in Slovenia (2002) and EU regulations, selective and limited hunting of animals in the wild has been carried out under strict supervision and in limited numbers if there is no other alternative and if such hunting does not pose any harm to the maintenance of a favourable status of brown bear populations within their natural range (NB06). Two studies carried out in 2008, which included estimates of the state of the Slovenian bear population based on an analysis of teeth and genetic-molecular research of bears taken from the wild, confirmed that the Slovenian part of the brown bear population was in good condition as regards numbers and genetic diversity (Jerina, Adamič, 2007, Kos et al., 2008).
On the Red List of threatened animal species, six marine mammals from the order of whales and dolphins (Cetacea) are categorised as endangered. Permanent presence in the Slovenian part of the Adriatic is recorded for the common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) and the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), while other species visit the northern Adriatic sporadically (NB10).
The range of bird species has only been studied during the nesting and winter periods and the number of birds within selected species in the areas important for birds has been estimated. A waterfowl count has been carried out each January since 1988 covering all the major rivers, the entire Slovenian coast and, since 1997, most of the important still bodies of water within the country (NB01) (DOPPS, 2006, DOPPS, 2008).
For Slovenia, 3 266 different native taxa of ferns and seed plants have been described. Their basic characteristics derive from Alpine and Central European floristic elements and Pannonian, Dinaric and Mediterranean species. The large number of species is mainly a result of the great diversity of habitat types, which in turn result from physical geographic – elevation range, insulation and geologic features – through floro-genetic, to purely anthropogenic factors – the intensity of human impact on nature, urbanisation, extensiveness of farming, etc. Ferns and seed plants are threatened, particularly by habitat alteration, commercial use and direct destruction, including picking and gathering. Approximately 19 % of species are threatened, of which 29 species of ferns and seed plants are extinct (Ex), 80 are endangered (E), 254 vulnerable (V) and 257 rare (R) (NB05).
Preservation of genetic resources is mainly ex situ, in gene banks and collections, where the genetic material of agricultural varieties and breeds is kept in the form of living organisms or their products – seeds, spores, etc. Especially important is the so-called preservation of genetic material for rare and threatened species where regular in situ protection is no longer possible. Plant collections in Slovenia comprise 11 collections and 3 botanical gardens. As a result of the larger number of animal species, animal collections are more numerous, and there are also some collections of fungi and micro-organisms.
For the preservation of agricultural biodiversity in the field of animal husbandry and agricultural plants, local varieties and breeds of animals and autochthonous plant species are kept in gene banks. The production of traditional and old varieties and species of agricultural plants is falling due to intensification of agriculture which is reflected in reduced genetic diversity and variety. This is the result of the use of smaller numbers of modern varieties intended for intensive production which in most cases are derived from the same source, thus limiting genetic diversity. In recent years, a trend of greater diversification in maize, wheat and potato has been observed – the total number of cultivated varieties has increased since 1997 while the number for other crops has remained unchanged or has been decreasing (KM15).
Table 1: Total number of varieties by groups of crops registered and confirmed for sale
Source: Phytosanitary Administration of the Republic of Slovenia, 2009 (Indicator KM15)
In the area of animal husbandry, ten out of 12 autochthonous breeds of domestic animals are threatened. The pressure of other breeds is being successfully reduced by breeds for which the breeding method recognises the importance of adaptation to natural conditions – including the Carniolan honey bee and Jezersko-Solčava sheep. Nine of 16 existing traditional breeds are also threatened. The situation in regard to threatened breeds has generally been improving due to more intensive expert work in the area of preservation of breeds of domestic animals, the establishment of a gene bank, and the establishment of breeders’ organisations. On the other hand, the situation regarding widely-spread traditional breeds that are not under special protection has been deteriorating. Some of these are unable to resist the pressure of economically more competitive global breeds; therefore their number has been decreasing (KM16).
Figure 2: Changes in the ratio between the number of endangered species and the total number of known species
Figure 3: Population fluctuation of selected wintering species: cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), tufted duck (Aythya fuligula), goosander (Mergus merganser), great white egret (Egretta alba), bean goose (Anser fabalis), lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), (Eurasian) wigeon (Anas penelope), little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis)
Figure 4: Number of breeds by individual species of domestic animals
Protected areas of nature, Natura 2000 sites and areas that qualify for Natura 2000 sites represented in 2009 39.7 % of the Slovene territory.
In Slovenia, 14 901 natural features have the status of valuable natural feature, of which 8 382 are subterranean caves. The total land area of valuable natural features is 2 523 km2,12.45 % of the total land area of the country. Smaller areas predominate; only 337 are larger than 1 km2 (NV04).
Of the total Slovenian territory,12.57 % is within larger protected areas – national, regional, landscape parks – or smaller ones – strict nature reserves, nature reserves and natural monuments – where prescribed protection regimes apply. An important share of these areas is within the Triglav National Park, the only national park in Slovenia. In recent years, protected areas increased particularly due to the establishment of three larger parks (NV02).
Of the territory that is protected, 52.2 % lies within ecologically important areas, 35.5 % within Natura 2000 sites. Since 2008, a further 1.7 % of the territory falls within areas that, according to the European Commission, meet conditions for special protection but have not been designated as protected areas by decree (NV03).
Figure 5: Types of natural values by frequency of occurrence
Figure 6: Total size of different categories of protected areas in Slovenia
Figure 7: Natura 2000 areas
What are the related drivers and pressures?
The main pressures and driving forces are habitat loss, overexploitation and economic activities, invasive alien species and pollution of the environment, which often work together, making the underlying causes of biodiversity loss difficult to determine. The impact of climate changes is also unknown.
The rapid decrease of biodiversity at the global and EU levels, as well as in Slovenia, is caused mainly by human activities.
The value of the Human Development Index (HDI) in Slovenia has been increasing slowly but steadily since 1992, which means that the quality of life or social welfare has been improving. Biodiversity loss is largely related to this development.
Of all mammals occurring in Slovenia, 36 % are threatened. The largest number of mammal species that are threatened are bats – 22 species of which are threatened especially by habitat loss caused by intensive agriculture and loss of refuge or wintering sites due to inappropriate reconstruction of buildings and the closing of caves. Otter is threatened by habitat loss such as regulation of streams and removal of riparian vegetation, by pollution of streams, by accidents and illegal hunting. Brown bear is threatened by habitat fragmentation caused by construction of new roads. Lynx and wolf are also threatened by illegal hunting. Although the bottlenose dolphin is a highly adaptable species, they are disappearing rapidly from many seas around the globe. Sea pollution, collisions with fast boats and entanglement in fishing nets represent a great threat to the existence of this species.
The main pressures and driving forces are generally well known. The factors frequently act together which makes the causes of biodiversity loss even harder to identify:
1. Loss of habitats, where natural ecosystems are turned into cultivated areas or are built on – expansion of inhabited settlements, changes of land-use categories, traffic infrastructure (TP01,KM10) – exerts great pressure on all land mammals including bats and large carnivores.
2. Non-sustainable use of ecosystems and excessive use of biodiversity. Many species are getting rarer and rarer because of excessive exploitation. Some, including the lynx and wolf, are also threatened by illegal hunting.
3. Climate change is a staggering threat and its consequences are already visible.
4. Invasive alien species, which have spread or been carried from their natural habitats, cause difficulties for the indigenous species in their new surroundings because they compete with them for space and food, spread diseases or are predators. Invasive alien species can change habitats, destroy relationships between organisms in ecosystems, and influence the genetic structure of populations. Over the past decade, the share of invasive species has been increasing. This is most obvious along the big rivers: Sava, Mura, Drava, as well as Kolpa. Till now, higher areas of Slovenia, especially the Alps and the Dinaric Mountains, have very few or no invasive species, however, the noticeable increase of the share of invasive species along the western flank of the Dinaric Mountains is worrying. Among alien plant species in Slovenia, several dozen are invasive, for example, Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), eastern daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) and Canadian goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) (NB09).
5. Pollution of ecosystems because of the use of fertilisers and pesticides in intensive farming, discharge of untreated wastewater, regulation of watercourses, etc. may result in the extinction of species such as the otter and marine mammals. Positive trends are seen in the field of nitrogen balance – surplus of nitrogen, more than 80 kg N/ha at the beginning of the 1990s, started to fall after 2000, and now is between 30 and 50 kg N/ha (KM22).
6. Economic activities, including tourism in areas with sensitive ecosystems. Particularly sensitive is the relationship between the great biodiversity of many areas in Slovenia – one of the key components, together with natural beauty, that attracts tourists to Slovenia – and the environmental pressures of tourism, especially on sensitive habitat types such as karst caves and the breeding areas of species sensitive to disturbance (TU02).
Figure 8: Change in the share of invasive species in flora sectors (35 km2) between 1987–1996 and 1997–2006 (red indicates increase, black decrease)
Figure 9: Annual number of visitors to selected natural attractions in Slovenia
What is the 2020 outlook?
Slovenia aims to achieve the planned economic development and the increase in welfare alongside more efficient use of natural capital, nature conservation and improved quality of the living environment.
In accordance with Slovenia's Development Strategy, the country aims to achieve the planned economic development and the increase in welfare in the period 2005-2013 alongside more efficient use of natural capital, nature conservation and improved quality of the living environment.
After 2010, however, a more decisive shift towards the environmental development model of enhanced sustainability and optimal preservation of natural capital will be required, especially due to excessive use of environmental resources, unsustainable – global and local – use of natural resources and unacceptable environmental load per person. In the light of expected technological development and the transition to a more energy-efficient information society, the fundamental development-protection goal in Slovenia is to reduce the current rapid growth of energy consumption at least to the level foreseen in the National Energy Programme, and to stabilise it by 2020-2025.
What are the policy responses?
Establishment of protected areas, ecologically important areas and special protection areas, established information system and a well-functioning system of permits in the area of nature conservation are key measures established in the country level. In the field of rural development, the area of land included in the implementation of agri-environmental measures has been increasing steadily.
In the Presidency Conclusions of the European Council in Göteborg, EU Member State leaders committed themselves in 2001 to halting biodiversity loss by 2010, a goal also confirmed at the global level at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg, 2002).
In Slovenia, one of the most important, and oldest, mechanisms for the preservation of plant and animal species and their habitats has been the designation of protected areas, and after joining the EU, Slovenia also established ecologically important areas and special protection areas (Natura 2000).
As regards wetland conservation, Slovenia signed the Ramsar Convention in 1972. Three Slovenian wetlands that together cover 8 205 ha are on the list of internationally important wetlands – Ramsar sites. In 1993, the first wetland to be included in the list was the Sečovlje Saltpans, followed by Škocjan Caves in 1999 and Cerknica Lake with its surroundings in 2006 (ARSO, 2008).
Based on the systemic Nature Conservation Act, a well-functioning system of permits in the area of nature conservation was established, an indemnity system for proceedings related to damage caused by wildlife species was introduced (NB07), and a system for controlling the import and export of endangered species of wildlife flora and fauna is also operational (CITES convention). Intensive upgrading of information systems for easier operational work is under way and notification and providing information to the public regarding the state, the preparation and the implementation of legislation is also being carried out according to plan.
In the past, agriculture enabled the development of large species and habitat diversity in Slovenia and decisively shaped the cultural landscape. Designation of protected areas is only the first step towards the preservation of traditional farmland habitats, and these will be preserved only if farmers recognise the economic benefits of preserving their existing status. In 2007, the share of agricultural land included in various forms of protection was 25.1 %. Agricultural land covered 19.7 % of protected natural areas while protected areas were mainly covered by forest – 71.2 % (KM06).
High nature value farmland areas are among the most important opportunities for the preservation of biodiversity and the protection of threatened habitats since they are the areas of extensive agriculture and high diversity of species and habitats. Most of the high nature value farmland areas, 20-30 % of the entire territory, are in western and southern Slovenia, especially in hilly and mountainous areas (KM05).
In the Rural Development Programme (2007) for the period 2007-2013 it is planned that by 2013 agro-environmental measures will be implemented on 365 000 ha of utilised agricultural area. The total area included in the implementation of agro-environmental measures has been increasing steadily, covering a total of 328 364 ha in 2007. The largest increase was in the areas where measures to reduce input use and improve soil and water quality were implemented, and the smallest increase was in the areas where mainly measures for the preservation of cultural landscape and biodiversity were implemented. Nevertheless, the latter measures continue, encompassing 49 % of all areas under agro-environmental measures (KM03).
Every year there is a stronger response from farmers to agricultural policy that supports the expansion of organic farming. The area under organic farming increased from 2 400 ha in 1999 to 29 332 ha in 2007, from 0.5 to 5.9% of utilised agricultural area (KM08).
Within the Nature Protection National Programme, more detailed goals are defined: preservation of biodiversity with a programme of measures for the protection of plant and animal species, their habitats and ecosystems; protection of natural values with a programme for the establishment of protected areas and the restoration of valuable natural features; the route to fulfilment of international obligations; education in the area of nature conservation; raising public awareness of the importance of nature conservation; and securing financial resources for implementing nature protection.
In October 2007, Slovenia adopted an Operational Programme – Natura 2000 Management Programme 2007-2013 – aimed at achieving protection goals where protection measures are defined – measures for nature protection, adapted use of natural assets, adapted agricultural practice, water management, and others – to ensure the favourable state of plant and animal species and habitat types. One of the goals is also to increase the share of areas under protection.
With a goal to preserve a favourable state of threatened species of large carnivores and reduce conflicts with humans, a new Action Plan for Brown Bear (Ursus arctos) Management for the period 2007-2011 is being prepared. In September 2009, the Government adopted a Strategy for the Preservation and Sustainable Management of Wolf (Canis lupus) in Slovenia.
The Operational Programme – Strategy for the Management of Invasive Alien Species – is also in preparation. Expansion of invasive alien species is one of the important causes for biodiversity decrease. Therefore, in order to preserve the composition of biocenosis in the most natural state possible, control and prevention of the introduction of any alien species is a key and extremely important measure that will be defined in more detail in the operational programme.
One of the key goals is also to establish a biodiversity monitoring system based on a set of indicators – state, pressures, and responses – that includes improvement of a system for establishing the level of threat to species and habitat types. As well as monitoring the state of biodiversity, the implementation of statutory protection measures should also be monitored since they are necessary for the evaluation of the efficiency of our activities and success in achieving the goals. This is the only way to draw attention to changes in the environment and to adopt professional decisions and new measures. And last but not least, familiarity with the state of biodiversity is a reporting obligation of Slovenia within the EU, other important aspects of monitoring being promotion, awareness raising, and accessibility of data and information.
Figure 10: CITES permits issued
Figure 11: Percentage of protected agricultural land in all agricultural land in Slovenia by types of protected areas
Figure 12: Land area included in agro-environmental schemes