Lake Cerknica is one of the most important Slovenian Karst sights known worldwide. The phenomenon of intermittent (disappearing) Lake Cerknica has become famous worldwide as an area where cattle can graze, farmers can plow fields, catch fish and drive boats in the same place. When the lake is full, it is the largest lake in Slovenia, but then it dries up and reveals its extensive farming land. The factors that threaten the biodiversity of Cerknica lake are modified water courses, abandoning of meadow mowing and deficient knowledge of nature and its conservation,
A project (2007-2009) supported by EU funding (LIFE06NAT/SLO/000069) aimed to restore the unique ecosystem of Lake Cerknica. The main focus was to achieve prolonging the drainage time and holding back the water in the driest summer months. This expected to raise the level of groundwater, particularly close to riverbeds or watercourses, crucial for conserving endangered habitat types and species.
Project partners mapped the lake area to precisely identify the great diversity of habitats present over the 29 km2. Another partner provided complementary watercourse mapping and geological probing, which generated topographical maps, watercourse profiles, and the depth and composition of soil along 12 km of filled watercourses. This vital information enabled the team to draft a Management Plan to guide the project and future watercourse restoration actions. About 260 ha of land were purchased for long term protection of wildlife and conservation of cultural and natural heritage. Unwanted flora (e.g. coppice) was removed. In addition, education of youth on the importance of nature conservation and popularization of the project; presenting the project to school children with educational activities and excursions. The project was highly active in engaging the public, including through information notices in a shopping centre, published materials and lakeside boards. It also conducted nature protection actions with a network of schools and held three summer research camps.
Results and lessons learnt
This project was possible due to a favorable legal setting - Lake Cerknica was included in a European network of nature protection areas Natura 2000. In 2006 it was registered as Ramsar site. In addition, the EU LIFE-Nature funding was a key to implementation of restoration measures. The following lessons can be driven from the case study:
- The public was properly involved and informed about the importance of the project. In addition to books and booklets produced there were more than 250 educational activities with school and kindergarten children.
- The project represents an important step towards a greater recognition of the area and the education of the local inhabitants on the meaning and importance of this unique place. Being the first local community that tried and carried out the buying of farm land for permanent protection, in accordance with the Nature Conservation Act in Slovenia, the Cerknica municipality is an example in the scope of nature protection.
- Managers in other protected areas can look at this project as a sample of good practice in wildlife protection through land acquisition.