In Slovenia, a lack of appropriate management over the last 50 years has led to wetland loss and degradation. During this period many wetland areas were modified and drainage systems were constructed, especially for agricultural land and forests. Between 1973 and 1991, more than 70 000 ha of lowlands were drained. In addition, flood control schemes have canalised natural meandering streams and restricted naturally fast-flowing waters. Agricultural intensification has been the main anthropogenic factor causing wetland loss and degradation throughout Slovenia. Official figures show a decrease of almost 40% (1 282 ha) between 1950 and 1992 in reed beds, marshes and ponds. Slovenian wetlands have also been adversely affected by indirect impacts ? industrial development, urbanisation, the introduction of alien species and disturbance by the expansion of tourism and recreation.
The overall goal of the WETMAN project was to re-establish a favourable conservation status for eight targeted freshwater habitats and six wetland habitat SCIs. The project sites ? Pohorje, Zelenci, Vrhe, Planik, Gornji kal and Mura-Peti?ovci ? contain different types of wetlands, all of which have suffered from a lack of appropriate management.
The WETMAN project involved a collaboration between ZRSVN and sectorial partners (water, fisheries and forestry), two municipalities (Ru?e and Kranjska Gora) and Radi-television Slovenia. It made considerable progress in addressing the main conservation threats to the Slovene wetlands, namely disrupted hydrology and consequent extensive overgrowth. Best practice examples for revitalisation of active raised bogs, fens, mires, oxbow lakes, wet meadows and ponds were demonstrated in the six pilot areas (Pohorje bogs, Zelenci, Gornji kal, Planik, Vrhe and Mura oxbow lakes). At all pilot areas, the structure of 7 targeted habitat types was restored or improved, and the habitats of 8 targeted species were re-established or revitalised. The results of the monitoring activities showed improved hydrological status and signs of increased biodiversity in all targeted areas.
Hydrological conditions were revitalised and improved on nearly 200 ha in total, through the construction of 111 dykes and a 100 m long gravel barrier, the digging of 6 water holes, and the restoration of 3 ponds and 2 oxbow lakes. Extensive overgrowth was removed over 25 ha of Slovene wetlands. These actions are helping to increase biodiversity in targeted wetland habitats.
The construction of 1 703 m of wooden footpaths, along with fencing, has prevented habitat destruction and disturbance, especially to protect targeted bird species (Tetrao tetrix and Tetrao urogallos) on the most important active raised bog complex in Slovenia ? Pohorje. The monitoring of visitor numbers using remote infra-red devices helped identify the most used paths and helped plan routes to protect the most vulnerable areas. The hydrological condition, and consequently the habitat of Liparis loeselii, on two other Natura 2000 network sites were significantly improved. The habitat and population genetics of Emys orbicularis were improved at an important Natura 2000 network site in Bela Krajina.
Awareness regarding the importance of wetlands was raised among all key stakeholders (landowners, local communities, local and national authorities, mountaineering clubs, hunting and tourist associations, Slovene army, schoolchildren and students, NGOs and the general public). In total, 1 182 volunteer working days helped implement the project. The project was featured in national and local newspapers and magazines, as well as on Slovenian National Television. Awareness-raising activities, along with the construction of footpaths and the restoration of an observation tower, are likely to help the local economy through tourism.
The project developed an ?on-site management? approach for Nature 2000 network site management, along with a supporting national database. The long-term management of Natura 2000 sites over 4 439 ha was assured, with the incorporation of the ?Nature conservation guidelines for pilot area management? into sectorial plans (forestry, hunting and fishery) according to the ?Operational Program ? Program of Management of Natura 2000 sites in Slovenia?. This provides a good demonstrative for management in other Slovenian Natura 2000 sites.
The removal of invasive fish species, in particular Wels catfish (Silurus glanis), also proved to be more complicated that initially expected; for instance, as the oxbows are not yet permanently separated from the main river, invasive species can return during flash floods. It was concluded that the most effective measure for the reduction of invasive and alien fish species was regular angling by sports fishermen. Therefore the project organised fishing competitions and worked to prohibit the introduction of alien fish species into the targeted wetlands through fish management plans.
The project established an integral systematic approach for freshwater wetlands management in the Republic of Slovenia through the involvement of responsible sectors. The participation of all stakeholders from the beginning helped build trust and was instrumental to the project?s success. The WETMAN project?s approaches to improving conservation status and its methodologies for the revitalisation to wetland hydrology (e.g. restoring oxbow lakes and ponds, overgrowth removal, and construction of dykes) can serve as a template for other European projects, even those implemented over larger areas.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).