Slovenian Cases

Rehabilitation and Restoration of the Skocjan Inlet

an example of successful public participation that stopped degradation of a unique ecosystem and facilitated its restoration into a nature reserve

Key words:
ecological tourism
educational tourism
public participation

Nature reserve Skocjan inlet lies on the north part of the Adriatic coast at the city of Koper, and it represents the left-over from the sea that once surrounded the city. It is one of the important sites for migratory birds in the network of coastal Mediterranean wetlands in the North Adriatic.

Formation of the Skocjan Inlet
The hystoric town of Koper used to be an island connected to the mainland by salt-pans. The construction of a 900 meters long dyke, stretching from the town of Koper to the spring of the Rižana River, turned the Skocjan bay into a lagoon that covered 230 ha of water surface. Two small rivers flowing into the lagoon and an open exit to the sea provided for water exchange and for sufficient oxygen levels to allow rich bioproduction and a diverse flora and fauna.

The Skocjan Inlet Nature Reserve consists of two parts, Bertoška bonifika as the freshwater part of the Reserve, and the brackish lagoon with its shallows and mudflats. It is a large unfrozen water area for wintering of waterfowl and it remains of great ecological importance throughout the year. In therms of biodiversity, the area provides habitats for 41% of all Slovene amphibian species, 41% of all Slovene reptile species, 55% of all species of birds observed in Slovenia, and 36% of all mammal species living in Slovenia. This diversity of animal and plant species is facilitated by different depths of the lagoon, and high diversity of habitats such as marshy meadows, shoals, pools, rivers etc. The Skocjan Inlet is important on the international level as a European rest-stop for migrating birds and as a suitable location for wintering, feeding, breeding or moulting.

By changing the flow of the Badasevica river into the Koper Bay in the 80s and by closing the left discharge stream of the Rizana river, the Skocjan Inlet was left without the sources of fresh water. Later on, the Port of Koper started to dry the lagoon with 286 thousand cubic metres of sludge, which spread over the entire lagoon and destroyed the original bottom. The number of bird species and of individual birds fell drastically. Today, the natural reserve area is to a large extent degraded, human interventions over the last decades has drastically reduced the size and the volume of water surfaces. The lagoon is too shallow and has only very limited water exchange and water in-flow.


Implemented activities
In order to prevent further destruction of this outstanding living environment the experts and NGO's, among them the Bird Watching and Bird Study Association of Slovenia (DOPPS), launched a wide campaign in 1993 for the conservation and restoration of the lagoon. In that same year, Slovenia adopted a decree temporarily investing the Skocjan Inlet with the status of a natural feature, and in 1998 the Act on the protection of the Skocjan Inlet nature reserve was adopted by the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. In 1999, a five year (1999 - 2003) action plan titled the Programme for the protection and development of the Skocjan Inlet nature reserve was approved by the Slovenian government, while in 2002 the same institution issued the regulation plan for rehabilitation and restoration of the natural reservation Skocjan Inlet. The main restoration works started at the end of 2004 and should finish by the end of the year 2005. In April 2004, the Slovenian government adopted international act of Special Protection Areas – Natura 2000, which includes also the Natural reservation Skocjan Inlet. This way Slovenia adopted all the necessary legislation for the conservation and restoration of the Skocjan Inlet.

The Skocjan Inlet nature reserve is a good example of combining the goals for protection of sensitive habitats with the goals of ecological, aducational and scietific tourism.


Rehabilitation and restoration
A freshwater marsh and a deep water area with small wooded islets will be created as a substitute for the degraded wetland areas of the Badasevica river outlet providing good feeding sites and resting grounds, as well as potential nesting areas for various bird species. After the nesting period is over, the wet meadows are to be mowed or grazed by the Istrian cattle.

The most demanding task of the restoration project is the enhancement and rehabilitation of the brackish lagoon, which has largely lost its original character due to years of filling with mud. Re-establishment of the inflow of the Rižana and Badaševica rivers and the deepening of the central part of the lagoon will cause both the volume of the lagoon and the freshwater inflow to increase, thus enabling fresh and saline waters in the lagoon to mix and, at the same time, create favourable living conditions for animals and plants alike. In the lagoon a series of small nesting islets shall be formed and intended primarily for birds nesting in colonies.

The area shall be open to public. A circular interpretation path with well-equipped observation sites and Information Center will provide the basic infrastructure for development of educational and scientific tourism.

Who, Where, When
The wide campaign run by experts and NGOs has contributed to gaining a positive public opinion on the matter and to raising the public awareness. This helped put through the timely proclamation of the Skocjan Inlet as a natural reserve and prompted the activities for its restoration. The Skocjan Inlet nature reserve is now managed by an NGO, Društvo za opazovanje in proucevanje ptic Slovenije -DOPPS (Bird Watching and Bird Study Association of Slovenia).

Further information

The destruction of wetlands can represent a serious loss of natural wealth and bring about the downfall of a large number of animal and plant species. Gainning a positive public opinion on the matter and raising the public awareness are the keys to their restoration.


Is public awareness important in preservation of wetlands?


Prepared by:
IIDE – Institute for Integral Development and Environment (Marta Vahtar, Maja Zdesar and Miran Rusjan)