The project objective is to restore the watercourse Stržen to its former double meander, which will contribute to longer water retention time on Cerknica Lake. We will establish a quiet zone for bittern and build guiding infrastructure for visitors. Our goal is to conserve the nature of Cerknica Lake and encourage the development of sustainable tourism. We will educate tourism providers on nature-friendly ways of guiding, which won’t be disturbing for nature or for local people.
Actions A: Preparatory actions, elaborations of management plans and/or of action plans
A1 - Habitat assessment of Botaurus stellaris as a baseline for quiet zone planning
DOPPS – Birdlife Slovenia is responsible for the execution of this preparatory action. We will track the bittern’s movement and examine in which areas of Cerknica Lake it prefers to move. We will assess certain habitat traits of that area in detail, thus determining its optimal habitat. Based on the acquired data we will design a plan for arranging its nesting area and develop guidelines for the management of the quiet zone for bittern. The main activity of this action is catching one specimen of the bittern, which will be equipped with a GPS tracker.
A2 - Establishment plan and guidelines for the quiet zone for Botaurus stellaris
Based on the data on the bittern’s habitat, acquired in the scope of action A1, DOPPS – Birdlife Slovenia will design a detailed plan for the establishment of a quiet zone for bittern and prepare guidelines for long-term management of this area. We will be aided by the experiences of two other LIFE projects that focused on the conservation of the bittern.
A3 - Plans for diverting visitors away from the quiet zone for Botaurus stellaris
In the scope of this action we will design architectural plans for infrastructure, such as an entry-exit point for vessels and ten guiding-interpretation points, which will lead to a bird observatory with a view of the central part of Cerknica Lake and the restored watercourse Stržen. This infrastructure will be equipped with signs, which will inform the visitors about the project, the significance of the area, important animal and plant species, as well as the problem of inappropriate behaviour in nature, rules for boating etc.
A4 - Visual identity (corporate design), process plan and communication plan of the project
In the scope of this action we will develop a visual identity (corporate design), a process plan, which will contain a detailed plan of the project management, and a communication plan, which will be based on the project’s awareness-raising activities.
Actions B: Purchase/lease of land and/or compensation payments for use rights
Actions C: Conservation actions
C1 - Preparation works for the restoration of Stržen
A key project activity is the restoration of the lower part of watercourse Stržen, which lies beneath the outflow of the stream Lipsenjščica. The former double meander of Stržen will be reactivated. The filled-up double meander is between 15 and 20 meters wide and 2,1 km long, whereas the current straight channel is 0,6 km long and 12 to 15 meters wide. During the preparation works we will prepare and organize the construction site, mark the restoration route, cut dead trees etc.
C2 - Fish removal from watercourse Stržen in the area of construction works
On the upper and lower part of the section, where the construction works will be carried out, two fish nets will be placed in order to prevent access of fish to the construction site. The Fisheries Research Institute of Slovenia will capture the fish that will be caught between the two nets and relocate them to the upper part of the stream in order to preserve as much fish as possible. The Fisheries Institute will be aided by Notranjska Regional Park, Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for Nature Conservation and the Cerknica Angling Club. After the construction works are done, The Fisheries Research Institute will remove the fish nets.
C3 - Stržen restoration – construction works
Once the preparation works are done and the fish have been caught and removed to safety, construction works on the watercourse Stržen will begin. This intervention will be incredibly challenging. Due to the great amount of excavated materials, complexity of the terrain, sensitive ecosystem and because works can only be carried out during the dry period, an excellent organization is required for a successful intervention in the riverbed. In the scope of the construction works we will excavate soil from the filled-up former meanders and redirect the water into the newly-dug riverbed. The current regulated channel will be filled with the excavated material.
C4 - Stržen restoration – final construction works
In the scope of final construction works we will replant the riverine and marsh vegetation and remove all the containers and temporary roads, which will be set up during the construction phase of the restoration of Stržen.
C5 - Establishment of a quiet zone for Botaurus stellaris
On Cerknica Lake, the bittern inhabits the immediate vicinity of the area where the restoration will take place. Its habitat is bound to aquatic and wetland habitats. In the scope of action C5 we will establish a quiet zone, thereby increasing the suitable habitat for this globally endangered species by at least 100 ha. By conserving the bittern, we are also improving the conservation status of other qualifying birds, inhabiting the reedbeds and similar wetland plants communities.
C6 - Establishment of infrastructure for diverting visitors away from the most sensitive parts of the project area
In the scope of this action, Notranjska Regional Park will select external assistance, who will set up guiding infrastructure in the project area, based on the architectural plans designed in the framework of action A3. This will reduce the pressure of visitors to the most sensitive areas of Cerknica Lake and the quiet zone.
The infrastructure will consist of:
- Entry-exit point for vessels with notice and interpretation boards;
- Ten guiding-interpretation points with interpretation boards;
- Bird observation infrastructure with interpretation boards.
The interpretation boards will inform visitors about the navigation regime on the lake, important animal species and the importance of conserving habitat types, as well as about the LIFE financial mechanism. The bird observatory will be equipped with two telescopes.
C7 - Activities for diverting visitors away from the most sensitive parts of the protected area
The first step towards eliminating the threat of visitors disturbing the most sensitive parts of Natura 2000 areas and the quiet zone for bittern is to set up basic infrastructure. Additionally, we will establish active communication with visitors to the area and supervision over the implementation of tourist activities. Our priority will be communicating with the visitors who deliberately and knowingly break the rules of the protected area. At first, we will only communicate with them, in the case of further violations, however, we will introduce special supervision and sanctions by the Inter-Municipal Supervisors and the Police. Lastly, by organizing interactive workshops, we will raise awareness and educate tour guides in the protected area. We will offer them support at designing nature-friendly ways of guiding tourists.
Actions D: Monitoring the impact of project actions
D1 - Monitoring the impact of the project
- Improvement of hydro-morphological traits of the restored area (length of the watercourse and water retention time at low water levels). These traits will show the success of actions C1, C2, C3 and C4. They will be measured before and after the restoration. It is expected that the length of the watercourse will increase by 1,5 km and the water retention time will be 20 days longer than before the restoration.
- Nesting of Botaurus stellaris in the quiet zone will show the success of action C5. DOPPS – Birdlife Slovenia will regularly monitor the population of bittern on Cerknica Lake during nesting season. We expect that the bittern’s habitat will enlarge and improve on the surface of 100 ha. This will have a positive impact on other species of nesting birds as well.
- Decreased visitor pressure to the most sensitive parts of the project area will be an indicator for the success of project action C7 – the establishment of guiding infrastructure.
D2 - Assessment of socio-economic impacts of the project on local population and their economy
Cerknica Lake is known for its rich biodiversity and exceptional ecosystems, which bring many benefits and development opportunities for society and the economy. In addition to natural resources and ecosystem processes that this area offers, conserved nature and its uniqueness bring opportunities for the development of sustainable tourism and recreation. Services that take advantage of these natural resources, however, are relatively rare on Cerknica Lake. Some practices offered by tourist providers are even undesirable. Notranjska Regional Park will carry out an assessment of the socio-economic impacts of the project. The study will be used to point out concrete opportunities that conserved nature provides to the locals and the economy. The baseline data for the assessment will be acquired based on the survey of 500 visitors to the protected area of Cerknica Lake. The survey will be conducted on entry points to the area in all four seasons.
D3 - Assessment of the ecosystem function restoration
Any physical interference with nature firstly means local environmental degradation. By excavating the former meanders of Stržen and filling the regulated straight channel we will heavily influence on the aquatic and wetland ecosystems. This is why it is necessary to monitor the restoration of such a degraded environment and show the trend of pursuing the long-term goal of the project, which is the improvement of the conservation status of target species and habitat types, as well as restoration of water, riparian and wetland ecosystems. Ecosystem functions will be assessed before, immediately after the construction works and in the last year of the project. They will be monitored in the project area in two parts:
- Restoration of the water and riparian ecosystems
The assessment will consist of:
- sampling the fish communities (downstream and upstream of restoration section),
- sampling of benthic invertebrates and
- sampling of riparian vegetation.
- Restoration of wetland ecosystem
The assessment of the wetland ecosystem will consist of monitoring selected bird species and their habitats in the area of the quiet zone.
Action E: Public awareness and dissemination of results
E1 - Project promotion and awareness raising
With the goal of ensuring the success of the project and to provide the interested public with an insight into our activities, we will establish a website, where we will regularly publish the latest news. The content will be available in both Slovenian and English. At the end of the project we will prepare a Layman’s report for locals and the general public in which we will present the goals and achievements of the project.
Additionally, we will establish an internet portal and smartphone application which will encourage users to enter data on bird spotting on Cerknica Lake. This way, an internet database of birds on Cerknica Lake will be developed. Using the portal will be simple and user-friendly.
The locals will be regularly informed about project activities through local and national media, as well as a blog and four short presentation films.
E2 - Networking and dissemination of project results
In the scope of this action, we will get in contact with coordinating partners of LIFE projects, similar to LIFE STRŽEN, and actively disseminate the project results. We will visit various protected areas and organizations dealing with nature conservation and working on LIFE projects. This will open new opportunities for further international cooperation in the field of nature conservation and ensuring favourable conditions for endangered species. Through this cooperation and exchange of information based on good practices, the effectiveness of executing project activities will increase as well. During the implementation of our project we will be aided by past project experiences of other organizations. In order to transfer examples of good practice active participation in conferences or other similar events is foreseen in the scope of this action as well.
E3 - Awareness raising among the locals
It is crucial for the successful implementation of the project that the locals are regularly informed about activities, being implemented in the scope of the project. We will inform them through Information Bulletins, which will be published twice a year and will be distributed among the households. An electronic version of the Bulletin will be published on our website as well. The Bulletins will contain key project information. LIFE STRŽEN will also be presented at the annual event “Notranjska Park Days” in May. We will describe the course of the project in detail and show the significance of LIFE projects regarding the complexity of nature conservation. On this event we will highlight the locals who supported our project during the preparation phase and helped us with its implementation. Additionally, we will prepare an exhibition of children’s artwork we will receive for the creative competition. In the scope of project LIFE STRŽEN, Notranjska Regional Park will offer nature science field trips for schools and organize creative contests for schools and kindergartens and two nature conservation camps for youth.
Action F: Project management
F1 - Project management
This action is focused on administration, financial management and execution of the project. Efficient project management is crucial for its successful implementation. All participating partners have experience with leading European or national projects. They have also already participated or are currently participating in other LIFE projects. They are familiar with the strict rules of financial and administrative management and the responsibility for executing project activities.
The project manager is in charge of providing support and supervising the execution of activities by all partners, as well as coordinating joint activities. The manager has an overview of finances, all documentation and the schedule for the implementation of activities of all partner. Project coordinators are responsible for coordinating and executing project activities of each individual partner. They manage the work of the project team within their organization. Expert and technical workers are responsible for the execution of the project as well.
F2 - Project Council of Stakeholders
A good, detailed knowledge of key stakeholders about project activities and finances is crucial for the successful execution of the project. It is also important for management to get feedback from the field, from different publics. To this end, a Council of Stakeholders will be set up in the scope of this action. It will include representatives of key stakeholders from the local environment, experts, and representatives of project partners.
The council members are:
- the project manager and the director of Notranjska Regional Park,
- coordinators of project partners,
- Mayor of the Municipality of Cerknica,
- president of the Cerknica Angling Club,
- president of the Hunting Fraternity Cerknica,
- three representatives of tourism providers or local enterprises,
- representatives of three local agrarian societies,
- representatives of two political parties.
The national LIFE contact point and the monitor of project LIFE STRŽEN will be invited to participate in the project council of stakeholders as well.
F3 - Audit
An independent financial auditor will verify the final statement of the reported project expenditures and revenues in the final financial report. The auditor will verify compliance with national legislation and accounting standards and verify the adequacy of project costs in accordance with the signed Grant Agreement and General Provisions. The auditor will additionally verify sources of project funding and possible double co-financing of activities from other European financial instruments. The auditor’s work will be carried out in accordance with the guidelines of the European Commission and will be written in the appropriate format.
F4 - LIFE after LIFE
Our goal is to maintain the achieved results even after the end of the project. In the last months of the project, we will therefore prepare a LIFE Conservation Plan (LIFE after LIFE). This is an important document outlining starting points for further work in the field of nature conservation and protection in the area of Cerknica Lake. All project partners will be involved in the preparation of the LIFE Conservation Plan. It will define in detail all activities that will continue after the completion of the project. The description of each activity will include the responsible institution, the modes of execution and the amount of work. It will be available in English and Slovenian versions.