As 2017 is coming to an end, we at the ECO KARST project are summarizing our first achievements and reflecting on past events.

The project implementation officially started on January 1, 2017. Our starting point was Ljubljana in Slovenia, where we launched the project in March, 2017. As expected, on this occasion we presented the ECO KARST project and other related EU-funded projects to major stakeholders and general public. Besides project partners, representatives of Danube Transnational Programme, Slovenian Forest Services, Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for Nature Conservation, Slovenian Forestry Institute also participated in the kick-off meeting.

In between the regular ECO KARST activities, our pilot area Kalkalpen National Park celebrated their 20th anniversary in a unique way: 5.400 hectares of Kalkalpen National Park were declared as a UNESCO world heritage, becoming the first and only Austrian world natural heritage!

It didn't took us too long and the project team together with stakeholders from 9 different countries visited the first and only Austrian world natural heritage - Kalkalpen National Park. Around 60 participants had a chance to learn more about the management and biodiversity of Kalkalpen National Park, visiting both Southern and Western part of the park. The most interesting part of the study tour was definitely the extraordinary red deer observation tour in Bodinggraben valley. Some of the participants were lucky enough to see the red deer!

"The Austrian National Park Kalkalpen demonstrated a very good visitor management approach. A concentration of visitors on buffer zones and a few non-restricted areas of the protected zone supports a holistic protection strategy and preserves the high quality of the habitats. The close collaboration with the park communities and riparian communities is focusing on the important balance between protection and economic development of the natural and cultural heritage and resources." (quote by Udo Gattenlöhner, Global Nature Fund)

Our last mutual activity in the first project year happened in Samobor, Croatia. Here we made our first significant steps in the process of Mapping and Assessment of of Ecosystem services in pilot areas. Using their preliminary data and guidance documents developed by experts from the Centre for Ecological Research in Hungary, pilot area representatives managed to identify and prioritize the most important condition aspects and services within the pilot areas. All pilots were able to formulate relevant ecosystem services related challenges and opportunities. The findings and conclusions from this training will be very useful at a later stage of the project, during the Action Plan development. The training also included a field trip to the Nature Park ┼Żumberak-Samoborsko gorje.

 "This field trip into the ┼Żumberak Nature park addressed important questions of current and future landscape development, i.e. which ecosystem services exist today and how they may change in future. We saw examples of degrading cultural landscapes (orchards, pastures, vineyards) where protected area managers need to reflect internally but also with relevant stakeholders the priorities for local habitat and landscape development, such as maintenance and restoration via low-intensity farming or re-wilding via natural processes. This is a typical challenge for most karst parks in South-eastern Europe." (quote by Alexander Zinke)

Our first mutual activity in 2018 will be the Third Steering Committee Meeting. This time, project partners from the Bukk National Park (Hungary) will be our hosts. Looking forward to all future activities on the ECO KARST project and wishing you a happy and successful New Year! 

Programme co-funded by European Union funds (ERDF, IPA, ENI)