Kras's biodiversity at risk due to afforestation

Divača, 24 October - Kras, a region in the south-west known for meadows and pastures in the past, is overgrowing rapidly and is thus at risk of losing its biodiversity, including some animal species, said experts gathered at a conference organised by the Škocjan Cave Park on Tuesday. They urged joint efforts to preserve grasslands and thus biodiversity.

"Kras is losing its identity... Afforestation means primarily a major decrease in biodiversity," the park's director Stojan Ščuka said in the introduction to the conference.

He believes this is a "complex problem" affecting people, as they are at risk of wildfires, can no longer use land they way they used to, while farming jobs are also at stake.

While only 20% of Kras was covered with forests in 1960, forests now cover as much as 75% of the Kras lands included in Natura 2000 area.

Counting as forests are also areas that used to be commons, meadows amid forests, because they can no longer be cultivated as pastures and meadows due to their Natura 2000 protection status, explained Borut Kokalj from the park.

"Kras has completely changed its appearance, from an extremely mosaic-like grassland landscape to a totally forested landscape in less than a century," he said.

Some of the species typical of Kras, including some of those Slovenia has committed to protect, are critically endangered.

"That's why we're looking for solutions in the laws that restrict ... our work to restore to Kras the Kras identity," said Kokalj.

He deemed various forestation campaigns as dangerous for Kras, because they introduce forests where they were not present in the past.

Primož Kmecl from BirdLife Slovenia said they want to reintroduce grassland and special approaches to its cultivation to preserve as many critically endangered animal species as possible.

He is convinced that some of the species will definitely disappear. "Some bird species have been disappearing from dry Kras meadows. One such example is the ortolan (Emberiza hortulana), which has been in steep decline."

The conference urged experts to join forces to preserve Kras's biodiversity, while highlighting some measures Italy introduced to protect Kras on its side of the border.