In July IFE SAS undertaken research trip to Adriatic island CRES to collect ideas for COEVOLVERS small scale study to be conducted in collaboration with CETIP and island Development Agency OTRA. We met with Ugo Tojć OTRA director and COEVOLVERS advisory board members. Interview with Ugo conducted by Tatiana Kluvankova targets at human-non human role in the success of Nature Based Solutions (NBS) and socio-ecological resilience of this charming Adriatic island. We are happy to share part of it with you.
Can you please introduce examples of successful or unsuccessful NBS in your community?
The island of Cres is located entirely within the ecological network Natura 2000 (HR2001358 – Island of Cres) and represents a very significant reservoir of biodiversity for the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County and the Republic of Croatia. The exceptional biodiversity of the island of Cres is partly the result of the thousand-year interaction between man and nature. Cres has indigenous sheep (Cres sheep). Cres sheep has been breaded since medieval times in open space surrounded by historical handmade stone walls – the way of building them is considered as UNESCO heritage. Extensive sheep farming is particularly significant, under the influence of which the semi-natural habitats of karst pastures were created, which are extremely rich in plant species and occupy almost 30% of the island’s surface. It is a typical example of High Value Nature Farming in which traditional agricultural activities. The most significant habitats that are directly influenced by traditional sheep farming are 62A0 – East – sub-Mediterranean dry grasslands (Scorzoneretalia villosae) which occupies an area of 14,500 ha and 3170 – Mediterranean occasional puddles with a total area of 3 ha.
Nowadays sheep farming is less successful due to aging of population and the unattractiveness of agriculture to the younger generations, in the last few decades there has been an increasing extensification of sheep breeding, a decrease in their number and, consequently, the abandonment and overgrowing of increasingly large areas of pasture with woody vegetation and the loss of biodiversity. Abandonment of traditional sheep farming has been further expanded in the last twenty years due to the large economic damage caused to sheep farmers by wild boars (Sus scrofa) and fallow deer (Dama dama). These are two species that were introduced to the island in the 80s of the last century in order to develop hunting tourism. Soon they escaped from hunting territory. Non-native species are considered invasive when they become frequent in an ecosystem where they did not live before. Overpopulated they escaped fenced hunting areas and expanding over the island, damaging stone fences and population of sheep, becoming threat to the original biological diversity.
Are there any non-humans of importance to the success of failure of the NBS in your context?
Presence of griffon vultures and other bird species, the island of Cres is an integral part of the area “HR1000033 Kvarner Islands”, i.e. a wider area of special protection within the NATURA 2000 network classified in accordance with the Birds Directive. Namely, the largest number of pairs of the last population of griffon vultures (A078 Gyps fulvus) in Croatia are nesting on the cliffs of the island of Cres. There are two ornithological reserves on the island (Kruna and Pod Okladi) where vultures nest. These are carrions whose survival is enabled by the extensive breeding of Cres sheep (today there are around 13,000 heads) given that vultures mainly feed on sheep and lambs that have died in the pasture. Such as there is ecological-social interconnection between griffon and sheep.
Are there any activities that your community do that interact with these species or their living environment? What are these?
We have feeding places. Now we somehow maintain them artificially via rescue programs. We noticed there are ten couples nesting here, more than last years. Few days ago colleague of mine was coming from Orlec to work and he noticed a dead ship, because of a car hit probably. He collected the sheep in his car and called the rescue centre and he said: “I have a sheep”, which means I have food for the birds. And that they came and took this dead sheep. So, the community is not all but is aware of the value and trying to help.
Do these activities influence your relationship with these species or their living environments, and if so do they support/hinder your relationship?
They do in particular strengthen our positive attitude and collaborative manner. Lot of them are dying because of so called electro cushion – when they land to electric pole and touch electric lines, they just get an electric shock. They die. And what we do is in collaboration with distribution electricity system operator, state company. They insulate the poles, so when the birds come, they cannot get in contact with the electricity and this is very systematic approach. We could say this is sort of national effort. If they have to do some intervention on the lines, they try to put the new lines underground. This is sometimes very expensive and sometimes is not financially sustainable, because they are taking the line to provide the electricity to 5 to 7 houses in the middle of the island. Somebody would say who cares about the 7 houses, you have to make a big investment. But they said at the national level they recognize the island of Cres as a sort of priority for nature protection, so they do not bother about economic feasibility, they say ok, let’s do it, just to help the nature protection. This is something that I learned recently that at the national level they care of this area, and I was pleased to hear it.
Do non-humans contribute to improvement of your community? If so, how?
Griffons are symbol of our community, a sort of brand, as well as Cres sheep. Both are integral part of Island economy and resilience.
DO you know any laws, regulations or policy that either support or suppress the non-humans or their environment within your context?
Such as for problem with invasive game animals, wild boar and fallow deer populations, has a direct impact on the management and maintenance Cres habitats, i.e. plant and animal species within the Natura 2000 ecological network. In addition to the indirect pressure on biodiversity, which is manifested through more intensive abandonment of sheep farming and the consequent overgrowth of pastures, the mentioned animals also have a direct impact on the preservation of certain habitats. Also, non-native wild ungulates are a threat to sheep due to interspecies competition (spatial and nutritional overlap), which is especially evident in fallow deer, which causes overgrazing of pastures and drying up of natural puddles. So far, the activities undertaken to remove wild boar and fallow deer from the island have not produced the expected results. The management of the eradication process is left to individual hunting lessees, among whom there is no cooperation and coordination, and in the implementation they use almost exclusively measures from the domain of hunting, which are described in the corresponding hunting management documents.
Until now, the problem has not been approached systematically, with the involvement of the professional and scientific community, either those specialized in the field of hunting, or those specialized in nature protection. The impact of non-native game on the island’s ecosystem and biodiversity is generally neglected and has been expanding. The Government (several ministries that are directly or indirectly in charge of the problem) has changed some laws and thus these species now can “domicile” as autochthonous species thus legalise the introduction of these animals into the Game Management Plan and problem seems to “disappear”.
The future scenarios for the development of sheep breeding on our islands are very pessimistic and predict a significant decline in the number of breeders and bred sheep, abandoning the traditional way of breeding by losing open space area traditionally used for breeding. Moving sheep to closed small fenced areas increase costs and reduces farms to small scale. This will result in the loss of the special identity of Cres sheep and the typical organoleptic properties of Cres lamb. Abandoning the traditional way of breeding sheep will inevitably result in the loss of biodiversity of the island’s flora and fauna and will also negatively affect the possibility of preserving the local population of griffon vultures.
Finally, can you identify most influential features to support long term sustainability transformation at your Island?
In my view these are supportive /collaborative partnerships and policy synergies.
We have new ideas how to green our island. For example to develop green bond system to support nature based solutions for carbon emission eco tax. 30% of total emissions of the archipelago are coming from maritime transport. The biggest part of it are car ferries and catamarans. Why do not you allow people to pay a voluntary emission compensation fee as with air lines? Apparently, the state does not allow to collect such type of eco-tax, even if it is voluntary. Similarly we have an idea to install solar panels on the kindergartens where parents can participate to this investment instead paying the monthly fee for the kindergarten. Thus way we believe we may involve community to energy transformation. New promising idea is organic waste system transformation to energy source. The project partners are communicating with the ministry of finance and tax authority, and for the time being cannot find the mode to do it.
Dr. Tojc has more than 10 years of experience in rural and regional development in particularly with developing and implementing participatory project for Island long term sustainability and is active in design and implementation of EU island sustainability polices. Ugo received Interdisciplinary education in biology and agriculture, followed by 20 years of experience in agro bussiness sector and policy. Has wide international experience and training from Waheningen University ( 1998, 2001) World Bank (1999), Council of Europe (2010, 2015). Since 2011 he acts as consultant and manager for regional and rural development agency, developing and supporting implementation of projects: Island clean energy, landscape study or local development pilot projects.
Picture 2: Gardens (Photo: Iveta Štecová)
Picture 3: Wild pastures (Photo: Tatiana Kluvánková)
Picture 4: Historical dry stone walls (Photo: Tatiana Kluvánková)
Picture 5: Historical dry stone wall and sheep (Photo: Nadir Mavrović)
Picture 6: Dry stone walls meeting in the water pond (Photo: Nadir Mavrović)
Picture 7: Dry stone walls (Photo: Nadir Mavrović)
Picture 8: Olive groves and olive harvesting (Photo: Ugo Toić, Frantisek Zvardon)
Picture 9: Gyps fulvus (Photo: zastita-prirode.hr)