STA, 11 February 2020 - Last week's windstorms caused extensive damage to Slovenia's forests - some 100,000 m3 of trees were felled, according to initial estimates. Due to a risk of bark beetle infestation, the authorities have urged the tree clean-up and removal to be carried out as soon as possible using precautionary measures.
Agriculture Minister Aleksandra Pivec visited on Tuesday forest areas near Kranj in north-western Slovenia where the damage was most severe. In the Gorenjska region, some 70,000 m3 of trees were uprooted.
Pivec said that Monday's storm, which hit the north-east the most, had not been as damaging as last week's. However, in Slovenjska Bistrica the wind was uncovering roofs of more than 70 facilities, mostly apartment buildings and houses.
The minister pointed out that there had been two fatal accidents during work in forests recently, urging people to exercise extra caution and call clean-up services if they are not equipped or trained to do the work themselves.
The clean-up efforts should be sped up since the coming spring will potentially give rise to another bark beetle outbreak, with felled trees being the ideal hotspot for the development of the pest. Pivec called on forest owners to tap into EU funds for forest renewal.
The final estimates of the damage will be known in a week or two since the damage is scattered across the country. Slovenia has been quite lucky in seeing the best-case scenario given the severity of the storm, said Damjan Oražem, the head of the Forest Service.
STA, 4 February 2020 - Efforts to revive the small and heavily inbred population of lynx in Slovenia appear to be paying off as a lynx kitten has recently been captured and tagged, the descendant of a male that had been brought from Romania to diversify the population's gene pool.
Named Mala (tiny), the female kitten has been shown by genetic tests to be the descendant of Goru, one of two males captured in the Carpathian mountains that were relocated to Slovenia last year, and Teja, a female that is part of Slovenia's tiny population of the wild cats estimated to number just a dozen or so animals.
Goru had entered Teja's territory soon after he was released into the wild last May and researchers have been able to determine based on their GPS collars that the animals bred in early June.
The kitten was born in August and collared in January to improve her chances of survival after she is weaned.
"The GPS collar will allow colleagues to provide Mala with supplementary food to help her survive the critical months until full independence," said Hubert Potočnik, a researcher from the Ljubljana Biotechnical Faculty who is working on the Life Lynx project.
While researchers keep an eye on the kitten, preparations have already been launched for the relocation of additional lynx from Romania.
Two more animals have recently been captured in Romania and are to be resettled soon. The plan is to introduce a total of 14 animals from Romania to the shared Slovenian-Croatian lynx population over the course of several years, the Slovenia Forest Service said.
STA, 30 January 2020 - Slovenia's most polluted cities are located in the east of the country, with air quality improving compared to the situation half a century ago, shows a survey by the National Institute of Public Health. However, air pollution is still the key environmental factor affecting health and premature mortality rates, the newspaper Delo reports Thursday.
The air in Celje and Zagorje in the east, and Murska Sobota in the north-east is found to be the most polluted in Slovenia in terms of particle pollution. The daily concentration of dust particles in these cities exceeds the statutory limit more than 35 times per year.
Excessive particle pollution was also recorded in Maribor, as well as Hrastnik and Trbovlje which, like Zagorje, are situated in the industry-heavy Zasavje region, shows the survey on Slovenians' mortality rates in cities plagued by particle pollution.
Poor air quality has a significant detrimental effect on cardiovascular disease, according to the National Institute of Public Health. Between 2016 and 2018, when the study was conducted, almost 1,000 people died from pollution-related causes, accounting for almost 25% of all deaths in the cities in the study.
Up to 70 cardiac patients per year die due to air pollution health ramifications in Ljubljana, while in Celje citizens were exposed to excessive levels of PM10 particles in the air for almost a month and a half in total last year.
Due to air pollution, aggravated by traffic and, most notably, household emissions, Slovenia records 1,700 cases of premature deaths, shows the Environment Agency data.
In 1920, thirteen individuals and experts of the Section for Conservation of Nature at the Museum Society of Ljubljana presented the so called Spomenica (memorandum), a call for systemic environmental protection. Spomenica was presented in four main points to the Slovenian provincial government of the then Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
At its anniversary, the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning published the four proposals of the Memorandum and provided a historic and current context for each of them:
About 100 years ago: The Alpine Conservation Park was established in the Triglav Lakes Valley in 1924. Before that, part of the old Kočevje forests on the Auersperg estate were excluded from economic exploitation in 1888.
Today: At this point, all requirements have been met and even exceeded. Triglav National Park was established for the protection of that part of the Alps. The valley of the Triglav Lakes has been protected continuously from 1961 until today as part of the Triglav National Park, and especially as a natural monument of the Triglav Lakes Valley. As such it stands as a symbol of Slovenian environmental protection.
Today, the Slovenian natural environment is protected by one national park, three regional parks, 49 natural landscape parks, 56 nature reserves and 1,164 natural monuments, which together comprise 13 percent of the Slovenian territory.
Since 2011, Slovenia's natural parks have been integrated into the Slovenian Community of Parks, which is governed by fifteen protected area managers related by a common interest in nature conservation and preservation of the balance between effective environmental protection and cultural heritage through various activities. The Slovenian Community of Parks consists of: Triglav National Park, Kozjansko Regional Park, Notranjska Regional Park, Skocjan Caves Regional Park, Debeli rtic Landscape Park, Goričko Landscape Park, Kolpa Landscape Park, Ljubljansko Barje Landscape Park, Logarska Valley Landscape Park, Pivka Intermittent Lakes Landscape Park , Radensko Polje Landscape Park, Sečovlje Saltpans Landscape Park, Strunjan Landscape Park, Tivoli Landscape Park, Rožnik and Šišenski hrib, Skocjanski zatok Nature Reserve and Ormož Lagoon Nature Reserve.
About 100 years ago: The trend for the protection of species in Slovenia began with the protection of Planika (Edelweiss) in 1896, and in 1910 the Law on Protection of Useful Birds was adopted. By the time when Spomenica was introduced, some species were already protected by the Fisheries Act and the Hunting Act. An explicit request for the protection of 68 species was made in Spomenica. Among them, there were 13 species of plants, 22 species of birds, all species of reptiles (22 species) and toads (two species) and four insect species: the Alpine longhorn beetle and Carabus gigas (orjaški krešič), Mountain Apollo butterfly and Carniolan bee. Protection of the bear, reindeer, Alpine ibex, chamois and Alpine marmot was also required.
Today: About 19,000 animal and 4,000 plant species live in Slovenia, of which more than 2,000 species are listed as endangered. A government decree protects almost all plant and animal species cited by Spomenica and many others that are endangered. Among others, almost all species of amphibians, reptiles, birds, all bats, all large carnivores, cave bugs, all kinds of beetles and butterflies above the tree line are protected. More than 200 animal and more than 20 plant species are protected within the Natura 2000 network.
100 years ago: At the beginning of the previous century, the exploitation of cave fauna for profit was common. Spomenica points out that "various foreigners came and systematically terminated cave fauna". It proposes that caves be owned by the state and that entry into caves be controlled.
Today: All underground caves have been owned by the state since 2004. With regard to the rules of entry, they are divided into open caves with free entry, open caves with controlled entry and closed caves, which, due to their vulnerability, are only exceptionally accessible for scientific purposes with permission and under professional supervision.
All types of cave bugs are protected, and the law prohibits hunting, killing and removing from caves any animals that live or occasionally stay in them. Nonetheless, examples of poaching and trafficking of cave animals still occur.
Waste and sewage pollution of the cave world is slowly improving due to mandatory treatment of waste water and the compliance with the prescribed standards of agricultural fertilization.
Environmental protection is communicated by the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning, the Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for Nature Conservation and the managers of protected areas. A range of activities are carried out by non-governmental organizations from different nature protection fields – be it those who deal with groups of species or those that deal with areas. Important contributors to the dissemination of knowledge are also the media and their reports.
Although pressures on the environment today are higher than ever and biodiversity is on decline globally, and in Slovenia, the country ranks among the top in the world according to its nature preservation endeavours.
In an opinion poll on Natura 2000, conducted by Parsifal in Slovenia in 2019, more than 80% of Slovenian respondents are prepared to avoid visiting a certain area, adapt the use of fertilizers, remove invasive alien species or not cut in a part of the forest, or cut certain trees, in order to protect nature (Parsifal, 2019).
That conservation of nature is one of the fundamental national values, as also proven by the high ranking of Slovenia in various international lists. Yale University ranked Slovenia as the fifth greenest country in the world, and National Geographic as the greenest country in the world. Slovenia also ranks fourth in the Legatum Prosperity Index in the environmental category.
Today, 56.9% of the sea and land of the Republic of Slovenia is under nature protection measures; in the European Union Slovenia ranks first by the share of Natura 2000 (network of nature protections areas in the EU) protected areas in the country, which amounts to over 37%.
STA, 22 January 2020 - Slovenia has sought to convince the European Commission to loosen rules on the protection of large carnivores when populations of the animals are booming, but EU officials appear to have poured cold water on the idea at a meeting at the Environment Ministry this week.
The Brussels officials said the key goal of European policies was cohabitation with large carnivores, which means prioritising protective measures and paying out compensation in the event of livestock loss.
"The extreme measure in the event protective measures are not working is culling, provided ... that the favourable state of the population is being maintained and does not worsen," the ministry said in a press release on Wednesday.
It is the job of the state to strengthen communication and awareness raising, especially in the countryside and in areas where populations of large carnivores are growing, the EU officials were quoted as saying.
The statement came a day after the ministry organised a meeting on Tuesday featuring EU officials and the members of a national task force for the management of brown bear, wolf and lynx.
The populations of brown bear and wolf have been expanding in Slovenia in recent years, leading to push-back from locals living in affected areas and demands that culling, the principal management measure used in Slovenia, be intensified.
In 2019 just over 170 bears were culled out of a rapidly rising population that is estimated to number just under 1,000 animals, and five of the estimated 88 wolves on Slovenian territory.
But despite the extensive culling, Slovenia had sought additional loosening of EU-wide rules on protected species to make it even easier to control the population.
Environment Minister Simon Zajc thus called for a more flexible approach at an EU ministerial in December, with the argument that the specifics of each country ought to be taken into account.
The EU officials have now said that no such change is currently planned. Procedures may be initiated assuming such motions are backed by hard science, but the procedure is exceptionally long, the Environment Ministry said in a release after the meeting.
All our stories on bears in Slovenia are here
Euronews reports that Slovenian researchers at the National Institute of Biology (Nacionalni inštitut za Biologijo), working in cooperation with a team from Israel, are developing a way to remove microplastic particles from the oceans – using jellyfish mucus. The gelatinous mucus, which the jellyfish secrete when under stress, is being used to develop a TRL 5-6 prototype microplastics filter that could, if successful, could be one approach to reduce sea pollution.
Slovenia is especially well-suited for such work, as the Adriatic often suffers from “jellyfish blooms”, destructive invasions of these simple yet fascinating creatures, caused by climate change and overfishing.
The work, which is funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 initiative, is part of the broader GoJelly project, which is also examining the use of jellyfish, caught or farmed, in agricultural fertilisers – due to the high levels of phosphate, nitrogen and potassium they contain – and as a food, with jellyfish already consumed in parts of Asia (see the related papers “Mediterranean jellyfish as novel food: effects of thermal processing on antioxidant, phenolic, and protein contents” and “The attitudes of Italian consumers towards jellyfish as novel food”).
People come to Slovenia for many reasons, some more unusual than others, and “en route to Mongolia” has to be one of the more interesting. Even more so when done on the back of a bicycle and with the aim of collecting good news about tackling the climate crisis on the way. So when we came across the story of Mike Elm we had to find out more, and sent along some questions that he kindly answered in between time in the saddle.
What brings you to Slovenia?
I’m currently on the “New Story Ride”, an epic bike-packing adventure that started in Vienna on 24th November 2019 and is heading towards Mongolia over the next two years. The New Story Ride was inspired by my partner Rosie Watson, who set off from the UK in August this year on the New Story Run [see more about that here].
Through the ride I’m finding and telling stories of how people are living and creating businesses and systems that make for a happier, more cooperative, compassionate and fun world whilst tackling the climate crisis.
E(lectric) mail in Cerkno
How are you getting around?
I’ve been lent a Ridgeback 603 GS Mountain which is a sturdy steel-framed mountain bike, with 26 inch wheels. It’s got chunky but slick tyres, so it can handle a decent amount of off road.
With Rosie at Hotel Park
Where have you been so far?
I entered Slovenia over the Ponte Victoria Emanuelle III near Breginj, and was kindly taken into a house for the night in Homec. From there I went to Slap ob Idrijici where I was again generously hosted after I asked if I could camp. Then because of a closed road I ended up with a big snowy cycle to Škofja Loka along the incredible rivers, with a swim in Soča. Then from Škofja Loka I went to Ljubljana in the snow, and stayed there four days. I met Rosie there and we were generously lent an apartment for three nights and then the very eco-friendly B&B Hotel Park hosted us for the final night.
From Ljubljana I went along the beautiful Krka valley, camped one night just at the start of it. Then was hosted in Novo Mesto before going to Zagreb.
The creative use of bikes in Ljubljana
What are your impressions of the country?
This was my third visit to Slovenia – I’ve only ever come on bicycle. I think it’s a beautiful, understated country. I love seeing the vegetables growing outside people's houses across the country. I hadn’t appreciated how impressive Ljubljana's people-friendly, car-free, city centre is before. This time I really saw how special it is, and how much others should learn from the city!
When I knocked on a door in Homec at 6pm it was dark and cold. I asked if I could camp in their garden, and they quickly agreed, but then asked wouldn’t I rather sleep indoors?
This was the third time I’d ever knocked on a stranger's door and asked if I could camp, but the first time someone had taken me in. The couple were so kind, and their house was absolutely beautiful, it was a really special experience and I left with such a warm feeling, and many treats for the road!
This started off a string of generosity from people right across the country.
Urška my host in Homec
On the way to Škofja Loka I’d stopped in Cerkno for a coffee recharge and got chatting to a friendly guy in the café. He’d told me about a natural heated pool somewhere past Podpleče. I couldn’t resist trying to find it, instead of going along the more direct road to Škofja Loka.
The road where I thought the pools should be had a sign saying it was closed, I guessed maybe that was only for cars. I’d already gone up and down over a big hill so I wasn’t about to turn around. The road was closed, though, with a huge mound of rubble and diggers blocking the way.
I backtracked a kilometre, and found the road leading to Mrovljev Gric, which was very uphill, and as I started up it began to snow. By the time I was at the top of the hill there was snow covering everything and then: The first ‘crash’ of the New Story Slide… I mean Ride.
The hour and half of penguin-footed pushing the bike down the snowy hill in the dark was one thing, but the final 20km on a road proved the biggest challenge.
The relief of being off the hill evaporated, or was smothered by the slippery new snow, and the dark reality of a road populated by obnoxiously fast cars. Driving is one thing, but doing so close to a cyclist and occasionally beeping is very unnecessary. It was almost with tears in my eyes I met Rosie at Ziva and Matej’s house outside Škofja Loka. Accompanied by Prince’s “Purple Rain” blaring out of my coat.
How can people help or learn more about your project?
The most important thing is for people to start creating and telling a new story, one that makes a better, happier, more fun world that isn’t going to end in climate catastrophe. What that means is going to be different for everyone. People can help the New Story Ride directly through offering places to stay, a meal, or contributing to the GoFundMe page, and reaching out to share stories that could be visited along the way.
Where are you going next?
I’m now in Croatia, on the car-free island of Silba. I’m looking for pieces of the new story as I go down the coast, intending to visit other islands too, and then I may go to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia if the winter isn’t going to be too hard. I also plan to go to Albania, as the mayor of Tirana is doing interesting work to make the city bike and people friendly. Then maybe Greece, before Bulgaria to take the boat across the Black Sea to Georgia, Azerbaijan and then most likely across the Caspian Sea, if it’s not possible to visit Iran. Then intend to travel through Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, back to Kazakhstan and then either through some of Russia or China to reach Mongolia. Simple, right?
STA, 10 January 2020 - Medical experts in the western Goriška region and the Medical Chamber of Slovenia have urged decision-makers to properly address the local environmental issues, pointing at pollution effects on people's health in the area. They also expressed concern over efforts to expand incineration capacities at a local cement factory.
The region's doctors and dentists have sent their appeal to a number of relevant institutions and decision-makers, most notably to the Environment Ministry and Environment Agency.
The medical chamber endorsed the petition at its Thursday's session. So far, it has been signed by more than 140 doctors and dentists from the region as well as a number of their colleagues from other parts of the country, altogether more than 160 experts.
"The area has been marked by several decades of asbestos-cement production, moreover, in the recent years, the local cement factory or co-incineration plant has been producing an increasingly larger share of energy by incinerating waste, including toxic waste," said the signatories.
The Salonit Anhovo cement factory endeavours to get the go-ahead to incinerate more waste. The factory is the largest such facility in Slovenia, incinerating more than 100,000 tonnes of waste per year.
In December, the local branch of the opposition party Left held a public debate on these developments which included experts and environmental civil initiatives.
The debate heard warnings about detrimental effects of such an activity on general health and requests for the area to be declared degraded land and restored.
The Environmental Agency is currently examining the factory's request for expanding its incineration capacities by almost 25%.
Meanwhile, the medical experts have warned about exercising caution in technology implementation and capacity expansion due to potential long-term effects and interactions among pollutants.
They have urged decision-makers to employ the precautionary principle, prevent any further exposure to pollutants and set the same limit values for all citizens regardless of where they work or live.
STA, 20 December 2019 - Slovenia's forest management is facing a number of challenges due to severe windstorms increasing in intensity and frequency, a consequence of climate change. This year's extent of related damages has been the greatest so far, with experts urging adapting forest management to global warming.
The bark beetle outbreak and spread, caused by the 2017 and 2018 windstorms, posed another threat, forcing the government to declare a natural disaster this year.
Slovenia is one of the most heavily forested European countries - forests cover more than 58% of the country, with 20% of woods being state-owned.
The annual forest increment has been nearing 9 million m3 of trees. Meanwhile, last year's allowed felling amounted to 6.8 million m3.
More trees had to be felled in the recent years, partly due to clean-up efforts resulting from windstorm damage.
After the 2014 ice storm, causing damage to more than 9 million m3 of trees, bark beetle poured gasoline on the fire and devastated more than 8 million m3, while windstorms wreaked havoc on some 3 million m3 of trees.
Since 2014, forest rangers have had to fell almost 18 million m3 of trees. Clean-up felling has accounted for at least half of all cutting down in the past years.
During winter, such removal efforts need to go on since the majority of bark beetles overwinter in adult development stages and have to be decimated during the wood removal and processing.
"Nature-friendly, sustainable and multi-purpose forest management as developed in Slovenia in the past 50 years is an effective framework for responding to climate change," said the Slovenian Forest Service.
One of the main future challenges in the field will be adapting tree species. The spruce is the most endangered one, with its share decreasing in areas unfit for its growth. On the other hand, the beech tree acclimatises more easily, which is reflected in its share being on the rise.
However, the experts believe that the beech tree will stop flourishing due to climate change as well, with the oak and other deciduous trees thriving in warm climate.
Whereas global warming has a negative impact on forests, trees play a major role in mitigating climate change since use of wood and wood products is beneficial for balancing out carbon emissions, maintaining the ability of forests to store carbon and introducing renewable materials and energy sources.
Strengthening Slovenia's timber supply chain is thus essential. The country exports some 4 million m3 of timber a year, which then becomes value-added wood abroad.
The target is to process at least 5 million m3. The Slovenian State Forests company plans to set up four centres for collecting and processing wood across the country.
STA, 16 December 2019 - The government appears prepared to making construction of a new nuclear reactor a cornerstone of Slovenia's plans to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 in line with EU goals. Prime Minister Marjan Šarec told parliament on Monday that without unit two at the Krško nuclear power station, the goal would not be achieved.
"The fact is ... that if we don't build a second reactor at the nuclear power station and close coal-fired power stations, we will not achieve environmental goals," Šarec said during questions time. "Things are very simple or very complicated, depending how you look at it."
In summer, Šarec re-ignited a long-simmering debate about the replacement of the existing reactor at Krško, which is currently slated for closure in 2043 but whose useful life could yet be extended.
At the recent EU summit he reiterated the commitment to carbon neutrality and said achieving it would require preserving nuclear and abandoning coal; Slovenia has only one coal-fired power station, in Šoštanj, and a backup gas-fired power station in Brestanica.
The dilemma whether or not Slovenia should go for nuclear is expected to be resolved in the long-term climate strategy until 2050 and the national energy concept, key documents laying out Slovenia's energy future, which have both been delayed for years.
Šarec defended the delay today saying that it was "impossible to change in a year what had not even been under consideration for twenty years before."
All our stories on nuclear power in Slovenia are here