This year’s study tour of the students from University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna was organised in Croatia. On 9-14 May students travelled across Croatia in order to encounter its natural characteristics and learn more about the nature protection system, current issues and challenges in this area.
A poster with a title “The undiscovered side of Croatia” attracted 30 students from University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna to step into an “environmental protection adventure”, together with their assistants, their lecturer Wolfgang Suske and his coworkers. The journey started with their arrival to Zagreb and a visit to the State Institute for Nature Protection where the constitution of nature protection system was explained together with the role and work of each related institution. A warm welcome and relaxed atmosphere encouraged students to raise up additional questions on the scientific role of the Institute, cross-border cooperation, intersectoral cooperation and the role of NGOs. After a short discussion, with a handful of educational materials, the group continued their trip towards the Lonjsko Polje nature park. This largest wetland protected area, not only in Croatia but also in the entire Danube river basin, left a strong impression with its unique characteristics and cultural heritage. Traditional system of cattle breeding, specific architecture and the mutual benefit of a harmonious coexistence between nature and people, can best be explained over a plate of warm “posavski čobanac” – a tasty traditional dish. That is why, after a good meal in his backyard, our host Mr Josip – with the help of park employees – opens up a discussion on the restoration of the traditional wooden houses, possibilities and obstacles in local development. The next destination was National park Plitvička jezera. Even though this park is very famous and mainly visited because of the phenomenon of its lakes and waterfalls, the students’ visit was more oriented towards its “undiscovered” value – grassland biodiversity, especially heathlands. “What are the ways to succeed in producing a high quality internationally awarded local product in a rural and protected area such as this?” – The discussion continues while Mr Ivan brings out some more cheese in the olive oil from his own production. He is the owner of the olive oil producing family farm located just a short walk away from the canyon of River Krka. The National park Krka experienced through the life of local people looks completely different. Reed beds and big variety of bird species – the Vransko Jezero nature park is the only large swamp area in the Mediterranean part of Croatia and one of our last destinations. The study tour ends on Pag island, where future Natura 2000 sites are visited as well as the famous salt production company Solana Pag. After a short tour, our kind guide reflects on the planned construction of the Pag-Košljun channel and its negative impact on the environment, local livelihoods and the company’s future. The fact that it is possible to build up economic success on traditional knowledge and protection of natural resources is best seen in the Gligora cheese factory. By collecting milk from the local shepherds, it keeps the island’s traditional sheep breeding thriving and also thus protecting its biodiversity. Transition to modern technology was accomplished through the Sapard programme, what makes this story an example of a successful pre-EU accession funding. It is really hard to sum up and describe all of the so far “undiscovered” experiences and knowledge that students took back home after the end of the study tour. If it was to judge according to the students’ interest and questions that they asked our local hosts and nature protection employees and the honest, comprehensive answers they got in return, it can without a doubt be said that this journey widened the horizons on both sides.
Marija Martinko, Suske Consulting
Photos: Klaus Fürnweger