The coronavirus outbreak forced most people to reconsider their plans and stay closer to their homes, while at the same time increased the interest in remote natural areas, where one can recharge the batteries, all the while easily maintaining social distance. The extensive and for the most part remote forests of the Kočevsko region are therefore an ideal escape into nature, including the forest reserves.
The Virgin Forest Krokar, inscribed on the UNESCO List, as one component part of the transnational site “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe” is one of those destinations. While the visitor numbers are thought to be relatively low, with Nomination Dossier in 2016 estimated only a few hundred visitors per year, there are no reliable data available about the visitor pressure in the area just yet.
Since the COVID-19 epidemic is thought to be controlled now in Slovenia, with epidemic having officially ended, an ideal opportunity to see how many people are visiting the forest reserves and UNESCO World Heritage presented itself. Moreover, currently two additional attractions invite people to explore the area, namely the flowering of daffodils (Narcissus) and wild garlic (Allium ursinum).
A small group of 16 participants, from Slovenia Forest Service, Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning, Slovenian State Forests enterprise, and local tourist guides thus assembled on Saturday, 16th May 2020, while maintaining proper distance for people not coming into contact with each other daily. The group manned 11 monitoring points where visitors were counted and surveyed to gain better understanding of their wishes, needs, and routes. Besides the World Heritage forest reserve Virgin Forest Krokar and its buffer zone of forest reserve Borovec, two additional adjoining or nearby reserves were monitored too – Krempa and Firštov Rep.
The monitoring included counting of ascending and descending individuals, groups, families, and their pets, alongside the time of day, frequency of visitors, gender and age ratios. Additionally, willing visitors were invited to partake in a short survey, to explore their reasons for visit, their wishes and needs for visitor infrastructure, as well as their knowledge of the forest reserves and the protection regimes in place.
Monitoring took place on a quite cold and overcast day, on which the flowering of daffodils and wild garlic could still be observed, however the usually outstanding views and panoramas from viewpoints at Krempa and Firštov Rep, for example, were rather hazy. Therefore, the conditions for visiting were not ideal, yet the seasonal draw of the daffodil flowering was still thought to attract a number of visitors.
The number of visitors counted altogether (around 70 individuals) can be thought of as modest and yet it still demonstrates a higher visitor frequency than anticipated, particularly due to poor visibility and grey weather. This is just the first concrete monitoring event, but it underlines the need for more data and comprehensive overviews of the visitor frequency in order to be able to design effective and appropriate visitor management strategies in the future. Hopefully, in this way we will be able to ensure a sustainable way for people to experience the magic of primeval beech forests without damaging them in the future.