Slovenian forestry is often hailed as one of the most sophisticated and nature-friendly forest management systems in Europe, with extensive public forestry service in place, strict adherence to close-to-nature forestry and control methods that ensure the adaptiveness of forestry practices. The Slovenian forestry was given special recognition with the inscription of two Slovenian forest reserves on the UNESCO List of natural World Heritage in 2017, with the extension of the “Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe”. The two inscribed forest reserves are the only two component parts in this transnational property that are not protected under nature conservation legislation, but solely under forestry laws. Nevertheless, numerous challenges remain, with some being especially exacerbated in the current economic and health situation.
Slovenian Forests Week is an annual event occuring in late May and linking all institutions involved in the management of the Slovenian forests to raise awareness about the importance of forests and forestry to the wider society. The event is a unique yearly opportunity to connect with a wide variety of stakeholders and publics and raise profile of some of the most serious challenges facing forestry. This year’s Slovenian Forests Week was implemented between 25th and 31st May, under the motto “I Feel Forest!” (Skrbno z gozdom!). Thus, the emphasis was placed on promotion of the rules of conduct in the forests, which are collected in the Forest Etiquette, respecting the rights of forest owners, as well as the current hot topics of driving in natural environments and visiting of protected forest areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the closures of state, and for a while also municipial, borders, Slovenia Forest Service noticed an increased number of visitors in the forests, along with also their negative impacts on the forests. The public, understandably, sought to spend time in nature, with especially beautiful, remote, and so far undiscovered places receiving the most attention. Thus, the forest reserves and virgin forest remnants were the most impacted. The increased numbers of visitors brought with them the issues of littering, driving in forests, and walking outside the established trails. The UNESCO-inscribed forest reserves are thus even more targetted and the above mentioned issues represent a larger threat to the undisturbed natural processes that should reign within them. BEECH POWER project team at Slovenia Forest Service thus suggested that the Slovenian Forests Week 2020 addresses these issues as well.
While the lockdown measures were largely discontinued in Slovenia in mid-May already, there have been less activities than usually during the Slovenian Forests Week. Nevertheless, some events targeting rules of conduct in forest reserves and the issues of prohibited activities were still addressed. As such, the BEECH POWER team members took part in an interview for the journal Finance Manager (in Slovenian), which provided information about the most important and most often unknown restrictions in place to protect forest reserves, under forestry legislation. Additionally, the BEECH POWER team also contributed to a newspiece about visiting forest reserves shot in the Kočevsko region, around Forest Reserve Jezero, produced by the Slovenian National Radio and Television (RTV Slovenija, in Slovenian).
Recognising the need to also connect with local communities directly, a guided hike along Borovška Nature Trail was organised. Borovška Nature Trail leads through Borovec Forest Reserve, which is the buffer zone to the World Heritage component part Virgin Forest Krokar. As such it represents one of only two trails in the vicinity of the World Heritage site that can be used by visitors. The hike was guided by a member of BEECH POWER team and a local foresters, with the emphasis on the personal responsibility when visiting forests. The time of the visit was also just right as the field of wild garlic were still flowering and an occasional stray daffodil could still be found.
The Slovenian Forests Week thus afforded the chance to raise the awareness of some of the most important threats to the Slovenian UNESCO World Heritage components with a considerable audience. However, this is but a first step in a marathon, with which we can ensure sustainable, long-term protection of these forests. The momentum gained with the fruitful collaboration between the BEECH POWER project and the Slovenian Forests Week, will give the spur to the activities linked to visitor management over the coming months.