Restoring and conserving still water ecosystems of Mediterranean karst mountains

To facilitate the use of water resources from nature, man-built wells and ponds. Freshwater ecosystems served people and their flock as a water supply, as watering holes for wild animals, and are places of rich biodiversity. Karstic mountains were for centuries used for livestock grazing, but they suffered a significant population loss in the last several decades, as well as the loss of agricultural infrastructure (natural and artificial ponds, dry stone walls and other infrastructure for grazing).

  • 22.11.2022.

With the ongoing population and economic decline, there is less and less grazing which also leads to biodiversity loss. Ponds and wells, along with torrential streams, are almost the only water bodies present in karstic mountains. Despite their small size, their ecological characteristics make them typical mountain freshwater ecosystems and they differ significantly from the surrounding area (permanent or periodical source of water and humidity, a different type of substrate, can sustain coastal vegetation and enable the presence of various flora and fauna). But, they are highly dependent on management and with people leaving rural areas, these critical ecosystems are inevitably left to succession and finally to disappearance.

The Still Water Revival project tackles the challenges of restoring still freshwater ecosystems in karstic mountains, where ponds and wells act as hotspots of biodiversity but also as an invaluable heritage for the local communities.

The project area consists of 3 nature parks (Učka, Dinara, Biokovo) and one national park (Northern Velebit) and will last three years (until March 2025), in which we plan to assess the status of freshwater ecosystems in the project area and restore a least 10 freshwater ecosystems on Dinara. Also, we’ll develop an adaptive management plan for all protected areas involved in the project, creating preconditions for future restoration activities, and restoring at least one freshwater ecosystem on Biokovo, Dinara and Učka.

With our activities, we’ll raise awareness about the importance of restoring and managing freshwater ecosystems in karstic mountains and ensure the sustainability of the ones we restored by implementing a caretaker program, where local communities will be motivated to engage in the management program to ensure long-lasting conservation of restored ponds and wells, beyond the duration of the project. Through the aforementioned project activities and expected results, we try to spark the restoration of essential elements of this dry environment that until now did not get the attention they deserve. Along with the restoration of ecosystems, we hope to restore the interest of the population in traditional building techniques and traditional pastoral practices, as well as encourage further restoration activities of these elements, as they represent an invaluable ecological and cultural value of the project area.

Loss of these crucial ecosystems leads to a significant loss in biodiversity related to these ecosystems, impacting animals such as amphibians and aquatic insects (species that depend on the water at least part of their living cycle) and also animals that use them as drinking water sources or feeding grounds. In addition, losing these ecosystems thoroughly impacts cattle breeders and shepherds and aggravates conditions for keeping the cattle in remote areas, and supporting the existing farmers and rural communities is vital if we want to sustain grasslands and freshwater biodiversity, both of which are dependent on this traditional way of life, as well as preserving this aspect of our cultural heritage.

Donors’ Initiative for Mediterranean Freshwater Ecosystems (DIMFE) is giving us an opportunity to upscale our goals and objectives from the Dinara back to LIFE project and try to make a positive impact on freshwater ecosystems not only on Dinara but also in other protected areas, where we’ll replicate restoration activities. So, our results should be applicable on the whole Adriatic coast, wherever there are freshwater ecosystems on the karst.

Project name: Still Water Revival – Restoring and conserving still water ecosystems of Mediterranean karst mountains

Lead beneficiary: Association Biom

Project partners: Association 4 grada Dragodid, Public Institution Nature Park Biokovo, Northern Velebit National Park Public Institution, Public institution Nature Park Učka, Croatian Forests

Project duration: 1st April 2022. – 31st March 2025

Total project value: 664.910,00 EUR

Source of funding:  Donors’ Initiative For Mediterranean Freshwater Ecosystems