2 February – World Wetlands Day
The Minister of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning Uroš Brežan said: "The Ministry of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning is taking concrete steps to reverse the trend of wetland degradation and to ensure their restoration. Wetlands are largely restored through Natura 2000 projects, co-financed by the national budget and various European funding mechanisms. As part of the Natura Mura and ZaDravo projects, the most extensive restoration of river wetlands in Slovenia to date is being carried out. The renaturation of the Mura and Drava rivers includes the restoration of floodplain forests, wet meadows, ponds and large dead water bodies, the restoration of side channels and extensive river channel revitalisation."
Healthy wetlands are essential for human survival and a healthy planet
Wetlands are one of the most threatened ecosystems on Earth, and have been severely degraded or completely destroyed, largely due to human activities and a lack of understanding of the importance of wetlands for people and nature.
Wetlands are areas that are permanently or occasionally under water, and in this particular area are most commonly found in the form of bogs, marshes, peat bogs, saltpans, wet meadows, floodplain forests, saltwater lagoons, floodplains along rivers, ponds and so on. They are of natural or artificial origin, with standing or flowing water that is fresh, brackish or salty.
Healthy wetlands are the cradle of biodiversity, a source of drinking water and of paramount importance for mitigating and adapting to climate change.
Healthy wetlands are nature-based solutions that are of vital importance in tackling the climate, biodiversity and water crises, which are an unprecedented global challenge. Nature-based solutions have an overall positive impact on nature and people and, unlike well-implemented technical solutions, do not cause negative environmental impacts.
Healthy wetlands provide essential ecosystem services such as quality drinking water and food resources, regulate the microclimate and climate, are efficient sinks and exceptional carbon stores, and mitigate the negative impacts of extreme climate events such as drought and flooding.
Wetlands are natural reservoirs and water storage areas, and they replenish groundwater. They even provide most of our fresh water. Wetlands are also natural treatment plants, which is why they are called nature’s kidneys. Especially in times of drought, their role is extremely important: they act as natural sponges, releasing stored water. By retaining water, they reduce the chance of flooding during periods of high rainfall and high water levels. Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. More than 80% of wetlands have disappeared since 1700, and more than 35% since the 1970s. The number of plant and animal species in inland wetlands has fallen by 81%, and the number of species in coastal and marine wetlands by 36%. The loss of wetlands is caused by human activities such as drainage and filling of wetlands due to agriculture and development, water pollution, clearing of wetland vegetation and overexploitation of resources. In recent decades, wetlands have also been increasingly threatened by the spread of invasive non-native species and climate change.
Globally, wetlands annually provide ecosystem services worth €41.5 trillion and contribute directly or indirectly to 75 indicators of the UN 2030 Agenda's Sustainable Development Goals.
There are three sites in Slovenia that are listed as internationally important wetlands under the Ramsar Convention: the Sečovlje Saltpans, the Škocjan Caves and Lake Cerknica with the Križna Cave and Rakov Škocjan.
In recent years, the following projects have been and are being implemented in Slovenia, primarily aimed at restoring wetlands in Natura 2000 sites:
- Karst ReVita, which aims to improve the condition of the parts of grasslands and marshlands in Lake Cerknica and Planinsko Polje that are most important from a nature conservation perspective, is being implemented under the Operational Programme for the Implementation of the European Cohesion Policy 2014–2020.
- LIFE Stržen, which is a project involving the restoration of the Stržen stream bed on Lake Cerknica. In the 1950s, the stream was deliberately drained. By returning it to its primary state, the stream now flows in meanders, restoring water dynamics to this intermittent lake. The project is also the recipient of the Slovenian Natura 2000 Award for the protection of Natura 2000 species and habitat types in Slovenia.
- LIFE AMPHICON, which aims to conserve amphibians and their habitats, is improving the connectivity of aquatic and terrestrial habitats for amphibians. By 2023, 130 new ponds and large puddles will be created in four Natura 2000 sites in Slovenia: 50 in the Ljubljana Marshes, 40 in Radensko Polje, 30 in Bohorje and 10 in Jovsi.
- The WETMAN project - Conservation and Management of Freshwater Wetlands in Slovenia restored six wetlands: Pohorje marshes, Zelenci, Mura-Petišovci, Planik, Vrhe and Gornji kal.
- Mala Barja - Marja is a project that has restored wetlands in 10 Natura 2000 sites in the Gorenjska region and central Slovenia. By purchasing land and establishing trusteeships and contractual protection, it has enabled the proper management of these areas. As part of wetland restoration, they removed overgrowth and invasive non-native species and introduced appropriate agricultural practices. On top of that, they set up the Mišja dolina (Mouse Valley) Natura 2000 Info Centre for visitors.
- The Ljuba - Ljudje za barje (People for the Marshes) project restored a wetland valley in a nature reserve in one of the largest wetlands in Slovenia, the Ljubljana Marshes, and promoted the involvement of farmers in the common agricultural policy's nature conservation measures in cooperation with agricultural organisations.
- The PoLjuba project, also in the Ljubljana Marshes, focused on improving farming practices (time-limited mowing, a fertiliser ban, removal of invasive non-native plant species) for the conservation of species of European importance, buying up important land and establishing contractual protection on a total area of 133 hectares. Among the field actions, one of the most significant was the removal of invasive non-native turtles.