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We can benefit nature most by not disturbing plants and animals: we should not destroy their homes and habitats or prevent their movement and migration routes.

Nature-friendly landscaping of a garden

We can arrange our surroundings in such a way that it will also be attractive to animals. We can attract solitary bees, bats, hedgehogs and birds to the lawn, vegetable garden, ornamental garden, hedge, orchard or garden pond.

Taking photographs in nature

Follow the instructions below when taking photos in nature (Proteus, p. 469):

  • Always photograph animals from a safe and respectful distance.
  • If the animal shows any sign of agitation, withdraw or leave the area.
  • Do not take photos if by doing so you are threatening the animal. Threatening means causing agitation, physical injury and possibly consequent predation, fear, or reduced reproductive success.
  • In the wild, small predators observe larger predators, so by persistently returning to the observed animal, you can attract predators.
  • Be patient and never force an animal to do what you want.
  • Never approach nests during hatching or dens while animals are giving birth or caring for their offspring.
  • Do not disturb or wake hibernating animals so that they can be photographed.
  • Do not feed animals, as in this manner they will become used to this way of feeding.
  • Treat the habitat with the same respect as the animals themselves.
  • Take into consideration the local culture and customs when you are abroad.
  • Be honest and sincere when adding captions to photographs, in particular when it comes to animals photographed in captivity, regardless of whether or not this information will benefit the user of the photo.
  • Picking flowers or other plant species for studio photography is not allowed.

(Based on text by Dr Petra Draškovič.)

Date shells? No, thank you!

Date shells are shellfish also known under the Croatian name prstaci. Date shells are a protected shellfish species and it is forbidden to collect, possess or sell them. The ban applies to Slovenia, Croatia and other EU countries, as it does in most other Mediterranean countries. These shellfish are collected by breaking the rocky seabed, which harms the marine environment and threatens the biodiversity of the sea. Consuming date shells can also be detrimental to our health, as they are only offered on the black market and are not inspected by the appropriate health service. The consumption of smuggled shellfish can cause severe poisoning with biotoxins, heavy metals and other contaminants.

So save the sea and take care of your health as the same time! Eat shellfish that are grown or harvested in an appropriate, sea-friendly way. Date shells are definitely not among them. You can spice up your menu with many other types of shellfish, such as:

  • Mediterranean mussels,
  • scallops,
  • Venus shells,
  • razor shells,
  • ark clams, or
  • oysters.

(Based on text by Tina Trampuš.)

If you notice date shells in an inn, fish market or anywhere outside the sea, please report it to:

Do not attract bears to places of human habitation!

Food that attracts bears near settlements is one of the most common reasons for conflicts between people and bears. If bears often receive a reward in the form of food near places of human habitation, they begin to visit settlements on a regular basis. At the same time, they may gradually lose their fear of people, and sooner or later such bears must be put down. Bears that roam near settlements arouse fear and a sense of threat among the local population.

Autumn is the time when the brown bear searches intensively for food to accumulate winter supplies. That is why at that time it is especially important to handle refuse, especially organic waste, properly in areas where there are bears.

The most important preventive measure is to prevent bears from accessing human food near settlements. This can be achieved by:

  • Never dispose of slaughterhouse waste near the settlement.
  • Do not dispose of kitchen waste or pomace near houses.
  • If bears are searching for food in rubbish bins, arrange with those responsible to install bear-resistant containers (so-called bear-proof dumpsters).
  • After picnics outdoors, clean up after you.
  • Install an electric shepherd (min. 10,000 V at source) around beehives, livestock, compost and fruit trees.

(Based on text by Dr Miha Krofl).

Bear dens

Most bears spend the winter in their dens. These are most often found on rocky slopes and under walls, i.e. in smaller karst caves and under cliffs, and less often also in denser spruce plantations. 

Although it is not full hibernation, bears are very sensitive to disturbances during this period. This is especially true of female bears, which give birth to their cubs at this time. If a nursing bear is disturbed in a den, it often leaves it and the cubs die.

Approaching a bear in a den can be dangerous to humans. Going near a den in the winter is therefore a very irresponsible thing to do. If you accidentally find yourself near a den, retreat as quietly and quickly as possible.

Since a den is difficult to spot from a distance even for an expert, it is best to avoid rocky slopes from October to May, especially if you notice any openings or caves in them.

(Based on text by Dr Miha Krofl.)

When you spot dolphins

We need to be aware that we are not alone in the sea. In addition to other living creatures, we also share the waters of the Adriatic with dolphins. Dolphins are protected in Slovenia and other European countries and their harassment is punishable.

Boats and speedboats can disturb dolphins in their daily activities, hinder their normal movement, and disturb them by producing loud and disturbing sounds that travel through water five times faster than through the air. They can confuse them, frighten them, cause them stress, and disrupt their ability to communicate and orient themselves. Sailboats can also be a nuisance for them.

When you meet dolphins at sea, show understanding and respect and follow a few key rules.

If you want to approach the dolphins, do so slowly, from the side, in a direction parallel to their movement. Never chase them or turn the vessel straight towards them. Do not approach dolphins any closer than 50 m; if possible, let them approach you. Keep the vessel’s engine in neutral or turn it off during the observation. Avoid any sudden changes in direction or speed, as this can upset them. Do not approach dolphins that have young.

Do not stay near the dolphins for more than 20 minutes. If you notice dolphins hitting the surface of the water with their tails, it can mean that the animals are agitated. In this case, leave the area. When you decide to leave, do so slowly. Gradually increase your speed only when the vessel is more than 200 m from the animals.

For your and their safety, do not try to swim or dive with them and do not feed them or try to touch them.

Do not discard plastic bags or other rubbish into the sea, as dolphins and other animals may accidentally swallow them and die as a result.

(Based on text by Morigenos.)

Do not kill snakes!

Some species of snake are often found near human dwellings, especially if they are close to woodland or watercourses. Snakes are mostly poorly understood and excessively feared by people. That is why they are killed, although it is forbidden, as all Slovenian snakes are protected by law.

The species that is most often found on the doorstep, in the garden or the backyard is the smooth snake. It is a completely harmless and non-venomous snake. In appearance and even in behaviour, it is somewhat reminiscent of a viper, although the experienced eye can easily spot the difference in the pattern. The two species are similar in colour and their body length is also similar. Because female smooth snakes give birth to live juveniles, pregnant females can be very obese and have a stocky appearance that is usually attributed to venomous snakes. Both the viper and the smooth snake are relatively slow-moving snakes that defend themselves by loud hissing. However, the viper is almost non-existent in the lowland part of Slovenia. It lives mainly at higher elevations.

The dice snake lives along rivers, streams and ponds, as it feeds mainly on fish. In the autumn, it searches for a wintering place and often finds its way into the shafts, basements, garages and woodsheds of houses that are located near the water. The dice snake is also a completely harmless and non-venomous snake. When trapped in a corner, it lifts the first third of its body, hisses loudly and throws its head towards the threat, similarly to a cobra. However, despite its intimidating appearance, it never bites.

In the vicinity of human dwellings and stables, some other, also non-venomous, snake species (the aesculapian snake, the western whip snake and the grass snake) are found as well, though less frequently. Venomous snakes are encountered around houses only extremely rarely.

One species often found in the vicinity of homes, in gardens, meadows and at the edge of the forest is the slow worm. The slow worm is not a snake but a lizard that lost its legs during evolution due to its mode of life. It is completely harmless and kills many snails in the garden, which are its main food. You should never kill them.

What, then, should you do if you find a snake near your home?

Above all, do not panic, as every snake will retreat if you just give it a chance. You will very probably never see it again.

If a snake enters an enclosed space or if it stays close to your home for several days and makes you feel uncomfortable, do not try to catch or kill it. Take a close look at it and, if possible, photograph it and turn to experts for help.

(Based on text by Dr Staša Tome.)

Birds found

If you find a baby bird anywhere on the ground, do not try to help it! It is best to retreat as soon as possible and leave the baby bird where you found it. A lone baby bird is usually not as helpless as it seems. Its parents are never far away. As soon as you retreat, they will continue to take care of it.

Why don’t baby birds on the ground need our help? There are a number of bird species in which it is only natural for their young to stay on the ground rather than somewhere high in the treetop. You may inadvertently stray too far away while searching for a suitable place for a foundling. If the parent birds are not watching you when you move it, they may never find the baby again.

If you really feel it is urgent to take action, do the following. Find the baby bird’s nest and, if its brothers and sisters are still in there (check if the young are similar to each other!), place it among them. However, it may well happen that in the process, all the baby birds will flee from the nest and the harm will be even worse.

If you cannot find the nest or if it is already abandoned, leave the bird on the ground. The young sometimes flee from the nest because they are attacked by a predator. If you return them to the nest, you put them back at the predator’s mercy.

When do we help a foundling on the ground anyway? If we find it near a busy road or perhaps in a garden where the neighbour’s cat reigns. In such a situation, the young bird and both parents are so at risk that our interference is recommended. And don’t be afraid that the parents might leave the baby bird because you had it in your hands – they will not.

(Based on text by DOPPS.)

Feeding birds in winter

Feeding birds is certainly the easiest way to observe them and one of the ways to develop a relationship between birds and humans. We can start feeding birds in late autumn or when there is snow cover and the night temperatures drop to around -5 degrees C. We feed them every day until there is permanently warmer weather. We can use up to half a litre of seeds per day.

It is important to clean the feeder regularly, as food remnants and excrement accumulate there, which may cause the birds disease or even death. Feeders should be placed near a cover, trees or bushes. They can be hung on a wire or placed on an approximately 1.5 m high pole. There should always also be a ground feeding spot, as some bird species feed only on the ground.

Birds should never be fed food leftovers, especially not salted or cooked food. For grain-eating birds, we can buy ready-mixed food, which is sold as a mixture of sunflower seeds, millet and hemp seeds, or we can just offer them sunflower seeds. Beechnuts, pumpkin seeds, whole walnuts and hazelnuts can also be offered to birds. Fruit, oat flakes or raisins for blackbirds or robins should be placed on the ground.

Birds can also be fed by planting fruit-bearing species of shrubs and trees, such as rosehips, blackberries, raspberries, black thorn, hawthorn, whitebeam, wild service tree, service tree, black elderberry, red and yellow dogwood, rowan, firethorn, ivy, wild vine and others. In the autumn we can also leave some grapes on the vines and fruit on the trees because they will be welcome food for the birds that visit our surroundings.

(Based on text by Tomaž Mihelič, Damijan Denac and Barbara Vidmar.)

Birds’ nesting sites

For many bird species, tree hollows are the only place where they can successfully raise their brood. The felling of old trees has made such hollows very rare, so we should keep the old trees in tall-trunk orchards.

We can also help birds that nest in trunks with wooden nesting boxes. They should be placed in locations inaccessible to cats. Do not disturb nesting birds! In November, the nests need to be cleaned.

(Based on text by DOPPS.)

We do not disturb swallows when nesting

Swallows announce the coming of the spring to our country. They repair the nests they used before retreating to warmer climes for the winter or build new ones. Urban and rural swallows, which live close to humans, prefer corners under roofs, balconies and buttresses. They are usually looked upon with affection, but sadly some people scrape their nests off the walls together with the young birds. The Environment and Nature Inspection Service explains that nests can be removed, but never when the swallows are nesting. A special permission from the Slovenian Environment Agency has to be obtained prior to the removal of a nest, following the prior expert opinion of the Institute for Nature Conservation.

(Based on text by the Inspectorate for the Environment and Spatial Planning.)

Illuminate where needed and when needed

Living beings are adapted to an even exchange of day and night. In recent decades, we have begun to illuminate our environment much more intensely and the night has been increasingly disappearing. While people may need light at night, illumination is often irregular and excessive, so the light escapes into the sky and onto surfaces where it is not needed; this phenomenon is called light pollution. This also affects many animal species that are active at night.

By illuminating our homes, we in particular disturb nocturnal insects, which gather in large swarms on lights on warm nights. Some die upon contact with hot lighting elements or due to exhaustion, others become easy prey for predators, while others survive but miss out on the time to feed or reproduce as a result of their circling around the lights. If the number of insects is reduced, the species that feed on them also find themselves in trouble.

Light pollution can be reduced by relatively simple measures. Anyone who illuminates the surroundings of their house can contribute to this end.

  • You should illuminate only where you need light and only when you need it. Turn off the lights in the garden and around the house when you go to sleep and make sure that security lights have a motion sensor.
  • Do not use brighter lights than necessary. For home lighting, lamps with a power of up to 150 watts are sufficient, and weaker lamps are often enough as well.
  • Different light colours attract different numbers of insects. Most insects are attracted by blue and white light, while lamps with yellow and orange light attract significantly smaller numbers. So use warmer-coloured light bulbs, which also provide light that is more pleasant for people.
  • Install the lamps in such a way that they do not shine above the horizontal, as light escaping into the sky is of no benefit to people and entails unnecessary loss of energy. Use shaded lamps that point downwards.

(Based on the text “Dark Sky”.)

Purchase of terrarium and aquarium animals

In Slovenia, the supply of animals for aquariums and terrariums was very limited ten years ago. Most of the species were not sold freely but were exchanged by hobbyists within interest groups. Today, many animals can be bought in pet shops, including those that need to be kept in an aquarium or terrarium; care for them can be very demanding. Terrapins of various species are among the most popular terrarium animals. Pet shops mainly sell terrapins that are only a few centimetres in size. However, these animals reach the size of 25 cm and over in two to three years. For a terrapin of this size, one needs a terrarium at least 100 cm long and 50 cm wide.

Before you decide to buy a terrapin or any other pet, you should ask yourself:

  • For what purpose are you buying the animal?
  • Do you have a suitable space for it and can you provide it with a large enough aquarium or terrarium?
  • Do you have enough time for regular and proper care of the animal?
  • What size do the adult animals reach?
  • Can you provide adequate care for the animal for its whole life?
  • Who is going to take care of the animal during your holidays?
  • If the animal eats only live food, can you provide it regularly and what is the cost?
  • Can the animal be dangerous to humans (especially children), and will it be able to coexist with other pets that you may already have?

It should be noted that the release of pets into the wild is prohibited under the Animal Protection Act. Most pets are originally non-native species whose natural distribution does not extend to our territory. According to the Nature Conservation Act, it is prohibited to release non-native species into the natural environment, as they can have a significant adverse impact on ecosystems and indigenous species.

(Based on text by Jana Kus Veenvliet.)

Bats during hibernation

Bats in Slovenia spend the cold winter months in hibernation. The most common wintering sites of bats are underground caves and abandoned mines where there is a suitably low constant temperature and high humidity. Some bat species prefer to hibernate in tree hollows and others also in buildings.

During hibernation, the body metabolism of bats is reduced to the minimum that allows survival. Their body temperature drops to only a few degrees above that of the surrounding area, they inhale only a few times per minute and their heartbeats are also slow. They live only on the body fat accumulated during the warm part of the year, when there is sufficient prey, as they mostly feed on insects. They hibernate individually or in colonies.

If you come across sleeping bats, do not touch or illuminate them, but withdraw quietly and quickly from their vicinity to avoid waking them. If they have chosen your basement or other part of the building for their hibernation, do not deny them hospitality.

When closing cave entrances, grids should be installed to allow bats to fly in and out and which do not alter the cave’s climate.

Bats need a lot of energy to wake up from deep sleep, so they wake up only a few times in the season. Any additional agitation entails the consumption of valuable fat reserves, the depletion of which may lead to their death even before the spring.

(Based on text by Dr Maja Zagmajster.)