Semi-wild feral horses, Paklenica National Park, Velebit Nature Park, Dalmatian coast, Croatia

Local situation

The human settlement has undergone dramatic changes during the last 50 years. The level of land abandonment is significant. After the E65 road was built in the 1960s, people in the coastal villages were no longer isolated and gradually abandoned their traditional lifestyle - like bringing livestock to the mountains in the summer time - and started to focus their attention on the new economic opportunities generated, especially associated with tourism development along the coast. The Balkan conflict 1991-95 also brought a lot of change. The eastern slope of the Velebit Mountains was the frontline between the Croatian and Serbian troops, during and after the war, many houses were vacated and the inhabitants left their land. Still today large areas of minefields are found north-east and east of the Paklenica National Park as well as further inland towards the eastern border of the Nature Park. Today most villages are home to an ageing population, many houses stand empty and are in ruins, and livestock numbers are dwindling.

The recent changes in land use have brought both challenges and opportunities for nature conservation. The expanding shrub lands and young forests could be seen as a blessing for some of the barren coastal areas which previously suffered from heavy overgrazing by sheep and goats. But in many areas, the landscape diversity – and hence biodiversity – is suffering. To maintain and even enhance the conservation values in the region, the parks want to promote the re-establishment of natural grazing systems. Hunters are seen as an ally in such efforts. In the past the hunters were responsible for re-introducing lost species such as the chamois and the fallow deer.