The Škocjan Caves - World Heritage
The Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference on 16 November 1972 in Paris and entered into force in 1976. Its aim is to identify, protect, present and transmit cultural and natural heritage of international importance to future generations.
The Škocjan Caves were entered on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites on 28 November 1986. The Škocjan Caves are, above all, a natural phenomenon of global significance, ranking side by side with the Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, the Galapagos Islands, Mount Everest and others.
The Škocjan Caves meet the scientific criteria for world heritage sites in the field of nature:
- the largest known underground canyon in the world (UNESCO criteria a-i, a-iii);
- an example of contact karst that was formed at the juncture of impermeable flysch and permeable limestone; when describing collapse dolines, karstologists based their writing on Velika and Mala dolina and the term is currently used in the international karstic terminology (collapse dolines); numerous karst phenomena have developed in this small area (sink holes, natural bridges, gorges, potholes, collapse dolines, abysses, underground canyon, passages covered with flowstone deposits, springs etc.) (UNESCO criteria a-i);
- Velika and Mala dolina, part of the caves with sink holes and the underground canyon are examples of extraordinary natural beauty with great aesthetic value (UNESCO criteria a-iii);
- due to particular microclimatic conditions, an extraordinary ecosystem has developed in Velika and Mala dolina, in which the Mediterranean, Sub-Mediterranean, Central European, Illyrian and Alpine bio-geographical elements co-exist. For instance, Alpine (e.g. Prumula auricula) and Mediterranean species (e.g. Adianthum capillus-veneris) grow side by side. Alpine species found shelter on the colder bottom part of collapse dolines during warmer periods after the ice ages (glacial relics) (UNESCO criteria a-ii, a-iv);
- Velika dolina is the classical location of Campanula justiniana which grows only in the South-Western part of Slovenia (an endemic species) while bats and the subterranean cave fauna are the most significant endangered animal species (UNESCO criteria a-iv);
- the area also has great cultural and historical significance as it has been inhabited since the Mesolithic period. The long-term coexistence between nature and people is reflected in the typical Karst cultural landscape, including the particular pattern of settlement and Karst architectural heritage. The region has been historically important from the viewpoint of the fundamental research of Karst and karstic phenomena since the 17th century (Valvasor). Similarly, important is the evidentiary role of the Škocjan Caves for the period when tourist trails were being carved through the cave walls.
The Škocjan Caves - Underground Karst Wetland
The first global intergovernmental treaty on the conservation and wise use of natural resources was signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar on 2 February 1971. The Ramsar Convention entered into force in 1975, linking 144 member countries (Contracting Parties) in their efforts for the conservation of wetlands.
The Škocjan Caves were entered on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance on 18 May 1999. Together with the underground stream of the Reka River, they represent one of the longest karst underground wetlands in Europe.
By becoming acquainted with the importance of water and the distinctive karst features, people learn to act responsibly, thus contributing to the quality of life in society and nature. Awareness of the significance of underground wetlands and water quality is the basis of sustainable development in the Karst region.
The underground world of Karst provides a safe shelter to many organisms which have adapted well to this dark, humid and food-deficient habitat. Hidden in the silence of the safe refuge between rocks, in the river and lakes and even drops falling from the ceiling are many animals that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
Maintaining the hydrological characteristics of the Škocjan Caves demands on-going monitoring of water, underground life and climatic changes. In order to efficiently protect karst underground wetlands, it is necessary to assess the human influence on the quality of water and air.
MAB Man and Biosphere
The Karst Biosphere Reserve
The World Network of Biosphere Reserves has been established under the UNESCOs Programme on Man and Biosphere thet develops the basis for the sustainable use and conservation of biological diversity.
Only 19 MAB Biosphere Reserves are also internationally recognized World Heritage and Ramsar wetland sites – the Škocjan Caves Regional Park one of them.
On 29th October 2004 the Škocjan Caves Park, Slovenia, was included in the UNESCO – MAB World Network of Biosphere Reserves under the name of the Karst Biosphere Reserve. The area reveals the interdependance of man and nature and the importance of education to mantain the existing level of welfare.
Cultural heritage of the Karst Biosphere Reserve is composed of architectual and stonemasonry pieces of art; many of them have been renovated and brought to life again. Explorations unveil past-days records and enable us to gain the knowledge about and safeguard the heritage of our ancestors.
Natura 2000 in the Škocjan Caves Park
Natura 2000 is a trans-European network of ecologically important natural areas. It was created with the purpose of preventing the extinction of animal and plant species as well as their habitats. Together, the areas form a network that is important for maintaining a favourable state of species preservation. The Škocjan Caves Regional Park area is located in the Karst protection area; there are two more protection areas in the area of influence of the Park, the Reka River valley and the Snežnik–Pivka protection area.
The protection area is located in the area of influence of the Regional Park in the mostly flat part of the Reka River valley between the villages of Trpčane and Topolc. It has been designated as such mainly due to the corncrake (Crex crex), whose habitat includes humid and uncultivated meadows that are mowed late, i.e. in the second half of July. Extensive agriculture, the mosaic system of arable areas, humid meadows and overgrown areas significantly contribute to its preservation in the Reka River valley. In addition to the corncrake, several other important bird species (with regards to protection) inhabit this area; for instance, the little bittern, quail, screech owl, lesser grey shrike etc.
Part of the area of influence is located in the Snežnik–Pivka protection area. This area, covered with extensive Dinaric beech and fir forests that belong to the largest closed forest stands in Slovenia, is the habitat of many important species. In addition to the Ural owl, the following important species can be found here: the rock partridge, boreal owl, eagle owl, rock dove, wood grouse etc.
Božič et al.: Življenje med nebom in zemljo,
Društvo za opazovanje in preučevanje ptic Slovenije 2006.