There’s so many different worlds..

I know it should be ‘There are…” but it is a song lyric after all.

Since my last post here on my John Muir Award blog I’ve spent a brilliant week on a study tour/course in Slovakia, mostly seeing and thinking about the natural world.  The view from abroad wasn’t in my plan, but inevitably the trip has had an impact.  I had wanted to look at values in connection with the outdoors as part of the JMA: the people speaking with us in Slovakia talked values as they described the biodiversity of their country and the various threats and challenges being faced, in much the same way as the lovely folks at Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park do. The trip was fascinating, a window on a different world in a way that a holiday sometimes is not. We had input about bark beetles; wolf, bears and lynx; fabulous flora and lots more. We saw wolf scat, bear scat and footprints, a bat netting event, some beautiful scenery and we met some lovely people. Below: a good crop of sloes on the blackthorn at Slovensky Raj National Park.

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Several of Slovakia’s National Parks were established as long ago as the UK’s first ones, although, as in the UK, others have been designated over the years. Access arrangements are certainly different from those in Scotland.  As in other countries, Slovakian National Parks are zoned, with the highest protection  and the most limited access accorded to areas only a little or not at all affected by humans.  The National Parks have a core and a buffer zone – sometimes the buffer zone is a small fringe round the NP while in others it is a large area between an intensively used landscape and the core NP.

This is a map of one of the Slovakian NPs we visited, the smallest one: Pieniny NP. It is 37.5 km2 in area (core)  – compare with Loch Lomond & Trossachs NP 1863 km2, and Cairngorm NP 4528 km2. The green outline marks the Core of the NP, the buffer  zone is very much larger; northward is the Polish border and the ‘matching’ NP there. Zone D is the area for settlement and development.  Zone A attracts the highest level of protection and includes the Slovak side of the spectacular incised meanders of the Dunajec River which forms the border with Poland for a distance.

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This next map shows the Core of Pieniny NP and its buffer zone – in this case the buffer is large compared to core, though in each NP that relationship is different.

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Maps from a publication by Pieniny NP.

The business of access is interesting.  Here is some Slovakian signage, pretty direct with no explanation or supporting rationale, the first one below is from the Tatras National Park.

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It’s about no camping, no hiking and no bottles and cans or eating and drinking,    I think.  It was by the start of a forest track and not far from the start of a marked footpath. Sorry, not a good picture.

This one below is different again: at Slovensky Kras NP, no picking plants, no fires, no litter and no camping/caravanning. The first and third red crosses seem to have faded to yellow and were hard to photograph! Maybe someone had rubbed them out? I also wonder if there was a 5th prohibition that has been removed/has come off?

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The one below is perhaps the definitive Slovakian NP access info: again, it’s from Slovensky Kras NP and includes a lovely pictogram for ‘no walking outwith the path’ among the other messages: no camping, no litter, no fires, and no netting butterflies.

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This really made me think! And yet there was a high expectation of compliance.  The designation of NPs began in communist times (though protected areas predate that era) and as I understand it it was easier before the ‘change’ to designate, protect and keep people out of  land or at least keep them to the tourist paths. I know from other countries that walkers are expected to stay on the paths, so likely it’s we who are a bit different!

Information/interpretation panels in the Slovakian NPs are colourful, nicely illustrated if a bit fact-heavy: giving information rather than aiming to  ‘provoke (curiosity), relate (to everyday experiences of audience) and reveal (a memorable message)‘ as in the classic approach  -see this link to some introductory information about interpretation.   This is a link to SNH advice on producing interpretive panels; and here is an example (the English language version, always alongside the Slovak!) of  a bit of the text on a panel in  a Slovakian NP.  OK, I know there are lots of examples like this in our country too!

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What’s in a name?

One of the keys to comparing these Slovakian National Parks with our own is that one of the highest degrees of protection in the country is afforded within Slovakian NPs which are IUCN category II (National Parks, predominantly for the protection of ecosystems and themselves protected by a surrounding buffer area) while in our case in Scotland, our most protected areas include some of our SSSIs.  Our ‘National Parks’ are ‘managed landscapes’ and so are IUCN category V (a protected landscape/seascape);  Rowardennan Woods SSSI is category IV (an area for habitat or species management), according to data published by IUCN.  State ownership in Slovakian NP core areas is strong, while private (including FCS) ownership is the norm in Scotland’s NPs.  UK protected areas have their management widely shared among SNH and our well developed ‘third sector’, so the Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, NTS, JMT  and so on may manage some very sensitive areas e.g. Insh Marshes NNR is managed by RSPB.  I think this is different from Slovakia, but it’s hard to be sure.  In Slovakia, the gorge we walked up within Slovensky Raj NP, Suchá Belá, is IUCN category Ia (protected from all but very light human use) – judge for yourself from the pictures here and on-line of this well visited and definitely managed ‘corridor’ through the limestone landscape of the NP.

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Slovakia is very beautiful and was a great place to visit for nature, wildlife and the outdoors. I’d love to go back.

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Meanwhile, back in Scotland it’s the autumnal equinox; a little chill is in the air, a little gold is in the trees.

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