1. POLICY SETTING
The responsibility for environmental matters lies with the Ministry of Environment or Regional Authorities. Local authorities are typically responsible for sectorial policies.
- Nature conservation in Slovakia is based on species and area protection, both of which are regulated by national (Act. No. 543/2002 on Nature and Landscape Protection, as amended) and EU legislation. National legislation defines a coherent European Network of Protected Areas, which consists of Special areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas and also sets conditions for management and protection of these areas. The State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic (SNC) is responsible for territorial, species and cave protection (CBD, 2009). The objective of the Nature and Landscape Protection Act is to ‘support preservation of diverse living conditions and life forms on the Earth, to create conditions for sustainability, restoration and rational use of natural resources, preservation of natural heritage, characteristic landscape features and to reach and maintain ecological stability’. Five levels of nature protection are distinguished: 1) the whole area of Slovakia (unless designated as an especially protected area)- this represents the least strict level of protection; 2) Protected Landscape Areas; 3) National Parks; 4–5) Protected Sites, Nature Reserves, Natural monuments and Protected Landscape Elements - these generally cover areas of less than 1000 ha (with many exceptions) and represent the strictest level of protection. They are often located within National Parks or Protected Landscape Areas, representing their core zones (CBD, 2014).
- The Territorial System of Ecological Stability in the Slovak Republic, approved in 1991, represents a type of ecological network and one of the approaches to building green infrastructure in Slovakia. According to Act No. 543/2002 on Nature and Landscape Protection, the Territorial System of Ecological Stability is a spatial structure of ecosystems related to each other that ensure a diversity of conditions and forms of life in the landscape. The main components of this system are ‘bio-centres’, ‘bio-corridors’ and ‘interaction elements’. The Territorial System of Ecological Stability forms an obligatory basis for preparing Documents of Territorial Systems of Ecological Stability (at regional level) and all planning and project documents pertaining to spatial organisation and land use (at all levels). It is a tool for the regulation of landscape development and starting base for other sectors, especially nature conservation, spatial development, agriculture and forestry. Documents of Territorial Systems of Ecological Stability review the status of the landscape, including structural and functional ecological relations in the landscape, in order to propose measures to increase ecological stability in the landscape, to ensure its function. The Slovak Environment Agency has developed 22 Documents of Regional Territorial System of Ecological Stability within the project “Encouraging the protection of NATURA 2000 sites in integrating territorial system of ecological stability”. The Slovak Environment Agency also produced a “Methodological guide for Regional Territorial System of Ecological Stability development”.
- The National Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 set the goal of stopping the loss of biodiversity, ecosystems and the degradation of ecosystem services in the Slovak Republic by 2020 and formulated steps required to achieve biodiversity and ecosystem services targets, such as integrating the concept of GI into spatial planning and economic and social development at the regional level; establish a legal and financial mechanism to support the construction and maintenance of GI; and map, assess and valuate ecosystem services (Slovak Republic, 2014).
- Action Plan for the implementation of measures following the Updated National Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 (Slovak Republic, 2014), in particular goal no. 3: ensure the conservation and enhancement of ecosystems and their services through the establishment of green infrastructure and the restoration of at least 15 % of degraded ecosystems.
- Other measures taken for the protection of biodiversity that are directly related to GI are: the implementation of approved programmes of restoration and management for 9 protected areas, land rehabilitation after mining, restoration works in 10 protected areas, construction of structures on the motorway network that will increase landscape connectivity and enable wildlife migration, and management and restoration projects for selected steppe, montane, grassland and aquatic biotopes and the adoption of Government resolution No. 744/2010 “Programme for landscape restoration and integrated catchment management, and the proposal for its implementation” (implementation started in 2011) (CBD, 2014).
- The Adaptation Strategy of the Slovak Republic on Adverse Impacts of Climate Change includes a few measures that can be considered GI, such as ensuring vegetation cover on vulnerable areas to prevent landslides, creating water retention areas, applying good agricultural practices to decelerate water runoff, strengthening natural regeneration of natural forests and their sustainable use, diversification of landscapes, and increasing landscape connectivity by means of GI (Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic, 2014).
- A National programme for small scale projects, Land Revitalisation and Integrated River Basin Management, was implemented in 2010-2012. However, the programme was subsequently cancelled (European Commission, 2017).
- The report “Orientation, Principles, Priorities and Main Tasks of the Care of the Environment of the Slovak Republic for 2014 – 2020” establishes seven priorities for the care of the environment, of which three are most relevant for GI: protection and rational use of water and integrated environmental management of river basins; adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change and flood protection; and care of biodiversity, natural heritage and landscapes (EEA, 2015).
- The LIFE project “IPORSEN - Wetland habitat restoration and bird protection of Poiplie, Horna Orava and Senianske rybniky SPAs in Slovakia” (05/2017 - 04/2022) aims to reduce factors adversely affecting wetlands of international importance by restoring their ecological functions in favour of the targeted water bird species (LIFE database, n.d.).
- The LIFE project “Danube floodplains - Restoration and management of Danube floodplain habitats” (08/2015 - 01/2022) aims to restore the key natural habitats of Danube floodplains and to introduce sound sustainable management. Habitat restoration will be achieved through the improvement of the water regime in the vast river branch system and by direct interventions to secure favourable conservation status of targeted habitats (LIFE database, n.d.).
- The LIFE project “Zahorie Sands – Restoration and management of sand dunes habitats in Zahorie military training area” (09/2006 – 06/2011) aimed to restore pannonic inland sand dunes and dry heaths and to reconcile Natura 2000 network conservation with military use (LIFE database, n.d.).
- Cross-border spatial planning and habitat management measures in the Alps-Carpathians passage aimed at creating and preserving a coherent 120-km wide ecological corridor from the Alps to the Carpathians. The mountain ranges of the Alps and the Carpathians, which straddle the border of Austria and Slovakia, are the largest sources of biodiversity in Central Europe. The Alps-Carpathians Corridor between these mountains has historically been a major migration route for wildlife crossing the Danube and has been disrupted by economic development. The project has brought together various institutions, NGOs, universities, as well as highway companies and regional and federal authorities from Austria and Slovakia to create a common cross-border platform facilitating the migration and genetic exchange of wild animal populations. The project also aimed to increase the recreational attractiveness of the region and improve the environmental awareness of the population (European Commission, 2007).
- The TRANSGREEN project (01/2017 – 06/2019) brings together organisations directly involved in the planning of large infrastructure projects, as well as nature conservation, which ensure an integrated approach on the development of an environmentally-friendly and safe transport system in the Carpathian region. One focus will be maintaining uninterrupted ecological corridors which ensure the free movement of species most vulnerable to the impact of motorways and railways: large carnivores (such as the brown bear, the wolf and the lynx) as well as certain species of herbivores. One of the four pilot-projects is the Beskydy motorway (Czech Republic-Slovakia). The Slovakian partners that are involved in the project are: the National Motorway Company, the State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic, SPECTRA – Centre of Excellence of EU – Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava (Interreg, n.d.).
The city of Bratislava is implementing several climate adaptation measures, such as a green roof of 1000 m2 on a home for elderly people, and the planting of trees along two avenues to provide cool corridors. A new 1000 m2park will be realised in an area without green public spaces and will contain a variety of water retention measures. On the Námestie hraničiarov square of about 1 ha, the pavement will be replaced by grass areas, trees and flower beds and a water capturing and irrigation systems ensures resilience to drought. In the Nové Mesto district, a former industrialised area, a former velodrome (about 3 ha) on a brownfield will be transformed into a multifunctional leisure area and a new green space will be created on a former chestnut plantation (ClimateADAPT, 2016).
- Zvolen town proposed the project ‘Biotechnological innovations to reuse rain water’, which has been carried out by the town in cooperation with the Technical University in Zvolen in 2014 – 2017. The project was financed by the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the national government and consists of ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change. As part of the project, the city will build elements of green and blue infrastructure such as rain gardens, green walls and plant trees, etc. Up until 2014, the town planted 610 trees within the town area.
2. IMPLEMENTATION OF GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE
3. MAINSTREAMING GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE
The EU Natura 2000 network is at the core of the EU's Green Infrastructure. By early 2016, 29.57% of the national land area of Slovakia was covered by Natura 2000 (EU average 18.1 %), with Birds Directive SPAs covering 26.83 % (EU average 12.3%) and Habitats Directive SCIs covering 11.95 % (EU average 13.8 %). There are 514 Natura 2000 sites in Slovakia - 41 SPAs and 473 SCIs. Natura 2000 is considered integrated into the national system of protected areas, which provides for conservation measures for Natura 2000 sites because of a high overlap between Natura 2000 and nationally protected areas. The same Act on Nature and Landscape Protection, governs both networks (Act 543/2002 Coll as amended) (European Commission, 2017).
Measures taken to promote sustainable forestry include determining the possibilities of natural regeneration of forests and their economic benefits to develop the most appropriate management practices for the protection of biodiversity in managed forests (CBD, 2014).
One objective of the biodiversity strategy is to integrate GI into spatial planning in the form of a “spatial system of ecological stability”, to ensure better functional linking of ecosystems and securing ecosystem functions and value for humans (including job creation and support for development) (Slovak Republic, 2014).
Several restoration measures are being implemented in Slovakia to restore water courses, bank vegetation and natural water regimes, e.g. to restore migration routes for water animals and functionality of wetlands (e.g. flood protection) (Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic, 2011).
The principle of minimizing adverse effects on the environment has been incorporated into the “Transport Policy of the Slovak Republic to 2015” and the “Strategy for Transport Development to 2020”; negative effects of transport development are also assessed in accordance with the Slovak EIA legislation Act No. 24/2006 as amended. Construction of new transport infrastructure is performed in accordance with these policies and negative effects of transport development are assessed in accordance with the Slovak EIA legislation Act No. 24/2006 as amended (CBD, 2014).
4. FINANCING GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE
According to a review by CEEweb (2011), there are no separate financial mechanisms specifically for the preservation and development of green infrastructure. Certain GI elements such as protected areas and Natura 2000 sites are financed by the state budget and/or regional authorities’ budget complemented largely by various EU sources, most importantly by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EARDF) and Operational Programmes. Project funding usually covers only restoration/designation costs, but not maintenance (CEEweb, 2011). Designation, management and maintenance of urban green spaces or locally relevant sites (e.g. parks, tree lanes, etc.) are covered from the local authorities’ budgets, while the maintenance and management of artificial or semi-natural assets, such as ecoducts or fish-passes, are often covered by the owner of the assets (e.g. railway/roadway managers and water plant owner) (ibid.).
Support of green infrastructure related projects from EU funds was inadequate so far. Despite the fact that these were eligible in the programming period 2007-2013, no GI project was co-financed over the whole period and funds were reallocated towards the end of the programming period to flood risk management and response capacity. The programming period 2014-2020 provides for support to green measures again (European Commission, 2017):
- Operational Programme Quality of the Environment (2014 – 2020) Primary Axis 1: Conservation and Restoration of Biodiversity and Soil and Support for Ecosystem Services including through Natura 2000 and Green Infrastructure; Priority Axis 2: Adaptation to Climate change with focus on flood protection.
- Integrated Regional Operational Programme - Regional Integrated Strategies (2014-2020). Especially Regionally Integrated Territorial Strategies and Sustainable Urban Development.
- Operational Programme Integrated Infrastructure - Building ecoducts on existing parts of highways.
- Rural Development Programme
- Interreg V-A Cross-border Coopeeration Programmes (SK-CZ, PL- SK, SK-HU, SK-AT).
The Village Renewal Programme (VRP) finances green infrastructure projects since 2015. The VPR’s aim is to create economic, organisational and technical conditions to support rural communities in their own competitiveness to the harmonious development of a healthy environment. VRP also focuses on the preservation of natural and cultural values of the landscape and development of environmentally friendly economic activities with a focus on the identity and specificities of the environment by supporting specific activities aimed at solving the acute problems of rural municipalities in the care of the rural environment. Support of green infrastructure building is included into Activity VRP2: ‘Green infrastructure and adaptation measures to climate change’. Eligible beneficiaries are municipalities with no city status and micro-regional associations of municipalities with no city status.
The implementation of the Territorial System of Ecological Stability at regional level (RÚSES) is has been promoted through financial contributions from the Operational Programme Environment 2007-2017: 22 Documents of Regional Territorial System of Ecological Stability within the project „Encouraging the protection of NATURA 2000 sites in integrating territorial system of ecological stability“. The other 50 districts of Slovakia will be financed by the Operational Programme Quality of the Environment 2014-2020.
50% of the Natura 2000 project “Restoration of Natura 2000 sites in Bratislava capital region” was funded by the European Commission and 50% by the Slovak Ministry of Environment (total budget: EUR 3,490,059).
The TRANSGREEN project is co-funded by European Union funds (ERDF, IPA), through the Danube Transnational Programme (DTP), Priority 3 - Better connected and energy responsible Danube region, Specific objective - Support environmentally-friendly and safe transport systems and balanced accessibility of urban and rural areas (Interreg, n.d.).
5. CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR GI DEVELOPMENT
5.1 Best practice/points of excellence
Barriers to the effective integration of green infrastructure include limited understanding of ecosystems, lack of data and information on benefits, planning weaknesses, poor use of integrated spatial planning processes and conflicts with economic and development interests (European Commission, 2017).
At the national level it is crucial to raise awareness of decision makers at local and regional level in order to prepare the implementation of green infrastructure projects from all operational programmes during the 2014-2020 period.
It is necessary to apply a multidisciplinary integrated approach (rather than sectoral) to the implementation of green infrastructure, through a cross-cutting commission (or working group), which should be composed of representatives of several sectors (e.g. forestry, water management, nature protection, agriculture, environmental law) and should integrate the approaches of these sectors in the proposals for the implementation of GI.
The absence of management of the abandoned agricultural landscape was another challenge identified by national experts.
Within the implementation of GI in Slovakia, it is necessary to manage so-called ‘white areas’ (forests on agricultural land) and abandoned agricultural land.
6. KNOWLEDGE BASE
A formal expert group for the mapping and assessment of ecosystem services in Slovakia (MAES-SK) was established in 2014. Activities are ongoing on mapping and assessment of ecosystems and their services at local/regional levels (assessment of ecosystem services for selected ecosystems have been performed in four national parks – Slovenský raj, Tatra, Veľká Fatra and Muránska planina). Slovakia is to develop a methodology for the assessment of ecosystem services and implement it in model areas in 2016, followed by a national assessment in 2018 and a national report in 2019 (CBD, 2014).
The Department of Grassland Management Practices and Ecology specialises in grassland research and management practices aiming at favourable conditions of meadows and pastures. Some of the activities include assessing production and non- production functions from the aspects of management and sustainability; proposing suitable grassland management practices considering ecological aspects and biodiversity; analysing problems of non-utilized or abandoned grassland and revitalization; and assessing possibilities for ecological restoration and returning arable land to grassland (NPPC, n.d.).
“Methodological guide for Regional Territorial system of Ecological Stability Development” (Slovak Environment Agency, 2014): http://www.sazp.sk/public/index/go.php?id=2583
Project APVV-0591-07 ‘Waste Lands and Abandoning of Landscape in Slovakia’ – the project focused on the management of abandoned agricultural landscapes and “white areas” using elements of GI.
In 2016, the National Indicator Set of Biodiversity State and Protection (ISOB) has been updated and evaluated based on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011 – 2020, the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, as well as the objectives and measures of the Updated National Biodiversity Strategy by 2020. The ISOB consists of 64 indicators directly or indirectly related to biodiversity issues, including indicators related to GI. The set of indicators is updated continuously and its evaluation is every 5 years.
7. LIST OF CONSULTED REFERENCES
CBD (2014). Fifth National Report on the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity in the Slovak Republic. https://www.cbd.int/doc/world/sk/sk-nr-05-en.pdf
CBD (2009). Fourth National Report on the Implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity in the Slovak Republic. http://www.cbd.int/doc/world/sk/sk-nr-04-en.doc
CEEweb (2011). Assessing Green Infrastructure Elements in the Visegrad Countries. Analysing Green Infrastructure elements and connectivity at national level in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. http://www.ceeweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Assessing_Green_Infrastructure_Elements_in_the_Visegrad_Countries_updated.pdf
Enviroportal (2017). Indikátory stavu a ochrany biodiverzity (Biological diverzity indicators - state and protection). http://www.enviroportal.sk/indicator/301?langversion=sk
European Commission (2007). Innovative Alps-Carpathians Corridor re-establishes a major migration route for wild animals. Accessed 4 April 2017: http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/projects/best-practices/austria/2465
European Commission (2013). Green Infrastructure (GI) – Enhancing Europe’s Natural Capital. COM(2013) 249 final.
European Commission (2017). The EU Environmental Implementation Review Country Report – Slovakia. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eir/pdf/report_sk_en.pdf
ClimateADAPT (2016). EEA grants supporting the city of Bratislava to implement climate adaptation measures (2016). Accessed 10 April 2017: http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/metadata/case-studies/eea-grants-supporting-the-city-of-bratislava-to-implement-climate-adaptation-measures
EEA (2015). SOER 2015 – The European environment – state and outlook 2015. Slovakia. http://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/countries/slovakia
European Commission (2017). The EU Environmental Implementation Review Country Report – SLOVAKIA. http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eir/pdf/report_sk_en.pdf
Interreg (n.d.). TRANSGREEN - INTEGRATED TRANSPORT AND GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE PLANNING IN THE DANUBE-CARPATHIAN REGION FOR THE BENEFIT OF PEOPLE AND NATURE. Accessed 10 April 2017: http://www.interreg-danube.eu/approved-projects/transgreen
LIFE Project Database (n.d.). LIFE Danube floodplains - Restoration and management of Danube floodplain habitats. Accessed on 06 December 2016: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/project/Projects/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.dspPage&n_proj_id=5341
LIFE Project Database (n.d.). LIFE IPORSEN - Wetland habitat restoration and bird protection of Poiplie, Horna Orava and Senianske rybniky SPAs in Slovakia. Accessed on 06 December 2016: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/project/Projects/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.dspPage&n_proj_id=5856
LIFE Project Database (n.d.). ZAHORIE SANDS - Restoration and Management of Sand Dunes Habitats in Zahorie Military Training Area. Accessed 10 April 2017: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/project/Projects/index.cfm?fuseaction=search.dspPage&n_proj_id=3135
Midriak, R. et al. (2011). Spustnuté pôdy a pustnutie krajiny Slovenska. Univerzita Mateja Bela, Fakulta prírodných vied, Banská Bystrica, 401 s.
Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic (2011). Report on Water Management in the Slovak Republic in 2010. http://www.minzp.sk/files/sekcia-vod/modra_sprava_2010_anglicka.pdf
Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic (2014). Adaptation Strategy of the Slovak Republic on Adverse Impacts of Climate Change. Overview: Executive Summary. http://climate-adapt.eea.europa.eu/repository/11273729.pdf
NPPC (n.d.). Grassland and Mountain Agriculture Research Institute (GMARI). Accessed 10 April 2017: http://www.vutphp.sk/english.pdf
Slovak Republic (2014). Updated National Biodiversity Strategy for the Protection of Biodiversity to by 2020. https://www.cbd.int/doc/world/sk/sk-nbsap-v3-en.pdf
Zvolen (2017). Biotech innovations in reusing of the rain water in the town of Zvolen. http://zelenyzvolen.eu/o-projekte/adaptacne-opatrenia-vseobecne/