Brod Ecological Society, Gajna, Croatia

Common pastures in Sava River floodplains - oases of natural and cultural heritage

Šimo Beneš is a doctor and lifelong resident of the Gajna region. His longstanding dedication to protecting the region’s rural and cultural heritage earned him a Brod-Posavina County lifetime achievement award in 2013, and he helped found the Brod Ecological Society (BED), which has worked extensively to ensure the protected status of the Gajna grasslands.

Iris Beneš, a lawyer, has worked with BED since she was a teenager. She strongly advocates for nature protection and environmental issues, particularly on topics relating to common pastures, community conservation and the preservation of indigenous species.

BED has been involved in managing Gajna since 1989, having made the area something of a Noah’s Ark for reintroduced native Croatian cattle breeds. Free-range grazing by cattle on flooded common grasslands is the key ecological process in the Sava River area. This man-made habitat, full of alluvial areas with many opportunities for spawning and nesting, is as biodiverse as many found in pristine nature. Yet over the last few decades these meadows and grasslands have been in danger of dying out.

The invasive species Amorpha has occupied large areas of the floodplains along the Sava, and has led to a significant decrease in the surface area of pastures and meadows and their rich plant and animal life.

While better co-ordination between the conservation and agricultural sectors in needed, many factors for successful conservation are already in place. There is a sense of ‘local ownership’ of the site by the community, dedication on the part of BED, expertise from nature protection bodies and support from other sectors like water management, tourism and local government.

The success of this project relies on harmonising the many different initial interests of all the actors involved through constant and progressive communication. This is vital to bring people together to ensure the preservation of Gajna’s natural and cultural heritage for generations to come.

“Being Šimo’s daughter, conservation was carved in my genetic code and my upbringing. When I was growing up, we were outside a lot, on field trips, talking about traditional and natural inheritance. Every time I come here, I have a physical sense of belonging. I feel like if I drop my hands down my roots would stick into the ground. That is the emotional part, but there are also lots of values that are connected to Gajna – values I believe are disappearing with the last generation who possess the traditional knowledge, and who are accustomed to some sort of community management of areas. I think it is essential to keep this way of life alive. It is extremely hard to maintain it in the face of adverse government policies. It began as a local initiative, but eventually we found ourselves in the national and international environment, where I notice that in different parts of the world people have very similar experiences. For me these are my personal roots, but also some sort of solidarity with others in the world who do the same”IRIS BENEŠ

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