Sixth National Report
Section I. Information on the targets being pursued at the national level
1.1 Ensure a clear, harmonized and feasible legislative and institutional framework for the implementation of nature conservation mechanisms ()
The Republic of Croatia established legislative and institutional framework for undertaking of activities aimed at the fulfilment of goals, guidelines and action plans regarding the conservation of biodiversity, geodiversity and landscape diversity.
However, sectoral competence is divided among different State Administrative Bodies (SABs) and expert institutions, which is why intersectoral cooperation should be continuously strengthened in the process of drafting and implementation of all legal acts, in particular strategic acts. For strengthening of cooperation between the nature protection sector and other sectors, it is necessary to define effective conservation measures and their sectoral implementation, in order to get all relevant sectors to recognize their role and get more actively involved in management planning for protected areas and Natura 2000 ecological network sites, and in the management itself.
The process of adoption of the Nature Protection Strategy and Action Plan of the Republic of Croatia for the period 2017-2025, i.e. adoption of all 20 national targets, has commenced in June 2014, within the GEF-funded project entitled “National Biodiversity Planning to Support the Implementation of the CBD 2011-2020 Strategic Plan in Croatia”, with the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MEE) and the Croatian Agency for Environment and Nature (CAEN) as project beneficiaries, and with the UNDP as the implementing agency.
Croatian Agency for Environment and Nature (CAEN) was established by the Regulation on the Establishment of the Croatian Agency for the Environment and Nature, 1st July 2015 (OG 72/15). Pursuant to Article 20, paragraph 1 of the Regulation, CAEN is the legal successor of the Croatian Environment Agency and the State Institute for Nature Protection, taking over their activities within the scope defined by the Regulation and the relevant bylaws, with these two entities no longer operational from the date of registration of CAEN in the court register. Please note that CAEN is from the 1st of January 2019 integrated within the Ministry of Environment and Energy as Institute for Environment and Nature Conservation (IENC). Abbreviation CAEN will be used only in the context of the projects undertaken before the integration of CAEN with MEE as of 1st of January 2019.
CAEN prepared the analysis of the state of nature in the Republic of Croatia in the period from 2008 until 2012, based on which the MEE initiated the procedure of drafting the new Strategy. In order to define strategic goals, expert proposals have been prepared by the staff from MEE and CAEN. Preparatory work to determine the specific objectives (i.e. national targets), activities and status assessments has been performed by working groups that consisted of the staff from nature protection institutions. In order to define national targets and priority activities, intersectoral working group was also established, with the representatives of competent SABs, expert institutions, public institutions competent for managing protected areas (PIs), inspection services, scientific institutions, the economy organizations and civil society organizations (CSOs).
Five presentations and workshops were held during the drafting process, including the participation of other SABs, PIs, as well as CSOs. The survey was conducted, analyzed and published on the website of the MEE, with the aim of collecting the opinions of stakeholders in the nature protection sector and other sectors (private and public), CSOs and individuals. The electronic survey involved 115 stakeholders, and its results were taken into account in the drafting of national targets and activities.
The idea behind the involving of large number of stakeholders in the drafting of the Strategy was to approach nature protection planning in an integrated manner, thus creating the preconditions for the integration of nature-related aspects in all the relevant sectors.
Working groups began operating in June 2014. The first draft of the Strategy was prepared towards the end of 2014. In the second quarter of 2015 the Strategy entered into the procedure of public consultation and adoption. The draft of the Strategy was available within the central state portal for public consultations “e-Savjetovanja” during the time period from 10 June until 9 July 2015, with the aim of collecting objections, proposals and opinions of the interested public. In this period, 89 comments were received from 7 stakeholders in total. The Strategy was adopted at the 253rd session of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, held on 17 September 2015, and sent to the Croatian Parliament, but it was not discussed there until its dissolution in September 2015. The Strategy adoption procedure was initiated again in the second quarter of 2016.
The Strategy is a result of integration of goals from the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, and it reflects intensive involvement not only of the central, regional and local administration, but also of various experts and scientists, CSOs and private sector stakeholders that cooperated in the process.
1.2 Design and establish a representative and functional network of areas significant for nature conservation ()
In the Republic of Croatia, there is a long tradition of granting protection to valuable areas, with the aim of their long-term protection within national and/or international categories of protection, as well as a long tradition of conservation of parts of nature or comprehensive ecosystems and therefore the use of natural resources. Additionally, as the EU member state, Croatia designated a comprehensive network of areas significant for species and habitats of EU importance – Natura 2000 ecological network. Nevertheless, there are some problems in management of such areas which include imprecisely defined boundaries of protected areas; only partial inclusion of protected area boundaries in cadastre and land registry documentation; large number of areas small in surface; clear domination of categories corresponding to IUCN management category V that are demanding in management due to many permitted forms of use, such as nature parks, regional parks and significant landscapes/seascapes (over 80% of the total surface of protected areas); as well as incompletely performed audit of protected areas. Regarding geodiversity, in order to ensure effective protection, as well as better management, it is necessary to define the evaluation criteria; to re-examine the need for new categories of protection or for adaptation of the existing categories; and to initiate the review process for protected geoheritage.
1.3 Standardize management in nature protection and establish a performance monitoring system ()
In order to ensure more effective management and conservation of wild species in nature, it is primarily necessary to define protection and conservation priorities, taking into account threats and pressures. Priority species and habitats, in terms of the implementation of required conservation measures, are determined and published by the IENC. In accordance with the defined priorities, it is necessary to draft action plans for the conservation of species and their habitats; implement specific activities, such as the improvement in the work of care centers for injured, wounded, sick and exhausted strictly protected wild animal species; and establish a functional system for alerting and monitoring dead, injured or sick strictly protected wild animals.
Management of protected areas is performed through management plans and annual programs of protection, maintenance, conservation, promotion and use of protected area, and in accordance with physical planning documentation and other sectoral management plans of natural resources. In practice, conservation of Natura 2000 ecological network areas and protected areas is ensured through the integration of appropriate nature protection requirements in spatial plans and natural resource management plans, through the implementation of Ecological Network Impact Assessment (ENIA), and through the implementation of activities stemming from protected areas management plans for areas where such plans have been adopted. To evaluate and follow up the effectiveness of management of these areas it is necessary to develop and establish a monitoring system with defined methodology. In addition, it is also important to work on improving the legislative framework in terms of defining specific measures for the protection of species when implementing projects in nature.
1.4 Develop co-operative management modalities and strengthen communication ()
Informing and educating the public is a very important aspect of the nature protection system. In order to engage in the implementation of measures aimed at protection and conservation of natural values as effectively as possible, it is particularly important to ensure support of all stakeholders directly or indirectly involved in nature protection.
Public opinion survey on nature protection undertaken in 2013 looked at the attitudes and knowledge of the public regarding nature protection in the Republic of Croatia. The survey showed that nature protection is perceived positively and that the respondents are acquainted with the concept of biodiversity, but also that they are still not particularly well informed about the Natura 2000 ecological network. Consequently, it is necessary to promote communication on the ecological network as well as to ensure participation of stakeholders in the management of the ecological network.
2.1 Ensure sustainable use of natural resources through sectoral planning documents ()
Habitats and wild species in the Republic of Croatia are predominantly threatened by anthropogenic activities due to the use of natural resources, or due to takeover and use of space. On the other hand, disappearance of certain human activities, such as mowing or grazing, can also have a negative impact on biodiversity and result in natural succession, change in ecological conditions and disappearance of species. Regulation of watercourses and changes in the water regime represent the key threats to all water-dependant habitat types such as river gravels, sand shores and muddy shores, karst watercourses with tufa-creating communities and tufa barriers, as well as all types of wet grasslands and floodplain forests. Coastal habitats are under strong pressures due to expanding construction areas. One must not also neglect climate change, considered one of the key reasons of the loss of biodiversity at the global level due to impacts on nesting times, migrations and distribution of species. These effects have already been detected in the Republic of Croatia, particularly changes in the periods of arrival of certain migratory bird species and the beginning of their nesting, as well as the phenomenon of coral bleaching and continuous appearance of new Lessepsian migrants.
One of the most important direct mechanisms of nature protection implemented in other sectors is the integration of nature protection requirements in physical planning documents and in natural resource management plans. The integration of nature protection requirements, nature protection measures and conservation guidelines for the ecological network is also ensured in the process of adoption of water area management plans, and in the preparation and implementation of projects and works in water management. The Water Act itself requires the achievement of good ecological status of waters, which includes chemical, biological and hydromorphological elements of water quality. When it comes to watercourses with disrupted hydrological status due to performed works, provisions of the Water Act require the implementation of revitalization/restoration measures. Provisions on the integration of nature protection requirements and nature protection measures also pertain to the agricultural sector. However, there is a need to strengthen the principles of conservation and sustainable use of natural resources in sectoral plans, strategies, programmes and policies, and in natural resource management plans and physical planning documents. Moreover, it is necessary to define effective conservation measures, including for species and habitat types sensitive to climate change, and integrate them into sectoral documents, in order to get sectors more involved in management planning and in the management itself, including the financing of management.
2.2 Strengthen the system for implementation of Ecological Network Impact Assessment ()
ENIA is carried out for strategies, plans, programs and projects. When it comes to strategies, plans and programmes, ENIA is performed within the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). In such a manner, already in the early planning stages, favourable solutions are chosen in order to avoid or mitigate possible negative impacts on the environment and nature. When it comes to projects, ENIA is performed either as an independent procedure, or within the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). These procedures are being harmonized with the obligations stemming from international agreements, and in particular with the obligations stemming from the EU acquis. Guidelines on the Provision of Information and Participation of the Interested Public in EIA and SEA Procedures have also been prepared, in order to ensure high-quality inclusion and provision of information to the public. If the ENIA concludes that the negative impact is significant, project mitigation measures are prescribed in relation to conservation objectives for the areas of the ecological network where the project is implemented or where the project may have an impact.
However, although regulations in the area of nature protection are harmonized with the EU acquis, and the legal framework for sustainable use of natural resources is defined, additional efforts are needed to ensure effective implementation of these regulations and to raise awareness on the need for sustainable use of natural resources. The key issues in the implementation of ENIA are problems of insufficient capacities of competent bodies and the need to improve the quality of studies.
2.3 Ensure sustainable use of native wild species where their use is not regulated by special regulations ()
Sustainable use of natural resources is the use of natural resources in a manner that preserves their potential to fulfil the relevant current and future ecological, economic and social functions at the local, national and global level. There are approximately 40,000 known species and subspecies in the Republic of Croatia, and it is assumed that the actual total number is in fact significantly higher (ranging from 50,000 to over 100,000). Some of these species are traditionally used as remedies or food, and in certain areas and during certain time can become overexploited. Consequently, it is important to better regulate the commercial collection of certain plants, mushrooms and marine species in order to prevent their excessive use, and to eliminate the possibility of deterioration of the living conditions of these species to the extent that would render them endangered.
2.4 Protect genetic diversity and sustainably use genetic resources ()
The Republic of Croatia has recognized the wealth and value of its genetic resources, as well as their wide application in different areas of research. Consequently, pursuant to Article 15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the provisions relating to the access to and use of genetic material are for a number of years a part of the legal provisions of the Nature Protection Act (OG 80/13, 15/18, 14/19) (NPA). Although the provisions of the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization are partially already included in the provisions on genetic diversity within the NPA, the Nagoya Protocol Enforcement Act will provide the upgrade of national legislation related to the use of genetic resources and ensure that the legislative framework in this area is completed. Accordingly, other required laws and bylaws need to be adopted, such as the Implementing Act of Regulation (EU) No. 511/2014 on the harmonization measures for users of the Nagoya Protocol.
2.5 Conserve unfragmented natural areas and restore the most threatened degraded habitats ()
The construction of transport infrastructure (roads, railways, navigation channels) represents one of the key reasons behind habitat fragmentation in the Republic of Croatia. Impacts of increasing traffic can be seen in increased noise, consequential disturbance of animals and pollution along roads and railways, resulting in unfavourable living conditions in the surrounding habitats. Additional consequences include road kills, inability of animals to access natural resources, and intensified spreading of invasive species. Habitat fragmentation is also caused by increasing urbanization and intensive agriculture. Projects that affect upon integral units of forest areas have a particularly significant impact. Dams also represent physical barriers that interrupt the migrations of organisms along rivers and watercourses, and they impact upon changes in habitat conditions both upstream and downstream. As a consequence of habitats degradation including change of biotic and abiotic characteristics, the most threatened vertebrate group are freshwater fish species. The impact of dams is present along most of the Croatian rivers, and the consequences include the disappearance of certain fish species and changes to the quantitative and qualitative structure of fish communities.
Inclusion of green infrastructure in spatial planning can significantly contribute to mitigate a decrease in habitat fragmentation. The conservation of large and uninterrupted spaces, coupled with decreasing spatial fragmentation, represents a key criterion of sustainable development. In order to present the overview of area fragmentation in the Republic of Croatia caused by transport infrastructure, an adjusted indicator of infrastructure fragmentation was used, focusing on areas larger than 100 km2 that are not divided by motorways, state roads, county roads, railway lines or urban areas. The average surface of individual unfragmented areas in the Republic of Croatia is 240 km2, and the share of such areas in the land surface of the Republic of Croatia is 58%. The average share of unfragmented areas per county is 48%. This indicator points to a significantly lower level of fragmentation caused by transport infrastructure compared to the Western European countries. However, according to assessments, the process of habitat fragmentation is expected to continue in Europe in the future, in particularly in the eastern part of the continent, due to the development of infrastructural projects driven by the investments from EU funds.
2.6 Establish management system for alien species, and implement measures for the prevention of introduction, spread and control of Invasive Alien Species ()
Invasive Alien Species (IAS) are one of the key threats to biodiversity in the Republic of Croatia. They also have a direct negative impact on the economy, due to the harm caused to infrastructure and hydroenergy facilities, but also an indirect negative impact, due to decreased labour effectiveness caused by the health problems associated with allergies. Costs caused to the EU due to IAS are estimated to be at least 12 billion EUR per year, and they are growing continuously. In the Republic of Croatia, the total scope of damage has not been determined, but there are individual examples illustrating the financial significance of the problem, e.g. damage caused to hydroenergy facilities HE Varaždin, HE Čakovec and HE Dubrava, as a result of growth of thick layers of the bivalve species zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) and the plant Canadian waterweed (Elodea canadensis). The cost of zebra mussel removal over the past four-year period exceeded 200,000 EUR, while costs due to the removal of the Canadian waterweed and repair of the damage caused by the plant at the HE Čakovec amounted to approximately 65,000 EUR. Unless measures are undertaken to resolve this issue at the national level, including harmonized actions of stakeholders, situation is likely to worsen, This problem is also rising due to the introduction of new IAS, coupled with uncontrolled spread of the already existing ones, which results in increasing damage and management costs. Analysis of the state of nature in the Republic of Croatia in the period from 2008 until 2012 has shown that IAS result in biggest threats to amphibians, freshwater fish species, reptiles, marine fish species and dragonflies, while the number of alien species is rising. IAS data collection and database maintenance, coupled with education and awareness raising among the public, represent important segments of IAS management. Obstacles to a systematic and effective resolution of the IAS issue include lack of systematic knowledge on the paths of introduction and on the impact of alien species, lack of a comprehensive list of alien species, and lack of systematic prioritization of alien species in the Republic of Croatia. Furthermore, insufficient financial, human and technical resources pose an obstacle to the establishment of a management system for alien species. In addition, it would be necessary to harmonize intersectoral activities through the national legislative framework, as that would create a foundation for effective inclusion of various stakeholders in resolving the IAS issue. A public opinion survey conducted in 2013 has shown that the public is insufficiently educated and informed on IAS (for example, over 60% of the inhabitants of the Republic of Croatia have never heard of the concept of IAS). The Marine and Coastal Management Strategy covers some of these issues.
Even though the IAS issue transcends state borders, current regional cooperation is insufficiently developed, and it is not coordinated, which poses an additional problem.
3.1 Strengthen institutional capacities in nature protection ()
In the period from 2008, significant efforts have been invested in capacity building in nature protection, but the results achieved are still not entirely satisfactory. Decreasing standard of living and long-term recession had impact upon the initiated strengthening of the nature protection system capacities. The observed stagnation in the system of capacity building is the cause of the frequent changing of priorities connected with the nature protection system, at the state level, but also at the regional level. For establishing an effective nature protection system it is necessary to conduct further alignment of legislation, as well as additional training of employees of administrative and expert bodies at the state level, but also at the regional level. Expert qualifications and education of administrative and expert bodies at the state and regional level, together with the involvement of the interested public, have been recognized as foundations for effective nature management and conservation.
In addition, there is a need for defining tools for development of individual, organizational and systematic sectorial capacities.
This target contributes to Strategic goal E (Enhance implementation of the Convention through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building).
3.2 Continue strengthening technical knowledge and skills for effective implementation of nature protection ()
The comparison of identified shortfalls and education courses developed and implemented so far makes it clear that education programmes are heading in the right direction. However, capacity assessments of the nature protection system and the efforts aimed at its strengthening have mostly been focusing on one segment in the system – public institutions that manage protected areas and Natura 2000 sites. The results of undertaken analyses of capacity-building needs have made it clear that the nature protection system includes significant differences in educational levels of the staff, as well as in levels of knowledge and skills; there are significant capacity gaps, but also internal capacities that can be used in education programmes.
In order to ensure proper assessment and definition of priorities for further development of educational programs, identification on competences needed for effective management of protected areas was done in 2018. Never the less, for the development of comprehensive educational program for the nature protection system there is a need to implement a national survey that would cover all institutions within the system and all employee profiles. In the future, greater attention should be dedicated to maintaining the records on education in various institutions, as well as to topics neglected so far.
This target contributes to Strategic goal E. (Enhance implementation of the Convention through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building).
3.3 Increase financial sustainability of the nature protection system ()
Financing of nature protection in the Republic of Croatia, to a large extent, still relies on funds from the State Budget of the Republic of Croatia, and to a lesser extent also on the budgets of regional and/or local self-governments. Individual institutions in the system are funded by own revenue to a larger or lesser degree, also through the assistance of international organizations and EU institutions, and donations of natural persons and legal entities. With the accession of the Republic of Croatia to the EU, and the opening of opportunities for use of funding for nature protection projects stemming from various EU funds, the problem of ensuring the funding for interim financing and co-financing of projects has become an increasingly prominent challenge. This problem is particularly clear in case of institutions managing protected nature areas at the regional and/or local level, as well as in case of CSOs active in environmental and nature protection.
The data on financial resources, and the analysis of the existing biodiversity funding mechanisms, and funds available through these mechanisms from various sources, point to a significant share in total financing. At the same time, however, one can also note that there is a lack of systematic records, as well as absence of data or insufficient data from the private and the non-governmental sector, and from research institutions. The data on national funds earmarked for biodiversity and assessments of costs necessary to implement activities and achieve resource mobilization targets are neither collected nor processed at the system level.
Additional potential in biodiversity funding also includes further development of innovative financial mechanisms. The Republic of Croatia has had positive experiences in the implementation of such mechanisms so far, such as the introduction of fiscal reforms through the system of fees payable by environmental polluters and users in the private and public sector on the basis of the polluter pays principle, where the Energy Efficiency and Environmental Protection Fund (EPEEF) provides one part of the collected funds to projects contributing to biodiversity conservation. One of the globally accepted mechanisms being applied in the Republic of Croatia for a long period is the mobilization of additional funds in protected areas through the improvement of services and content, and through entry ticket sales.
The introduction of positive biodiversity incentives, such as agri-environment incentives or subsidies for temporary suspension of activities in fisheries in order to ensure the recovery of fish stock, as well as the introduction of new financial mechanisms during the previous period, point to the presence of fiscal reform efforts and to the implementation of a system of incentives and financial mechanisms. In order to mitigate or eliminate negative impacts on biodiversity, the forthcoming period will include an analysis of subsidies harmful to biodiversity, and as needed, reform and/or elimination of those subsidies that may cause the biggest negative impact on biodiversity will be proposed.
4.1 Increase the knowledge on the state of nature ()
There are approximately 40,000 species recorded in the Republic of Croatia so far, and it is assumed that the actual number of species in the country is considerably higher. In recent times, it can be noted an increase in the number of known and recorded species in the Republic of Croatia, mostly due to better knowledge on biodiversity, and due to intensified research targeted at inventories of flora and fauna in the Republic of Croatia particularly the ones linked with the implementation of the Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. Institutions in the nature protection sector also provide their contribution, through (co)financing of a large number of research projects. Multiannual activities are being implemented, targeted at the collection of available historical data for priority taxonomic groups and the collection of current field data. In 2011 and 2012, activities regarding the establishment of status monitoring system have intensified, and the first national monitoring programs for species and habitats have been prepared. Further work is ongoing in the establishment of the monitoring system. The Habitat Map of the Republic of Croatia on a scale of 1:100,000 has provided an overview of all habitat types and their spatial distribution in the Republic of Croatia for the first time. However, over time, it became clear that the current map scale is insufficiently detailed for the purposes of planning, management and status monitoring in nature protection, and that for the implementation of these activities requires the preparation of a more precise map. In 2016, new Habitat Map of the Republic of Croatia (only non-forest habitats) on a scale of 1:25,000 has been published. This map is amended with a more detailed mapping of protected areas, but only to a minor extent.
Cave Cadaster of the Republic of Croatia was established in 2015 by IENC and speleological organizations, and it is being continuously updated with the new data. Even though the relevant regulations exist, there is no organized and systematic collection of data on geodiversity at the national level, as a prerequisite for high-quality assessment and conservation of significant geological sites, minerals and fossils. The methods applied in geodiversity data collection at the local level are diverse and frequently not comparable.
Preparation of inventory, typological classification and assessment of landscapes have been performed only in individual project areas (UNDP/GEF). Intersectoral Group for Landscapes has been established, and it has reached certain recommendations, but lack of consolidation and lack of a harmonized approach to this issue are still present.
Even though data collection on species and habitat types has improved significantly in the recent period, additional work is still required in order to standardize data collection, and in order to improve the collection itself. This primarily pertains to the collection of existing data for those groups where that has not been done so far, in order to enable the analysis of trends and desirable status, and in order to ensure reference values needed for the assessment of conservation status. Related to this issue, there is a need to continue working on the establishment of a monitoring system, having in mind the country's obligation to submit reports on the implementation of undertaken conservation measures within the framework of the Habitats Directive every six years, which must also include monitoring results regarding the conservation of species and habitat types listed in the Annexes to the Directive. In addition, pursuant to the provisions of the Birds Directive, member states have the duty to report on the population status of all bird species naturally occurring in the territory of a given member state. As an EU member state, the Republic of Croatia thus has the duty to report on the conservation status of around 600 species and habitat types from the Annexes of these Directives every six years. In 2019, Croatia submitted first report on the conservation status of species and habitats according to the two Directives. In addition, having in mind the planning and implementation of effective management, and the implementation of ENIA procedures, there is recognized need to collect data in the areas of the ecological network, in order to properly define conservation goals, to create spatial zoning in view of target species and habitat types, and in order to define conservation measures on the basis of nature protection requirements in the areas of the ecological network. The collected data will also be used to create new and to update the existing Red Lists, which would serve as base proposals for nature valuation and for the planning of conservation measures. Due to increasing pressures on natural resources, there is also a need to collect data on species, in order to define usage quotas. In addition, data collection regarding marine biodiversity, including the mapping of marine habitats, needs to be continued, since the data is currently lacking on account of expensive and demanding nature of this type of research. The biggest challenge in the fulfilment of all legal obligations will be posed by lack of human resources for field data collection, but also for data processing and project implementation, and internal and intersectoral coordination in this area.
4.2 Increase the availability of data on the state of nature ()
In 1998, the Republic of Croatia has ratified the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) and the Convention is integrated into the Croatian legislation. Pursuant to the Act on the Right of Access to Information (OG 25/13, 85/15), some institutions in the nature protection sector have established appropriate information catalogues containing systematized overviews of available data on nature protection. In addition, all institutions in the system receive and respond to individual requests for access to information. Analysis of the level and speed of response to such requests has not been performed for individual institutions in the system. IENC has been registered as the official entity of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) in the nature protection sector, and it has the obligation and duty to maintain and share spatial data in connection with specific themes of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure Act – Protected Areas, Habitats and Biotopes, and Species Distribution.
In accordance with the provisions of the NPA, IENC establishes and maintains the Nature Protection Information System of the Republic of Croatia, taking into account internationally accepted standards and obligations. The Nature Protection Information System (NPIS) consists of a set of thematic databases (flora, fauna, habitats, speleological cadastre, protected areas, Natura 2000 ecological network, etc.), application solutions and web services intended for storage, maintenance and sharing of data connected with various components of biodiversity, geodiversity and landscape diversity, and connected with nature protection in the Republic of Croatia. Some NPIS thematic databases are operational, and some are in the final phases of completion. Since May 2015, the web portal of the NPIS called Bioportal is also available. Activities regarding the collection, processing, verification and publication of data on nature are continuously implemented through regular programmes and through domestic and international projects, thus respecting the right of the public to access information and the provisions of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure Act. Web services (WMS/WFS) have been established for overview and download of data on protected areas in the Republic of Croatia (according to national categories of protection), areas of the Natura 2000 ecological network, and the habitat map of the Republic of Croatia. Intensive work is ongoing in the preparation and verification of data on species distribution.
In cooperation with the expert community, IENC is implementing a range of projects and activities connected with the improvement of the NPIS; harmonization of the spatial data infrastructure with the provisions of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure Act; standardization of data collection; preparation and verification of expert literature and field data on findings regarding species, habitat types and speleological sites. Activities are also focused on improving the precision of spatial data. Further upgrades of the NPIS web portal will allow interactive access to spatial data and attributes regarding biodiversity and nature protection for the public and for the nature protection sector. The web portal also includes published data from the Register of Protected Areas. In accordance with the NPA, the NPIS will also require the setting up of a geodiversity database of the Republic of Croatia, to be registered in the NSDI as a new source of data for the Geology thematic group.
In order to fulfil the obligations stemming from the NPA, Act on the Right of Access to Information, and the National Spatial Data Infrastructure Act, it is necessary to continue working on improving all components of the NPIS and on ensuring its stable operation, so that expert and scientific sector, as well as the wider public, could have timely and unhindered access to data within the competence of IENC. It is necessary to continuously work on strengthening the cooperation with the scientific and expert community and with other institutions in the nature protection sector and in connected sectors, with the aim of ensuring mechanisms for effective data collection and maintenance, and for monitoring and reporting on the state of nature.
4.3 Evaluate and map ecosystem and their services with the goals of assessing and improving their status ()
The Strategy and action plan for the protection of biological and landscape diversity of the Republic of Croatia from 2008 has not dealt with ecosystem services directly, and this topic was tackled comprehensively for the first time in the Report on the State of Nature in the Republic of Croatia for the period 2008-2012. However, in the early 1990s, this topic was recognized within the services provided by forest ecosystems, as reflected in the concept of "non-market forest functions" that was integrated in the Forest Act.
The concept of ecosystem services has a major potential as an added value in the existing approach to nature protection, but it is still not sufficiently recognized in various sectors. Inter alia, the goals are to make natural values more visible, in order to use state-of-the-art approaches and scientific knowledge to ensure the adoption of high-quality strategic decisions at the local and national level, aligned with sustainable use of natural resources.
Several studies on the topic of ecosystem services have been published in the Republic of Croatia so far. Other activities include the publication of a study entitled Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and Their Services in the Republic of Croatia, also intended for the wider public, as well as the Ecosystem Map of the Republic of Croatia, which is available via the GIS web service of IENC. However, more work is needed in the field of ecosystem services, including revision of map of ecosystem services as well as preparation of the list of priorities for restoration of ecosystems and their services.
5.1 Improve understanding and representation of nature-related topics and nature protection in the educational system and strengthen cooperation with the education sector ()
Even though children first come across nature protection themes as early as in the preschool age, they start receiving initial tangible information on these issues during their elementary school education, through courses covering science and society, nature, biology and geography. In high schools, nature protection themes are covered in biology and geography programmes, with vocational schools covering these themes depending on the specific high school programme and depending on the volume of biology classes. In addition to the compulsory part of the curriculum, interested pupils can expand their knowledge through various optional and extracurricular activities, but also through other programmes connected with environmental and nature protection.
The Croatian higher education system includes study programmes thematically focused on nature protection. However, courses fully dedicated to nature protection typically exist in study programmes educating future experts in biology, marine ecology /fisheries/aquaculture, agronomy, forestry and hunting, while programmes for other profiles typically include more optional than compulsory courses dealing with nature protection. In the area of education (teacher education and pedagogy), there are quite many courses covering some of the segments of nature protection, without being fully dedicated to this issue. A similar situation exists in study programmes in geography, while study programmes in social sciences and the economy cover nature protection information only superficially.
The analysis has shown that there is a need to establish permanent cooperation between state bodies competent for education and those competent for nature protection; to design and implement additional programmes for active monitoring of individual plant and animal species and habitats that would be implemented in elementary schools and high schools; and to work on the introduction of as much project-based teaching as feasible. In addition, it is also necessary to improve vocational training of elementary school and high school teachers, and to strengthen the cooperation of institutions in the nature protection sector with higher education institutions in the designing of curricula and in systematic transfer of practical experiences.