PROJEKT: Restoration of drought-loving herbaceous communities in the contact area of the Pannonian and Alpine bioregions
Dobrovoľníci v Bielych Karpatoch

During the second weekend of November 2022, together with the association Pre Prírodu, the JARO Group and the Administration of the PLA Biele Karpaty, we organized a volunteer event called Mission Apollo 11. It is probably unprecedented in Slovakia at the moment, as more than 70 people from Slovakia, the Czech Republic and France took part in the active management of the Babiná natural reservation on Saturday. The main purpose of the conservation weekend was to restore rare dry grassland habitats and thus prepare the ground for the return of the king of butterflies, the mountain Apollo (Parnassius apollo), after which the event was named.

We repeated the Mission Apollo 11 exactly five years later, as we met on November 11 in 2017 at the nearby Vršatské Bradlá. Thanks to that, probably the largest Slovak population of mountain Apollo lives there today. A little over 50 volunteers took part in the event at the time, and the increase in the number of volunteers positively surprised us. “In recent years, we have seen a rather decreasing interest of the public in similar activities connected with the management of protected areas. The only exceptions are events focused on garbage collection or tree planting. However, these alone will not reverse the ongoing loss of biodiversity, and the second of them may even be counterproductive in this regard,” said our colleague Jakub Cíbik about the event.

One of Saturday’s activities was correcting “planting” mistakes from the past. In the middle of the last century, the rock cliffs on Babiná were reforested with Forest pine in an attempt to „revive“ the barren rocks. Today, however, we paradoxically point to the fact that non-forest heat and drought-tolerant plant communities on cliffs belong to the most species-rich habitats in our country. At the same time, a large number of invertebrates, including rare butterflies are also tied to xerotherms, as these habitats are professionally called. In addition, the volunteers cleared the plató above the former quarry of overgrown trees, where a lot of White stonecrops, food plants of mountain Apollo caterpillars, grow. During the event, we managed to restore about a hectare of rare habitat, which wa destroyed not only because of afforestation, but also for spontaneous overgrowth due to the disappearance of grazing on the cliffs. It was a common and important part of the livelihood of local residents until the 1950s.

Restoration of grazing in cooperation with local stakeholders is also one of the goals of the Life PANALP project, from which the weekend event was financially supported. Today, in the White Carpathians, we graze herds of goats on the nearby Vršatec and Krasín nature reservations. We would also like to try for the return of grazing animals in Babiná, and at the same time we hope that the butterfly king will soon be able to return here with them.

After the weekend event, we conclude that we have once again successfully managed to take “a small step for humanity, but a big step for nature”. This modified statement of Neil Armstrong from the real Apollo 11 Mission also illustrates well why similar conservation projects are often underappreciated by the public. “From the point of view of humanity, they are really only a small step and usually do not bring us any social progress, nor do we get new schools, hospitals or highways thanks to them. However, their primary intention is to take important steps for nature, which is increasingly threatened by humans. And thanks to the involvement of seven dozen volunteers in the White Carpathians, we were able to do that over the weekend without a doubt.

Photos: Jakub Cíbik, Adriana Hološková

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