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Škocjan Caves Park – Natural Science Centre

The Škocjan Caves have a system of cave passages totalling 6.4 kilometres in length, the lowest point being 223 metres deep. They represent the largest and best-known natural phenomenon in the region and Europe.

Name of your centre: Škocjan Caves Park – Natural Science Centre

Name of organisation: Public Service Agency Škocjan Caves Park, Slovenia

Funding support: Ministry of Republic Slovenia of the Environment and Spatial Planning

Number of staff: Employed in Škocjan Caves Park: permanent: 22; seasonally: 32; persons performing activities in centre: permanent: 4; seasonally: 5

Number of visitors per year: Škocjan Caves: 140.000

Natural Science Centre and museums: 13.000

Overall aims of the centre

– Presenting the complexity of ecosystems in Karst and Brkini region, rising awareness of importance of water qualitiy in surface and underground river course.

– Becoming a centre with interactive presentations of bio-cultural diversity research studies,

– Promoting participation process with emphasis on local and traditional knowledge research and promotion.

– Enabling visitors to learn about sustainable development through good case studies from sites all over the world

Description of the centre

  1. Size of site:

Škocjan Caves Park and Karst Biosphere Reserve: 59.780 ha

size of underground area: 13.5 ha

  1. Types of habitats and species supported:

– Caves and underground Reka River course

The Škocjan Caves have a system of cave passages totalling 6.4 kilometres in length, the lowest point being 223 metres deep. They represent the largest and best-known natural phenomenon in the region and Europe. The Škocjan Caves have 12 different speleological objects that are interconnected by means of the Reka River or collapse dolines. Velika dolina and Mala dolina fascinate every visitor with their depth of 163 metres as well as great floral and faunal diversity. The best view of both dolines, with their natural bridge and the cave that separates them – Miklov skedenj (Miklov barn), named after the local explorer Franc Cerkvenik – Miklov, is from the princess Stefanie viewpoint, 165 metres above the Reka River sinkhole. The Škocjan Caves are the beginning of the underground Reka River cave system with an enormous underground gorge and many lakes and waterfalls. At several points, the gorge is over 140 metres high. The Škocjan Caves hold what is probably Europe’s largest underground chamber, with the greatest cross-section of 12,000 square metres, thus giving an exceptional 2.2 million cubic metres. The cave then continues to the next highly multi-branched system of Kačna Cave with over 18 km of passages. There are only 400 metres of unexplored underground passages between them. The contemporary and past underground flow of the Reka River is historically connected with the creation of other caves and collapsed dolines in the core and transition areas as well (Divača Cave, Kačna Cave, Risnik Doline etc.).

-Screes, cliff walls

The most characteristic habitat types in this group are limy rocks with the vegetation in rock fissures and thermophilic screes. On less steep parts of walls there is lush vegetation with prevailing karst pastures and thermophilic forests of mixed deciduous trees. Screes are also overgrown by vegetation at parts where there is no intensive movement of material. There is another habitat type present in the lower part of cliff walls above the Reka River bed and its sinkhole. These moist cliff walls with thermophilic and glacial remnants represent an important habitat and one of the special features of the Park.

– Closed forest areas

Thermophilic forests of mixed deciduous trees and thermophilic forests of oak trees are prevailing throughout the mapping area. Due to past afforestation black pine has been introduced into large thermophilic forests where it may even form closed units.

Thermophilic forests of mixed deciduous trees, thermophilic forests of oak trees and thermophilic forests of oak and hornbeam trees are laid down in the Decree on habitat types (Official Gazette of the Republic of Slovenia, Nos. 112/03, 36/09 and 33/1384/99).

– Other areas with tree types

Hedges and small groups of trees and bushes are present throughout the mapping area and represent an important habitat type providing shelter and migratory corridor to numerous animal species. Their composition is very similar to the nearby forests and scrubs.

– Extensive dry grassland

Extensive grass areas are mostly populated by various types of eastern sub-Mediterranean (Illyrian sub-Mediterranean) dry and semi-dry grassland. Karst grassland has developed as a result of deforestation and creation of pastures. It represents one of the most varied habitat types in Slovenia. Due to cessation of extensive pasture of small cattle which results in overgrowing of grassland these habitat types have started to shrink rapidly.

– Water, gravel and riparian vegetation

The Reka River represents the largest water area in the Park and it has reached the highest score in nature conservation assessment. The streams in the Park’s area also have high scores, although they only carry water periodically. The Reka River bed has several gravel areas that are mostly overgrown by willow shrubs.

2.a. Flora

Due to their extremely varied terrain the Škocjan Caves and their surroundings provide home to a wide range of flora species. The Park is the habitat of some endemic, rare or endangered species, which have also been entered in the red list of ferns and seed plants of Slovenia: ivy broomrape (Orobanche hederae) (the only habitat), wettstein’s dead nettle (Lamium wettsteinii) (one of the two habitats) and Justin’s bellflower (Campanula justiniana) (classical location). Special microclimatic conditions resulting from low temperatures at the bottom of dolines enable certain typically alpine (glacial) species to grow there, such as alpine auricula (Primula auricula), crusted saxifrage (Saxifraga crustata), twoflower violet (Viola biflora) and Kernera (Kernera saxatilis). Some 40 metres higher where warm air comes out from the cave during winter certain thermophilic species grow, e.g. maidenhair fern (Adianthum capillus-veneris), wild asparagus (Asparagus acutifolius) and prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus). It is a unique natural phenomenon that such different species thrive together.

Plants adapted to extreme light conditions live at the entrance to caves such as Schmidl Hall and Tominceva Cave. The most common flowering plants include the common ivy (Hedera helix), Senecio fuschsii, wall lettuce (Mycelis muralis), Stellaria montana and spreading pellitory (Parietaria judaica).  Ferns include maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes) and Hart’s-tongue (Phyllitis scolopendrium). The deepest parts of the cave entrances are inhabited only by some mosses and algae.

2.b. Fauna

 The Škocjan Caves Park provide shelter to a wide range of sub-Mediterranean and sub-Alpine fauna.

– Snails

The Park is populated by various snail species of different areal types: Mediterranean, north Dinaric, west European, Alpine, south European, east Alpine, Adriatic and Holarctic types.

– Butterflies

90 butterfly species have been recorded in the Park’s area, representing 50% of butterfly species in Slovenia. Among them there are 18 endangered species at the European and national level, which represents 20% of species registered in the Park or 10% of butterflies in Slovenia. Most (72%) of endangered species live in dry karst grassland, about one half (44%) being present on gradually overgrown dry grassland and about one third (33%) along bright forest paths. The Karst provides home to the endemic moth Perisomena caecigena, while the cave system is occasionally populated by the tissue (Triphosa dubitata) (Linnaeus, 1758), a troglophile moth of the Geometridae family.

– Birds

Velika dolina and Mala dolina are populated by flocks of wild rock doves (Columba livia) nesting under the ceilings of the cave entrances. A colony of less well-known alpine swifts (Tachymarptis melba) nests in the rock fissures below overhangs. The steep cliffs of collapse dolines offer periodical shelter and nesting places to the eagle owl (Bubo bubo), the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) and the common raven (Corvus corax).  The overhanging walls are a wintering site for coloured wallcreeper (Trichidroma muraria) which feeds on spiders and small invertebrates hiding in rock fissures.

The last inventory of birds in the Park was carried out between 1999–2001, when 69 species of nesting birds were recorded.

– Bats

There are 21 species of bats known in the core area of the Karst Biosphere Reserve, the most numerous being the Schreiber’s long-fingered bat (Miniopterus schreibersii), as well as the long-fingered bat (Myotis capaccinii). Other species that can be found in the caves are the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), the lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), the barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus) and the common noctule (Nyctalus noctula). In 2016 Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteinii), Alcathoe bat (Myotis alcathoe), greater noctule bat (Nyctalus lasiopterus), mountain long-eared bat (Plecotus macrobullaris) were found for the first time in the BR. 

– Fauna in the Reka River

Based on the semi-quantitative method (i.e. kick sampling) 21 groups of large invertebrates encompassing 97 taxa were found in the surface stream of the Reka River. The macrozoobenthos is mostly composed of insect larvae – mayflies (Ephemeroptera), stoneflies (Plecoptera), dragonflies (Odonata), true bugs (Heteroptera), caddisflies (Trichoptera), true flies (Diptera), beetles (Coleoptera) and net-winged insects (Neuroptera), that live most of their lifecycle in water. Moreover, specimen of coelenterates, turbellarians, snails, mussels, oligochaetes, leeches, mites and crustaceans (water fleas and copepods) as well as isopods (Asellus acquticus cavernicolus and Trichonichus stameri) were also found. The most common fish species are trouts and cyprinids. Due to the catastrophic drift they also live in front parts of the underground Reka River stream and usually do not spend much time underground. The Reka River is inhabited by species that are typical of surface watercourses in south Europe.

– Subterranean fauna in the Škocjan Caves

Due to geographical and historical conditions the first researches of underground organisms were be carried out in the Slovenian Karst in the wider Postojna area. The first scientifically defined troglobiont (a true underground species that lives its whole lifecycle in a cave) was the olm or cave salamander (Proteus anguinus) in 1758.  This was followed by the blind cave beetle (Leptodirus hochenwartii) in 1832. Subsequently, subterranean fauna species were discovered also elsewhere in the territory of Slovenia. Today it is known that Slovenia has one of the richest terrestrial cave fauna in the world with about 200 species as well as by far the richest troglobionic aquatic fauna in the world with 200 water species.

The Škocjan caves belong to a group of caves with rich underground fauna. They offer an appropriate living space especially to invertebrates; some of them are so well adapted to living without light and to conditions where food is scarce and of poor nutritional value, that they evolved into true underground animals. Aquatic and terrestrial habitats are populated by many species of underground organisms such as copepods and isopods, gastrapods, diplopods, insects and the Proteus.

Many bat species live in the Škocjan Caves, the most numerous being the Schreiber’s long-fingered bat (Miniopterus schreibersii), the colony of which migrates between the Škocjan Caves and Predjama Cave, as well as the long-fingered bat (Myotis capaccinii). In the past, each of these two colonies numbered over 1,000. Other species that can be found in the caves are the greater horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum), the lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros), the barbastelle (Barbastella barbastellus) and the common noctule (Nyctalus noctula).

The majority of the species live in trickles of a percolation water seeping from the epikarst (the rock layer just beneath the surface) into the Škocjan Caves. They encompass 11 animal groups: turbellarians, worms, snails, oligochaetes, mites, crustanceas (ostracods, copepods, isopods and amphipods) and insects (springtails diptera larvae). Copepods are the most numerous crayfish in the epikarst, with 32 recorded species belonging to 16 genera and 3 families (Pipan 2003; Pipan 2005). Most of those species (24) came to caves in percolation water, while others were found in the sinking river. Twelve species dwelling in the epikarst habitat are stygobionts – true underground aquatic species. Five new species have been discovered as well as Elaphoidella slovenica Wells (syn. Elaphoidella karstica), the endemic species of the Škocjan Caves. First descriptions of a copepod species (Moriaropsis scotenophila) and Speocyclops infernus found in the Škocjan Caves date back to 1930.

The underground fauna of the Reka River includes some stygobiont species: Polychaeta (the tube warm – Marifugia cavatica), Turbellaria  (Dendrocoeleum spaeleum), Amphipoda  (Niphargus timavi) and (Niphargus Cf. Stygiu), Decapoda (Troglocaris sp.) and Amphibia  (the olm – Proteus anguinus), with the Reka River or the karst underground water accumulations being their most northwest habitat in the Dinaric Karst waters.

The underground terrestrial fauna encompasses 11 species: isopods, Zospeum Spelaeum,  diplopods, springtails of the Oncopodura and Onychiurus genera and two cave beetle species. Titanethes albus and crayfish of the Alpioniscus are Amphibia. Terrestrial species mostly live near organic residue on the ground (guano, wood). Springtails live on the water surface film of small puddles where they feed on organic matter caught on the surface.

  1. Activities run:

– Monitoring

In the core area, there are meteorological and hydrological stations and a set of stations for microclimate measurements in the caves. There is regular monitoring of water in the river performed in the buffer zone and a rainfall measurement station on Snežnik. There are regular monitoring activities for bats, inventory studies for butterflies and spiders.

– Nature conservation

Volunter and professional rangers are involved in activities of survey the area; Management plan of Škocjan Caves park is adopted in order to provide proper conservation measure

– Cultural heritage conservation

Activities for conservation and promotion of cultural heritage are implemented by local communities, experts and mangers of the area

– Education

As early as 1999 the International Network of Schools of the Škocjan Caves Park was created. Six elementary schools from Slovenia and one from Italy, located near the Reka River’s surface and underground course, joined in a unique association. Children and teachers are involved in common projects for exploring different ecosystems, understanding complex connections and interdependence between animate and inanimate nature, learning the fundamentals of scientific research work, being aware of the vulnerability of the environment and the significance of responsible human activity for quality living and the preservation of natural values and cultural heritage.

In order to join education, responsible work and research in a bond between science and society, the Network of Universities was established in 2014. It encourages sustainable development as a value through joint projects of respective faculties of the University of Ljubljana, the University of Primorska and the University of Nova Gorica.

– Cooperation with local communities

There are several workshops organised for local communities as well as exhibitions, lectures, meetings.

Partnership of Kras dry stone walling was established in 2013. With the aim of preserving traditional building techniques and cultural heritage, experts, local people and enthusiasts gathered in ongoing education and building, research and development, spatial planning as well as popularization and awareness-raising activities related to dry stone walling. At the moment there are 45 members from both sides of the border, as Kras is a plateau that stretches from Slovenia to Italy. Among them there are scientific-research institutions, educational institutions, municipalities, other management authorities, architectural studios, civil associations and several individuals.

To ensure the participation of local communities at a larger scale several Committees were established in Karst Biosphere Reserve: Cultural Heritage Conservation, Nature Protection, and Sustainable Tourism, Entrepreneurs, Local Producers and Service Providers. Members of the committees are representatives of local communities from all three areas and experts. The staff of the Park has a co-ordinating role in the work of the Committees.

  1. Exhibits:

– Promotion and Congress Centre Pr’Nanetovh: various exhibitions, workshops and trainig courses. The house is an example of reconstruction of cultural monuments.

– J’kopin barn: permanent exhibition of the ethnological collection presents the methods of producing grain and its use in the times of ploughing by hand. This ground structure’s roof is thatched with rye straw and is a unique feature that has disappeared from these parts.

– Jurjev barn: ocassional exhibitions, permanent presentation of the history of core area villages from the early 19th century is under the process of establishment.

– The Natural science centre is located in the Delez homestead and hosts a geological, archaeological and biological collection. There is a classroom that hosts student research work and workshops.

– Information centre of Škocjan Caves:  a permanent exhibition about the history of caves exploration that is accessible also to disabled people.

– Old mill Ukno near Reka River sinkhol in Mahorčič and Marinič Cave: the ruins have been recently secured and renovation process has started in order to establish an interpretative tool conecting nature and cultural heritage on the river bank.

  1. Number of visitors per year:

Škocjan Caves: 140.000

Natural Science Centre and museums: 13.000

  1. Location of the site:

Škocjan Caves Park is located in the south-west part of Slovenia. The core area is located in the WH Property Škocjan Caves, the buffer area encompasses the catchment area of the Reka River, the transition area of Karst Biosphere Reserve consists of the classical karst area in Municipality of Divča.

Main CEPA work areas

  1. Communication:

– Press conferences, publishing articles in local media, radio and TV intrviews before start of projects, successful outcomes of activities, special celebrations related to WWD, Park’s Day, Museum Summer Night, other touristic events in cooperation with stakeholders in the region.

– FB

  1. Education:

-Training programmes related to wetlands conservation are organised in cooperation with National Education Institute Slovenia for teachers from International Schools network of Škocjan Caves Park and other Slovene schools that celebrate WWD. Areas with wetlands in Slovenia, Croatia and Italy are visited.

– Lectures, workshops and seminars for members of Karst Biosphere’s Committees, experts and managers of other protected areas in Slovenia, related to speleology, biodiversity, geology, archeology, conservatino and promotion of natural and cultural heritage.

  1. Participation:

– Members of the Committees in Karst Biosphere Reserve are identifing needs and issues that should be addressed. Solutions are discussed together with managers of The Škocjan Caves Park. There are regular meetings and also special workshops and activities organised by managers and by local touristic and cultural society.

– Children of the International Schools network are performing research work that are related to role of women in householeds nowadays and in the past. Results are presented on March 8th

Research studies that are dealing with environment, nature and culture conservation are also presented at the Congress for Young researchers in Karst Biosphere Reserve. Both events are encouraging children to suggest new solutions to problems or improvements in their communitiy.

  1. Awareness-raising:

– Members of Committee for Nature Conservation in Karst Biosphere Reserve together with managers are involved in monitoring of orchids and bats. Last year exhibition of pictures were displayed. This year a film about bats survey in the park is being prepared.

– Schools network prepared a film “Ten commandments for sustainable development” together with Swedish scools. This year SDG were discussed in schools and activities to promote them will be performed.

– Research work done by students from Network of Universities in the area is published and delivered to municipalities and local communities.

Top three successes

  1. Network of Karst wetlands – young people for smart use of wetlands, Ramsar SGF, 2005/2006;

Successful outcomes:

– Rise in public awareness related to wetlands,

– Model of Skocjan Caves Park Internationla Schools network was successfully transmited to other protected areas in Slovenia and abroad,

  1.  International Schools network of Škocjan Caves Park, from 1999 ongoing;

Successful outcomes:

– Joint work, creation of ideas, dialogue,

– New and interesting activities that are properly promoted,

– Public acknowledgment by certificates, excursions, media

– The model of work was upgraded by establishement of Network of Universities,

– In 2016 Škocjan Caves Park received National Award for Outstanding achievements in the field of Elementary schools education.

  1.  Established and implementation of participation scheme, from 2014 ongoing;

Successful outcomes:

– Participation of local people and experts, starting actions with results(exhbitions, publications) together,

– Start of the process of empowerig people,

– Start of the joint public awareness actions.

Top three challenges

For the moment we can not define less successful projects. In long term they are all inherent in our mission to protect natural and cultural heritage and foster sustainable development in the region.

  1. challenge: International cooperation

Contacts were established with Ghana and Songor Ramsar Site. Future cooperation with schools will be developed.

  1. challenge: Sustainable development

Proper projects are needed to design activities for communities in the area, decision makers on local and national level.

  1. challenge: Library

In Promotion and Congress Centre we have a library, specially designed to host publications or woking reports, guidelines from UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Ramsar Sites and UNESCO Biosphere Reserves as also other proteceted areas. We kindly invite all sites to send as printed or electronic version of their material.


Interpretation techniques

Creating signage; site information; Producing written materials; Using audio-visual tools; Developing nature trails

Visitor centres

Managing / creating habitat; Running a visitor centre; Building / maintaining structures


Engaging young people; Engaging the local community; Working with volunteers

Education and communication

Early years education; Delivering adult education; Working with primary schools; Working with secondary schools; Developing resources / materials


Auditing / assessing effectiveness; PR and marketing; Running effective administration; Health and safety; Fund-raising; Project planning. 

Škocjan Caves Park – Natural Science Centre

Address: Škocjan 2

City with postal code: SI – 6215 Divača


Telephone: 00386 5 70 82 100


Website address: 

http: //www.park-skocjanske-jame;

http: //
Other Information:

Other protection figures:

– UNESCO World Heritage Site (1986), Škocjan Caves Regional Park (1996, declared by the Government of the Republic of Slovenia),

– Wetland of International Importance Ramsar (1999),

– UNESCO Karst Biosphere Reserve (2004),

– Natura 2000 sites: special protected area Karst (SPA) Kras (SI5000023), special conservation interest area (SCI) Kras (SI3000276), special conservation interest area Reka (SCI – SI3000223).


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