From wastewater basins to nature reserve

The Ormož Sugar Factory (TSO) was built in 1979. Soon after its construction, the factory's wastewater basins began to attract large numbers of water birds. The extensive, shallowly inundated areas with mudflats offered optimal feeding and resting sites for many species. In the 1990s, DOPPS-BirdLife Slovenia began cooperating with TSO on a number of conservation measures for threatened species on the site. One of the first actions was to install breeding rafts for the common tern (Sterna hirundo). These rafts proved to be very popular and the site was soon virtually the only breeding site for common terns and black-headed gulls in Slovenia for a whole decade.

In 2006, the reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy hit the sugar sector and TSO was forced to close its factory. Thanks to past fruitful cooperation and the trust developed, the TSO decided in 2010 to donate the approximate 60 ha land to DOPPS. DOPPS then successfully applied for LIFE funds to restore the site, install a new water supply system and establish a long-term conservation strategy for the area.

A new water management system was installed, and six large breeding islands were constructed (with a total surface area of over 10 000 m2) along with 30 additional smaller islands. Several hundreds of metres of ditches were also excavated, creating optimal breeding and foraging habitats for migrating water birds. Six hectares of riparian forest were purchased for nature conservation. Additionally, a 200 m long backwater in the reserve was restored and 12.8 km of fences were erected to control grazing, which is now being done by water buffalos. Visitor facilities were also installed.

Soon after the restoration works were completed, the surface of reedbeds, bulrush stands and other target vegetation types on the site increased several times over. The site - which is now an integral part of the “Drava” Natura 2000 area - has become one of the most important stopover and breeding sites for water birds in Slovenia. Grazing has also helped establish one of the largest complexes of extensively managed grasslands in the Lower Podravje region.

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