Kočevski Rog - a sanctuary for animal and plant species

Kočevje/Novo Mesto, 27 February - Kočevski Rog, a vast remote area in the south-east, surrounded by the Bela Krajina, Dolenjska and Kočevsko regions, is one of the best preserved natural environments in Slovenia. Mainly covered in forest, the area is a sanctuary for many plant and animal species, including bear, wolf and lynx.

Kočevski Rog
A forest.
Photo: Nebojša Tejić/STA

Kočevski Rog
The Kočevski Rog forest.
Photo: Rasto Božič/STA

Due to its remoteness and infertile soil, Kočevski Rog was a completely secluded primary forest five centuries ago. In the 14th century German immigrants started settling on its outskirts, cultivating the land and changing the landscape.

But after they left in 1941, the land became gradually overgrown again and is mostly covered in forest today.

Kočevski Rog is a karst plateau, which is part of the Dinaric Alps mountain range, with the highest peak being Veliki Rog (1,099 metres). It is also part of the protected Rajhenavski Rog primary forest, and is home to many wild animals, mostly large carnivores.

A number of plant and animal species thrive in the virtually intact natural environment, including four plant species that are endangered in Europe and 60 animal species. A dozen habitats thrive there.

The Novo Mesto regional unit of the Institute for Nature Conservation thinks the vast Kočevski Rog forests that merge with the Snežnik forests towards the west are essential for the survival of large beasts such as bear, wolf and lynx, and are very important for woodpecker, owl and grouse.

Environmentalists pay special attention to engendered species such as white-backed woodpecker, Eurasian three-toed woodpecker, western capercaillie and hazel grouse. The ecosystem is also important for bats and beetles, and the caves on the outskirts of Kočevski Rog are part of the karst underground system, which is home to the protected olm, which is endemic to the Dinaric karst region.

According to the Institute for Nature Conservation, it is good for the many animal and plant species that Kočevski Rog is virtually uninhabited. The only residential areas are the small holiday resort Grčice near the Gače ski slopes and two farms in Komarna Vas and Pogorelec.

There is no mass tourism in the area and the institute hopes it will stay that way. It is important that the protection of natural and cultural heritage in Kočevski Rog is given priority over tourism, it says.

Visitors can only use marked routes and forest roads in Kočevski Rog and no events are organised for more than 30 people.

However, Kočevski Rog is becoming an increasingly popular hiking destination, with the most popular spots being Mirna Gora (1,047 metres) and Veliki Rog.

Some visitors also come to see Baza 20, a complex of barracks used as a hidden military and political base during the Second World War, or visit the chasms holding victims of post-WWII summary killings.

Kočevski Rog boasts almost 21,000 hectares of forest, with the dominant trees being beech tree (55%), spruce (20%) and fir tree (15%), data from the Forest Service show. The Soteska nad Krko gorge, which is part of Kočevski Rog, boasts the highest beech trees and two highest fir trees in the country.

More than 90% of the Kočevski Rog forests are state-owned and are being managed sustainably. Despite being managed for more than 150 years, the natural tree composition of these forests is well preserved, the Forest Service told the STA.

Because of the extreme biodiversity, the presence of large beast and the fact that most of the land is state-owned, there have been initiatives between 1990 and 2002 to make Kočevski Rog a protected regional park. The park was included in the national spatial plan and studies have been made for the park's founding but the final step has never been made.

© STA, 2023