The Rački Ribniki-Požeg Landscape Park is located on clay soil deposits that transition to gravelly sandy soil, which is typical of the surrounding Drava Plain. There are no settlements inside the park. There are, however, a few, dotted around its outskirts in a wreath-like shape, particularly around its northern and eastern borders. The north to south Maribor-Pragersko railway line divides the park into two halves, east and west. According to historical data and preserved maps of this area, the current park’s protected area encompasses only a fragment of the fairly well-preserved natural landscape that, in the past, took up a larger part of the Drava Plain. This is particularly true for the typical yet little-known lowland marshes and elevated riverbeds which elsewhere have all but completely disappeared – mainly due to the expansion of agriculture to once marshy areas and the associated melioration and regulation. In the park, as well as at its periphery, the elevated riverbeds have been partially preserved. Another distinctive feature of the adjoining landscape is its open drainage ditches, which connect Rače with the village of Podova and come to an end at the nearby hedged meadows. In seasons of heavy rainfall they are used for to collect water and in dry seasons to secure a steady supply of water for agricultural plants and farm animals.
The forests are primarily mixed deciduous and coniferous, although there are certain areas where only one tree type dominates. The silver birch (Betula pendula) is special among the deciduous trees and can be found in large numbers in some areas. Among the conifers the most common are the Norway spruce (Picea abies) and the red pine(Pinus sylvestris), which is becoming increasingly widespread. During spring and autumn, most of the forest floor is very moist, if not outright marshy, which makes it hard to traverse in some places. These are, however, optimal growing conditions for the common oak (Quercus robur) and the common alder (Alnus glutinosa), which in the most humid areas have a pure stand. Such humid areas provide a perfect habitat for small patches of peat moss (Sphagnum). Additionally, the park’s forest is home to many fascinating forest communities. Narrow strips of alder (Carici brizoides-Alnetum) and (Carici elongatae-Alnetum) grow in depressions, the park’s the lowest areas, along streams, drainage ditches and the banks of the north-eastern Great Rače Pond. On drier acidic soil, the woodland transitions from alder to fragmentary oak-hornbeam association (Querco robori-Carpinetum). Where the soil gets even drier, the common hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) and white wood-rush (Luzulo albidae-Carpinetum) become the dominant trees. The average growing stock is slightly above 190 m3/ha, and the structure differs depending on the area. In the Mali Tali-Peklarska goša area, there is a heavy population of red pine; common oak makes up almost one third of the growing stock, while the sessile oak (Quercus petraea) constitues only 0.1%. Very small populations of European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus), sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), common ash (Fraxinus excelsior), field elm (Ulmus minor) and beech (Fagaceae) can also be found in this area whereas chestnut (Castanea) is absent. In the Dobrava-Veliki tali forest area oak occupies one third of the wood stock, common oak makes up 31.7%, while there is only 0.7% of sessile oak. There are no chestnut trees there and little red pine, but we can find more spruce and black alder. The forests of Borovje-Drevova vas have the most natural feel to them; the majority of the growing stock is of oak (common oak 30.1% and sessile oak 19.6%). Other tree species present include chestnut (3.8%), common beech (1.3%), common hornbeam (1.0%) and cheery (0.2%). Spruce and pine are not as plentiful (combined stock 27.4%) while black alder is more common (12.9%).
In the heart of the forest and on its edges, there are numerous ponds. Eleven of them do not dry out naturally. These are the Three Rače Ponds (the Large Pond, the Small Pond and the Gajič), the Turn Ponds (the Turntajht, the Middle Turn Pond or Middle Tajht, and the Špic or the Špic Tajht), the four ponds of Grajevnik and the accumulation pond in Požeg. All sustain warm-water fish and are commercially exploited. In the 16th century, when Castle Rače was built, the number of ponds totalled eight. Some of these were quite possibly the Turn Ponds. They are believed to be the oldest ponds in the wider area. The Požeg wet pond is the park’s largest water surface and is used for storm water management and is fed by the Reka brook. The wet pond’s embankment measures 35 ha, although the pond can increase up to 74 ha in size. It is surrounded on the south and east side by high embankments, while flowing freely into the forest elsewhere. At the wet pond inlet, a shallow formed, which is overgrown with water and riparian vegetation. The most common types are cattail (Typha sp.), sedge (Carex sp.), rush (Juncus sp.) and common reed (Phragmites australis). In the centre of the wet pond three little islands are covered by pioneer vegetation, such as nettle (Urtica sp.), coneflower (Rudbeckia sp.), willow (Salix sp.), and common alder (Alnus glutinosa). The largest among the Rače Ponds is, as the name implies, the Large Pond, with a surface area of 20 ha. A small elongated island can be found in the northern part of the pond. The plants population in the Large Pond changes every year, depending on pond maintenance. The most common aquatic plant is the rush, which can be most commonly found in the northern, shallower part of the pond. Every once in a while, the yellow floating heart (Nymphoides peltate) spreads across the water surface, but it can almost completely disappear the following year. The Gajič measures 8.5 ha and is the youngest of the ponds. In contrast with the other two ponds it has little vegetation, and this depends largely on the pond’s draining and filling regime. Should the pond start filling up in the late spring, terrestrial vegetation prospers on it, and stays present even when the pond is already full, usually until winter. The Small Pond measures 4.5 ha. The Large Pond is separated from it only by an embankment. Its aquatic vegetation differs greatly from the vegetation in the Large Pond. The riparian vegetation is all but absent, but there are more free-floating plants. By far the most common is the water chestnut (Trapa natans). Duckweed (Lemna sp.) thrives on the pond’s edges and is also present in the Large Pond. In the western area a smaller marshy area is gradually turning into a forest. This area fills with water only when there is a lot of water in the Small Pond otherwise it is separated by a small embankment. There are three Turn Ponds. As previously stated, these are the oldest ponds in this part of Slovenia. They are located in the heart of the forest, south from the Rače Ponds. The largest is the Turntajht, measuring 2.6 ha, followed by the Špic with 1.7 ha. The smallest is the Middle Turn Pond measuring around 0.95 ha. These three ponds each have their own unique aquatic vegetation, but this became less apparent after they were rebuilt in the years 1997–98. The four ponds in Grajevnik are located near the Požeg wet pond. Together they extend on an area of more than 3 ha. Aquatic vegetation is scarce, although the water lily (Nuphar luteum), which can only be seen here, is worth mentioning. Alongside standing water there is also some running water in the park. Different types of ditches, which were used to drain water from the marshy terrain in the past, and canals, which interconnect standing bodies of waters make up the majority of the running waters.
Fields and meadows
The woods are almost entirely surrounded by meadows and fields with hedges that act as a buffer. Some farming is present, but it is not as intensive as elsewhere in the Drava Plain. The intrusion of mineral fertilisers on meadows results in the lack of vegetation diversity. Today, silage fields are cropping up where humid meadows used to be. What makes matters even worse is that meadows are being turned into fields.
The park’s most noticeable animals, in all seasons, are the birds. More than 200 species have been recorded, of which about a third also nest in the park. The most common nesting birds inhabiting the ponds are little grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis), great crested grebes (Podiceps cristatus), mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), tufted ducks (Aythya fuligula), common coots (Fulica atra), and common moorhens (Gallinula chloropus). Occasionally, some other species such as the great reed warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) can be seen. Many species can be observed in or near the water during spring and autumn bird migration seasons. In this time, the park serves as a stopover site for flocks of cormorants (Phalacrocoracidae), ducks and geese (Anatidae), herons (Ardeidae), and Charadriiformes, such as seagulls (Laridae) and terns (Sternidae). Of the heron family, the grey heron (Ardea cinerea) is present throughout the year while the great white heron (Ardea alba) is more commonly seen in autumn, particularly if the ponds are being drained. Seventeen species of ducks have already been identified around the ponds. Sometimes a flock of more than a thousand ducks of different species can be observed. In the migration period, birds of prey are also commonly spotted. The most distinct are the western marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and the western osprey (Pandion haliaetus). For the latter, the park is the most important stopover point in Central Europe in spring. Many birds, especially smaller songbirds, live at the ponds and in the woods and hedges. Watching these birds is more challenging, and knowing their sounds and songs is very helpful. You may even cross paths with some mammals. The park’s largest mammal is the European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). Other common species include the white-breasted hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor), the European hare (Lepus europaeus) and the red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). Other mammals can only be seen with a stroke of luck, while smaller species, like mice and voles, will be all but impossible to spot. Amphibians are drawn to standing water and humid areas, so it is not surprising that as many as 12 species inhabit the park. The most interesting are newts, which avoid water with fish, the moor frog (Rana arvalis), where the male turns blue for several days during spring, and numerous European tree frogs (Hyla arborea), whose noisy croaks fill warm spring nights until you cannot hear anything else. Very common and noticeable insects in the part are dragonflies. Fifty different species have already been recorded in the area. Rare and endangered species living in the park include the green snaketail (Ophiogomhus cecilia), black darter (Symetrum danae) and yellow-winged darter (S. flaveoum). The spotted darter (S. depressiusculum) is still common; however it does not feel well in lakes with large fish population. On the meadows, the most common insects are butterflies. In the forest one might even find a stag beetle (Lucanus cervus).
The park’s most interesting plants grow in water and humid areas. Among the rarer plants the most prominent are the yellow floating heart (Nymhoides peltata), which is known for its yellow flowers and inhabits the Large Pond, and the water caltrop (Trapa natans), which is better known for its spiny fruits and can befound inthe Small Pond. Most of the other rare plants are harder to spot and harder to find. The Bohemian sedge (Carex bohemica), the common false pimpernel (Lindernia procumbens), the hairy stylewort (L. dubia), the marsh seedbox (Ludwigia palustris) and the Eurasian waterwort (Elatine triandra) grow in muddy areas. Similar muddy areas as well as humid forest areas are also where Eleocharis carniolica and the four leaf clover (Marsilea quadrifolia), both endangered in Europe, grow. Because both species are endangered the park will become part of Natura 2000, which is a strict system of protected areas, safeguarded by EU legislation.
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