Meet Pesnica – Slovenian Case Study


A transboundary catchment of Pesnica/Pössnitz is located at the Danube river basin. The catchment is characterized by intensive agricultural production, mainly cattle and pig breeding and arable farming. Agriculture takes place in a hilly landscape dominated by vineyards, orchards, and meadows, and a valley floor with plains dominated by arable land. Agricultural land accounts for 65% of the area. The catchment is vulnerable to drought in the spring and summer, whereas in the autumn and winter, severe precipitation events cause significant soil erosion. According to climate change projections, there will be an increase in the number of days with intense precipitation events, which will further increase surface runoff, sediment transportation, and river discharges. A combination of measures is required to reduce soil erosion. There is a lack of guidance on appropriate measures to implement, where, and to what extent.


Do local stakeholders have the knowledge, equipment, and finances to respond to the challenges of soil erosion? How can policy respond with appropriate mechanisms and improve the resilience of catchment to erosion?

In the frame of the OPTAIN project, a multi-actor reference group (MARG) was established in 2021 to foster collaborative action in managing soil erosion by promoting natural small water retention measures (NSWRMs). NSWRMs are »…. modestly sized, localized technical solutions to problems associated with water management, sediment, and nutrient loss.« (Magnier et al., 2023).

Farmers, farmer’s extension services, local decision-makers, government representatives, and researchers all actively contribute to developing implementation guidelines for accelerating the adoption of NSWRMs.


How does it work?

At yearly meetings and individual gatherings, local stakeholders discuss challenges and possible solutions in legislation and governance arrangements that impact efficiency, the use of tools and techniques, and the economic sustainability of technologies. MARG had its third workshop in November 2023.

The most important barriers to NSWRM implementation that were indicated by the MARG were ownership, lack of funding, and national legislation that needs to be advanced to provide suitable conditions to improve NSWRM uptake. Possible solutions to improve uptake/implementation of NSWRMs expressed by MARG are adequate financial support, simplification of administration related to NSWRMs implementation, and a desire to have more local options where farmer’s knowledge could be advanced in informal education to increase the capacity for the uptake of NSWRMs.

To engage with stakeholders and gradually increase local capacity for introducing NSWRMs, a demonstration experiment was designed to showcase the efficiencyof various tillage practices in reducing soil erosion. Simple soil erosion traps for catching soil transported by surface runoff were installed at a field. The soil erosion traps visualized that ploughed land, compared to mulch-tilled land, two months after sowing, produced 65 times more eroded soil with the same amount of rainfall. The results were used to guide discussion on how erosion could be avoided and what are the advantages and disadvantages of NSWRMs that help reduce the erosion.

Figure 1: Landscape at Slovenia Case study Pesnica (credits: Gregor Kramberger)

From field to water body!

Catchment modelling with SWAT was applied to further foresee the implications of NSWRMs for reducing soil erosion and water retention at a wider scale. During MARG workshops stakeholders selected NSWRMs to be evaluated. The NSWRMs selected by MARG are mulch-till, use of winter cover crops, converting arable fields to grassland at steeper slopes, contour tillage, and grassed buffer strips. Preliminary results that were consulted with stakeholders show that mulch-till is one of the more effective measures to reduce erosion and increase water retention. However, it was also recognized as one of the more challenging measures to implement technologically. Challenges, such as the occurrence of weeds and certain types of diseases and pests, complete replacement of machines/tools, full benefits only after several years, good rotation planning, and high initial investment need to be bridged first. To further improve the capacity of local stakeholders to adopt the NSWRMs technological guidelines for mulch-till were developed with the standardised approach in WOCAT (


Views of farmers’ matters!

MARG explored questions of feasibility, efficiency, and cost-benefit of NSWRMs. The use of winter cover crops and grassed buffered strips is considered more feasible than mulch till. Although mulch till is seen as a measure that in the end reduces production costs, the technology of local farmers is still largely inadequate. Farmers propose policy response with appropriate policy modification to further support NSWRMs. There is a need to advance financial schemes for promoting mulch-till to better respond to land ownership, farm size, and landscape characteristics. Furthermore, it is essential to increase the awareness and knowledge of local stakeholders to be able to adopt NSWRMs.

MARG continues to increase awareness, build capacity, and explore possible solutions to accelerate the implementation of NSWRMs. Workshops structured through MARG represent an exceptional opportunity to establish, promote, and deepen the mutual learning process with a diverse group of key stakeholders. All these stakeholders are interested in soil conservation and water and nutrient cycles in the case study areas. Each stakeholder, regardless of whether they represent a scientific, practical, or policy perspective, brings their view to the dialogue and learning process. OPTAIN facilitates the integration of expertise and experience into a joint effort.

Figure 2: Maize crop after shallow soil preparation (credits: Andrej Ropič)


Authors: Gregor Kramberger, Rozalija Cvejić, Mario Lešnik, Miha Curk, Andrej Udovč, Matjaž Glavan