Protected areas

On protected areas

'The sea, seashore, islands, waters, air space, mineral resources, and other natural assets, as well as land, forests, flora and fauna, other components of the natural environment, real estate and items of particular cultural, historical, economic or ecological significance which are specified by law to be of interest to the Republic of Croatia shall enjoy its special protection.' (The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, Art. 52).

With their beauty, abundance and diversity, protected areas represent a fundamental value and one of the most significant natural resources of the Republic of Croatia. Due to its specific geographical position where Pannonian, Dinaridian, Mediterranean and Pre-Alpine biogeographic influences intertwine, Croatia is exceptionally rich in terms of landscape and biological diversity. 420 areas are protected by the Nature Protection Act covering a total of 7502.66 km2 which makes 8.56 % of the entire territory of the Republic of Croatia.

Pursuant to the Nature Protection Act there are 9 categories of protection in the Republic of Croatia. They are: strict reserve, national park, special reserve, nature park, regional park, nature monument, significant landscape, park forest and park architecture monument.

Protected areas are managed by public institutions which carry out activities of protection, maintenance and promotion of the protected area with the aim of protecting and conserving the original state of nature, ensuring the unimpeded natural processes and sustainable use of natural resources, monitor implementation of nature protection requirements and measures in the territory they manage, and participate in collection of data for the purpose of monitoring the state of conservation of nature.

Each national park and nature park is managed by a separate public institution established by the Government of the Republic of Croatia. The other protection categories are managed by public institutions established by the representative body of a regional self-government unit and founder's rights over the public institution may be transferred by the representative body of a regional self-government unit to the local self-government unit in the territory of which the protected area is located.

Management of a protected area is carried out on the basis of a management plan which is adopted for a period of ten years through an annual plan for the protection, maintenance, conservation, promotion and utilisation. The management plan sets out management objectives, activities aimed at realisation of management objectives and management performance indicators.

For areas protected in the category of strict reserve, national park, special reserve and nature park the Ordinance on protection and conservation prescribes requirements and measures for protection, conservation, improvement and use of the protected area with administrative measures. For other categories of protection, a Decision on measures for protection, conservation, improvement and use of the protected area can be adopted.

Besides the indicated, spatial arrangement, manner of use, planning and protection of space in a national park or nature park is regulated by a spatial plan of the area with special features.

Owing to their value and uniqueness certain parks have been included in the lists of internationally valuable areas and thus the Plitvice Lakes National Park is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Velebit Nature Park, the territory of which also includes National Parks Paklenica and Sjeverni Velebit (Northern Velebit), is listed in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves under the UNESCO scientific programme 'Man and Biosphere' – MAB. Nature Parks Kopački rit, Lonjsko polje and Vransko jezero (Vransko Lake) are included on the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR). At the same time, they are included in the inventory of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) in Europe due to the richness of their bird species.


Strict reserves

Strict reserve means an area of land and/or sea distinguished by an unaltered or only slightly altered overall natural environment, set aside exclusively for the conservation of its original natural character. Economic and other activities are prohibited in the strict reserve but visiting, research and monitoring of the state of nature may be permitted.

There are two strict reserves in Croatia: Bijele and Samarske stijene and Hajdučki and Rožanski kukovi.

Special reserves

A special reserve is an area of land and/or sea of particular importance owing to its unique, rare or representative natural values, or is an endangered habitat or a habitat of an endangered wild species, and is primarily intended for the preservation of those values. Projects and activities which could impair the features for which it was designated as such are not permitted in a special reserve. Projects and activities for maintaining or improving the conditions essential for the conservation of features for which the reserve was designated as such are permitted in a special reserve.

There are currently 78 special reserves, of which 36 forest vegetation reserves, 22 ornithological, 9 botanical, 2 zoological, 2 marine reserves - ichtiological and ichtiological-ornithological and one paleontological, geographical-botanical and botanical-zoological special reserve.

National parks

National parks are extensive, predominantly unaltered areas of land and/or sea characterised by exceptional and varied natural values, comprising one or several preserved or predominantly unaltered ecosystems. They are intended for the conservation of original natural and landscape values and have scientific, cultural, educational and recreational purposes. Any project and activity not endangering the authenticity of nature in a national park is permitted, while economic use of natural resources in a national park is prohibited.

There are 8 national parks in the Republic of Croatia.

Brijuni National Park

The Brijuni National Park comprises an archipelago of 14 islands and islets. It is located along the southwest coast of Istria and is renowned for its special climate, landscape and cultural-historical features.

The islands are partly covered by rich Holm oak forests that were deforested near the end of 19th century for the purpose of creating a park for at that time famous summer resort. The area of the Park is inhabited by numerous autochthonous animals, among which birds are the most prominent group. On the island of Veli Brijun can be found one of the oldest olive trees in the Mediterranean, planted in the 4th century, which even today bears fruit and as a witness of ancient past attracts many tourists. The waters of Brijuni, comprising almost 80% of the Park’s surface area, retained their original beauty and value and are a habitat of numerous marine organisms typical for living communities of the northern Adriatic.

In the area of the Park around a hundred sites and structures of archaeological and cultural-historical value have been recorded. The footprints of the dinosaur Iguanodon on Ploče promontory and Barban peninsula are worth mentioning as evidence of the existence of these reptiles in these parts as well.

Krka National Park

The Krka river bed is deeply hewn into the limestone plateau between the towns of Knin and Skradin. This natural and karst phenomenon builds seven travertine waterfalls along its course: Bilušića buk, Brljan, Manojlovački slap, Rošnjak, Miljacka slap, Roški slap and Skradinski buk, the highest cascade in the Mediterranean (46m). It is characterised by distinctive and rich flora – 860 different plant species. Also, 221 bird species have been recorded in the territory of the Park. Some species remain there only during spring and autumn migrations and as a result this protected area was included in ornithological important areas of Europe.

The Park is rich in traces of ancient habitation and numerous cultural-historical monuments.

Kornati National Park

Kornati islands are characterised by interesting geomorphology, well-indented coast and a variety of living communities. The archipelago consists of 89 islands, islets and reefs.

Karst, typical for the entire Adriatic coast, is also present here and consists of a harsh mainland on the one hand and exceptionally diverse underwater environment on the other. The islands are predominantly covered with vegetation of rocky-terrain pastures divided by dry stone walls consisting of grassland communities typical for dry areas. More than three quarters of the Park’s surface area belong to the sea, the underwater environment of which is due to its diverse and abundant sea life the most prominent feature of this protected area.

The history of the settlement of the Kornati archipelago reaches far into history, and we can therefore follow the development of civilisation in these parts from neolith to the present times.

Mljet National Park

Mljet National Park is situated on the western part of the island of Mljet. Autochthonous forests of Holm oak and Aleppo pine cover more than 90% of the Park’s surface area providing it with special biological and landscape value and therefore the island of Mljet is often called the “Green Island”.

Along with numerous coves, bays and islets, the Park is known for its two briny lakes, Malo and Veliko jezero (Great and Small Lake), which are actually karst valleys submerged in sea water. They are rich in a great number of species of fish, crustaceans, shells and other marine organisms. Vineyards and fields covered in olive trees that have been grown on the island for centuries only add to its landscape diversity.

The Park’s territory is also host to rich cultural-historical heritage. Located on the Great Lake is the islet of St. Mary with the ancient Benedictine monastery and church dating from 12th century. The remains of an early Christian basilica, Roman palace and thermal baths are located in the village of Polače.

Paklenica National Park

Paklenica National Park covers the area of torrent flows of Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica, and their distinctive canyons hewn vertically into the southern slopes of Velebit and the broader surrounding area. In this relatively small area there is a great abundance of geomorphological forms, diverse flora and fauna, attractive landscapes and untouched nature.

In the territory of the Park there are around 90 speleological formations, among which the Manita peć cave and the Vodarica pit stand out because of their size and wealth of subterranean phenomena. Forests cover two thirds of the Park’s surface area and are characterised by richness of plant communities. This protected area offers around 150 km of walking trails and paths and is also considered the most important Croatian hub for climbing, with over 360 equipped and prepared climbing routes, of which the best known route is the Anića kuk cliff (400 m vertical face).

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park is the oldest Croatian national park. It is well known for its magnificent travertine waterfalls which create clear lakes in a constant biodynamic process of travertine creation. As a result of that process, a series of 16 cascade-lined larger and several smaller lakes, which are the most picturesque part of this Park, was created.

The Park is home to no less than 1267 plant species, of which as many as 50 orchid species, 321 butterfly species, 157 bird species, 20 bat species. A special place in the rich fauna is reserved for the largest European carnivores: brown bear, wolf and lynx. Due to their uniqueness, natural beauty and value as a national park, Plitvice Lakes were in 1979 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Risnjak National Park

It is located in the hinterland of the city of Rijeka and the Kvarner Gulf, in the north-western part of Gorski Kotar.

Special features of the Park are forests and hydrogeological nature monument – the source of the Kupa river. There are over a dozen different forest communities and around thirty other types of plant communities. The Park is characterised by different karts phenomena and forms and the rich vegetation hides many potholes, sinkholes and grikes. The abundant vegetation and extensive geomorphological diversity provide shelter to a large number of animal species, especially birds. Three large carnivores have found habitats here: lynx (Croatian: Ris) after which Risnjak was named, wolf and brown bear.

Sjeverni Velebit National Park

Sjeverni Velebit (Northern Velebit) was proclaimed a national park for its wealth and diversity of karst forms, flora, fauna and landscapes located within a small area.

As many as four areas under special protection can be found here – strict nature reserve 'Hajdučki and Rožanski kukovi', botanical reserve 'Visibaba', the finding site of the endemic plant Croatian Sibirea, and botanical reserve Zavižan-Balinovac-Zavižanska kosa within which also the park architecture monument Velebitski botanički vrt (Velebit Botanical Garden) is situated.

Large and preserved forests are suitable habitat for large carnivores – bear, wolf and lynx. Man had a significant impact on the appearance of the landscape of Northern Velebit through the creation of new habitats – pastures, ponds and dry stone walls. The Sjeverni Velebit National Park is a part of the International Biosphere Reserve.


Nature parks

A nature park is an extensive natural or partly cultivated area of land and/or sea of great biological and/or geological diversity distinguished by valuable ecological features and marked landscape and cultural-historical values. A nature park is intended for scientific, cultural, educational and recreational purposes, and economic and other activities and projects which do not pose a threat to its essential features and role are permitted in a nature park.

There are 11 nature parks in the Republic of Croatia.

Biokovo Nature Park

Biokovo Nature Park is characterised by remarkable beauty of landscapes, great diversity of flora and fauna and wealth of geomorphological forms and phenomena (caves, karren, karst sinkholes, crests, pits, etc.).

Depending on climate conditions and altitude, the area is covered in Mediterranean and mountainous vegetation. In addition to ancient beech, fir and black pine forests, almost 1500 different plant species are recorded in the Park, including a great number of endemic and relict species (Biokovo bell flower, fine-leaved moor grass, etc.). The vertebrate fauna includes numerous reptiles and birds, and out of around thirty mammal species inhabiting this area dormouse, bat, chamois and wolf should be mentioned.

Kopački rit Nature Park

Kopački rit Nature Park is considered one of the most preserved alluvial wetland plains in Europe characterised by outstanding beauty of landscape and rich biodiversity.

The Park’s largest area is covered by white willow forests and wetland and grassland vegetation. Wetland conditions are favourable for a large number of amphibians, fish, birds and mammals and due to the richness of fauna the southern part of the Park was designated a special zoological reserve.

Kopački rit is particularly interesting for its birds and is known as one of the largest spawning grounds for Danube river basin fish. To date 282 bird species were recorded, of which 141 are regularly or occasionally nesting in Kopački rit. Due to the importance of Kopački rit as a wetland habitat and habitat of a large number of birds, in 1986 it was included in the inventory of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) in Europe, and in 1993 on the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR).

Lastovo Islands Nature Park 

Lastovo Islands Nature Park encompasses the island of Lastovo with neighbouring islands, island groups Lastovnjaci and Vrhovnjaci and island of Sušac, and consists of a total of 44 islands, islets and cliffs.

It is distinguished by special inland flora and fauna features as well as by its wealth and diversity of marine flora and fauna and exceptional landscape beauty. A particular value of this Nature Park is provided by the sea and the underwater area and the great wealth of its flora and fauna. Out of 703 recorded plant species, 53 are endangered, while out of 141 vertebrate species as many as 71 are endangered. Particular biological value and significance of the Lastovo archipelago is provided by endemic and stenoendemic species such as the Adriatic ruin lizard, Dalmatian wall lizard and Lastovo wall lizard.

Lonjsko polje Nature Park

Lonjsko polje Nature Park is the largest protected flooding area of the entire Danube river basin with valuable landscape and ecological features. A particular beauty of landscape is provided by flood forests of common oak and picturesque wet pastures with old dwellings in between a network of water surfaces.

Effluents, ponds and wet meadows are habitats to wetland birds such as common spoonbill, little egret, ferruginous duck, white-tailed eagle, lesser spotted eagle, black stork, corncrake and whiskered tern, species rare or already extinct in many parts of Europe. To date 250 bird species have been recorded, of which 170 species are also nesting in the Park. Due to this certain areas of the Park: Krapje Đol and Rakita are protected as special ornithological reserves, and the entire area of the Park was in 1983 included in the inventory of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) in Europe. Since 1993 the Park has been included in the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR).

Medvednica Nature Park

The main feature of the Medvednica Nature Park are forests (beech, fir, maple, ash and sessile oak) of great biological value due to which 8 forest reserves are protected within the Park.

Due to altitude variations as well as the presence of many streams and springs, this area is distinguished by diverse habitats responsible for abundant flora and fauna. Over 1300 plant species are recorded in the Park and owing to the diversity of forests there are 70 nesting bird species. Medvednica is also characterised by a diversity of geological forms. The most famous rock type in Medvednica is greenschist, while carbonate rocks are responsible for the creation of a 7100 m long passage of the Veternica cave, which is one of our most significant paleontological sites.

Papuk Nature Park

Papuk Nature Park is protected because of its extremely valuable biological, geological, landscape and cultural-historical features, and covers almost the entire area of Papuk Mountain and the western part of Krndija Mountain.

Almost 95% of the Park’s surface area is covered with forests which are under special protection in some sites due to their scientific and landscape value.

Because of its features the Park is a natural habitat to many animal species, among which birds and bats are particularly prominent due to their number and diversity. From a geological perspective, the Park is significant for its abundance of almost all types of rocks from Palaeozoic to Quaternary, as well as for the great diversity of rocks, minerals, fossils, geological structures and textures, karst phenomena and formations. Situated in the north-western part of the Park is the site Rupnica – the first geological nature monument in Croatia – protected because of the step-like discharge of volcanic rocks that represents a unique geological phenomenon in our country. In 2007 this area became a Geopark due to its geological features.

Telašćica Nature Park

Telašćica Nature Park, as one of the most beautiful and largest Adriatic bays, with its marine area consisting of 13 islands and reefs and covering the surface area of 70.5 km2, of which 44.55 km2 are taken by the sea.

The land part of the Park is an exceptionally differentiated karst area with karst hills and fields abundant in Mediterranean vegetation with over 400 plant species. The underwater area of Telašćica is predominantly adorned with a sandy seabed dotted with stone oases and extensive meadows of sea flowering plant Posidonia and wealth of other flora and fauna.

Učka Nature Park

A specific microclimate and developed abundant forest vegetation can be found in the Učka Nature Park owing to its relief and immediate vicinity of the sea.

Coastal beech forests, pre-mountainous beech forests and subsequently cultivated conifer species are particularly significant as are meadows and grasslands inhabited by many endemic, threatened and protected plant species.

The Park is home to over 1200 plant species, of which special significance is given to endemic taxa of rocks and “gulles” (e.g. Učka bellflower). Also, around 150 bird species have been recorded, of which over 70 nest in this area. The Park’s territory is rich in speleological formations of which there are almost 200 according to available data, and a special place is reserved for the Vela draga canyon. This site is protected as a geomorphological nature monument and is characterised by a picturesque calcareous pillars and cliffs that represent an exceptional geomorphological and landscape value.

Velebit Nature Park

Velebit Nature Park encompasses the largest part of the Velebit Mountain massif and the valley of the karst river Zrmanja and it is the largest protected area in the Republic of Croatia.

Parts of the mountain are also protected as national parks: Paklenica and Northern Velebit. Velebit’s position, as well as its geologic structure, have had an impact on the development of extremely rich and diverse flora and fauna. 2700 plant species have been recorded to date, of which as many as 78 are endemic species.

Prominent among the endemic species are the famous Velebit Bellflower and among tertiary relicts the Croatian Sibirea. Velebit is a nesting ground for a great number of different bird species, and from among mammals we should mention two species endangered in Europe: brown bear and wolf. Velebit Nature Park was in 1978 proclaimed an International Biosphere Reserve.

Vransko jezero Nature Park 

Vransko jezero (Vrana Lake) Nature Park is the largest natural lake in Croatia and represents a geomorphological rarity of our karst area since it is a cryptodepression filled with mildly briny water in which a specific community of water organisms developed.

The north-western rim of the lake is situated in the zone of intensive flooding and was designated a special ornithological reserve due to its diversity of bird species (wetland birds). To date 235 bird species were recorded in the Park, of which 102 are nesting birds, while for other birds the Park is an important wintering or transitory site. A total of 75 different bird species use Vrana Lake as their wintering grounds with more than 200,000 individual specimens, which makes it one of the most important European wintering grounds. As many as 143 migratory bird species from Central and North Europe use this area as resting grounds before continuing their journey. Due to all of the above, in 1983 Vrana Lake was included in the inventory of Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) in Europe and in 2012 on the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR). The Park’s biological value is enhanced by its abundance of fish, and as a particular feature the presence of a Mediterranean subspecies of common rudd should be mentioned.

Žumberak – Samoborsko gorje Nature Park

Žumberak–Samoborsko gorje Nature Park is characterised by preserved nature, forests, streams, waterfalls, vineyard covered hills, pastures and traditional farmsteads.

As this area is partly cultivated, it is like a mosaic covered by interchanging forests, meadows, pastures, orchards and vineyards. The Park is also graced by numerous springs, brooks, waterfalls, abysses as well as different speleological formations (caves, pits). A larger part of the Park is covered by forests, predominantly beech, as well as mixed oak-beech forests. Meadow and pasture communities are ecologically important as are plants living in wet habitats, rocks and dunes. Of fauna we should mention small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, as well as a great number of various bird species. The Park’s underground caves are habitat to the most endangered group of mammals – bats.

Other protected areas

In addition to strict reserves, special reserves, national parks and nature parks there are 5 more categories of protected areas:

  • regional park
  • nature monument
  • significant landscape
  • park forest
  • park architecture monument

Regional park

A regional park is an extensive natural or partly cultivated area of land and/or sea of great biological and/or geological diversity, distinguished by valuable ecological features and landscape values characteristic for the area in which it is located. Economic and other activities and projects which do not pose a threat to its essential features and role are permitted in a regional park

There are 2 regional parks in the Republic of Croatia: Mura – Drava and Moslavačka gora.

Nature monument

A nature monument is an individual unaltered segment of nature distinguished by an ecological, scientific, aesthetic or educational value. Projects and activities which do not pose a threat to its features and values are permitted in a nature monument.

There are 85 nature monuments in the Republic of Croatia, of which 1 is under preventive protection. Most of them are geomorphological nature monuments (34) and rare specimens of trees (30) followed by 7 geological, 4 paleontological, 3 zoological, 2 hydrological, two botanical and geological-geographical nature monuments each, as well as 1 geological-paleontological nature monument.

Significant landscape

A significant landscape is a natural or cultivated tract of land distinguished by great landscape value and biological and/or geological diversity, or a landscape distinguished by unique conserved features characteristic of a particular area. Projects and activities which do not impair the features for which it was designated as such are permitted in the significant landscape.

There are 85 significant landscapes in the Republic of Croatia.

Park - forest

A park forest is a natural or planted forest of greater biological diversity and/or landscape value designated for relaxation and recreation. Projects and activities which do not impair the features for which it was designated as such are permitted in the park forest.

There are 28 park-forests in the Republic of Croatia.

Park architecture monument

A park architecture monument is an artificially shaped space (public garden, botanical garden, arboretum, municipal park) distinguished by an aesthetic, stylistic, artistic, cultural and historical, and educational value. Projects and activities which do not impair the values for which it was protected are permitted in the park architecture monument.

There are 121 park architecture monuments in the Republic of Croatia.