EuroNatur projects in the Sava floodplains

It all began with the Spoonbills

© Dieter Haase
© Dieter Haase

In 1989 EuroNatur managed to create conditions for bringing water back to Krapje Dol oxbow lake and restore it. The drying out of this wetland had annihilated one of the largest breeding areas of the Spoonbills in Europe.

Only 2 years after reappearance of water there the first spoonbills returned. In the meantime, thanks to the intensive nature conservation work of the Nature Park, the spoonbill colony has regained its original size. Today in the oxbow lake at Krapje Dol there are 150 breeding pairs representing 10 percent of the Central European breeding population and the area is protected – in the heart of the Lonjsko Polje Nature park, whose designation was due in no small part to the energy and commitment of Euronatur. Euronatur and Zürich Zoo support the Lonjsko Polje Nature park in the management of the Spoonbill colony.

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Pigs lay the table for Spoonbills

© Martin Schneider-Jacoby
© Martin Schneider-Jacoby

In 1998 a buffer zone around the Spoonbill colony in Krapje Dol was created by transforming intensively farmed land back into an extensive common-land pasture. Old breeds of livestock such as Posavina horses, Podolac cattle and Turopolje pigs now graze on the flooded pastures – the pigs are particularly important for the Spoonbills because they churn up the soil and in the process create shallow vegetation-free pools in the mire. When the flood water recedes, “food” collects in these pools as if in a bowl. It only needs to be “spooned” out. It is not only the Spoonbills who collect around these places but also storks, herons and waders. Even White-tailed Eagles regularly scoop up the larger fish from these left-over puddles.


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Flood management that is compatible with Nature

1 100 square kilometres  - an area almost twice the size of Lake Constance -  is flooded almost every year around Zagreb, the Croatian capital. And this is not a catastrophe - on the contrary it is one of the most successful projects for flood management in Europe.  EuroNatur has played a significant part in ensuring that flood management along the Sava is sustainable and compatible with Nature.

More about nature-compatible flood management in the River Sava floodplains


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Lonjsko Polje Nature Park – a gourmand address for migrating birds

© Joachim Flachs
What a spread for the White-Tailed Eagle in Lonjsko Polje ! © Joachim Flachs

The Lonjsko Polje Nature Park was set up to manage the rich cultural and natural heritage of the region. It lies in the most important, still-preserved section of the Sava floodplains and is a genuine gourmand's paradise for migrating birds. EuroNatur carried out the crucial preparatory work that was needed for the place to achieve its designation as a Nature Park in 1990.

Today Lonjsko Polje Nature Park is considered one of the best managed nature conservation areas in South East Europe. The preservation of the tradition of common-land grazing, in particular in  riparian forest, has been unbroken here since the Middle Ages. It is unique in Europe and is the reason for  the wealth of species to be found here. Alongside Spoonbills other rare birds such as the White Stork, White-tailed Eagle and Corn Crake are at home in the Sava floodplains.


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European Stork Villages - where storks have the freedom of the “city”

© Dr. Frank Neuschulz
© Dr. Frank Neuschulz

A further milestone in the protection of the Sava water meadows was the initiative “European Stork Villages” which EuroNatur launched in 1994. Since then, year by year, the title has been awarded in every European country to a village which has rendered outstanding services in the care of storks and their habitats. Cigoc on the Sava was the first village in Europe to receive this award. The resulting international interest in this village, with its 120 inhabitants and 300 storks, drew attention to the area and gave a wonderful boost to the Nature Park and the region.

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Nature tourism for sustainable nature conservation

© Martin Schneider-Jacoby
© Martin Schneider-Jacoby

Today there are organised tours to  Lonjsko Polje and it is possible to stay in one of the old wooden houses in the stork villages and explore the unique riverscape and meadows from  there. Great flocks of rare bird species which use the Lonjsko Polje as a resting place make the Nature Park an unforgettable experience for Nature tourists. The impulse for the initiative was given in the  Masterplan for Tourism which EuroNatur worked out with the aid of the German DEG development bank  in 2003 and which set the course for the development of nature-compatible tourism in the region.  Nature tourism opens up new perspectives for the future for the people in the region enabling them to make a living in harmony with nature and to give long-term protection to the  Lonjsko Polje natural paradise.

More on the Nature Tourism Project in the Sava floodplains

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“No to a corset for the River Sava!”

© Martin Schneider-Jacoby
Bau von Buhnen an der Save. © Martin Schneider-Jacoby

According to plans made by the Croatian Waterways and Shipping Office the Sava, which flows naturally in free meanders, is to be regulated along a length of 385 kilometres between Belgrade and Sisak. The construction plans represent an acute danger for the very heart of this natural and cultural landscape, which is unique in Europe.


Why this project is ecologically and economically absurd:

  • Regulating the river would impact a species-rich, dynamic natural landscape acutely. There is hardly any other landscape of this kind left in Central Europe.
  • If these plans are carried out it means not only that important breeding places for Kingfishers will be destroyed but also that a unique European natural and cultural heritage will be irretrievably lost: every one or two kilometres  in the steep cliff-like banks of the Sava a kingfisher pair breeds. Moreover nearly half the Croatian population of Sand Martins live here and 60 pairs of White-tailed Eagles have their eyries along the banks of the Sava. 
  • For a mere 200 ships a year and roughly 200 000 tonnes of freight Croatia is planning to spend – in the first phase alone – 81,75 million Euros.
  • On this stretch of the Sava up to Sisak it is almost solely a question of transporting crude oil. This freight can easily be transported via rail or pipeline.
  • This gigantic project, which is untenable from an ecological point of view, stands in crass opposition to the fact that in 2008 it was Croatia itself which put forward the Sava floodplains with the Lonjsko-Polje Nature Park as a candidate for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • It was because of the enormous number of species here that the Sava and its bordering meadows and forests were nominated for the European protection system “Natura 2000”. It is already the case that, according to European Directives, technical interventions which could have negative impacts on the river are forbidden or they must be compensated for by protective measures.
  • The precondition for any intervention in the river Sava is a comprehensive investigation of the ecology of the river and an exact estimate of the consequences of any planned measure. There are still scientific questions to be clarified and the examination of environmental compatibility is founded on an insufficient database.


This project is a vision of the Croatian water engineering lobby to connect Danube, Sava and Adriatic as a gigantic Danube-Sava-Adriatic Canal. The most important contribution which Croatia makes in its accession to the EU has to be the unconditional protection of the largest European riparian forests and the waterways that feed them! 


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The fight against a “Croatian Suez Canal”!

© Darius Endlich
© Darius Endlich

For years now Euronatur has been campaigning in concert with the Croatian Forest Society and the Croatian Bird and Nature Conservation Society in persistent political lobbying to prevent the building of a Danube-Sava canal. But the plans for it are still not definitively off the table! EuroNatur criticizes the planned building of a Danube-Sava canal in Croatia as representing a gigantic destruction of nature. The construction project is envisioned as running from Vukovar on the Danube to Samac on the Sava. 3000 hectares of farming land, forests and rivers, vital flooding areas and also 185 buildings would be impacted. The length of the planned canal is given as 61,4 km and it would devour 600 million Euros.

Background information on the Danube-Sava Canal plan:

  • Download here in German and Croatian further Facts and Figures on the Danube-Sava canal
  • EuroNatur's Appeal against the plan in the public hearing on the development plan: download in German and Croatian.
  • Letter of 25th May 2007 to the Members of the Croatian Parliament  can be read here in German and Croatian.



Contribution in the ARD Tagesthemen of 23rd April 2011 (only in German)

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...about the campaign "Save the Blue Heart of Europe"

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EuroNatur appeal on the Website of the the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube

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