Towards removing the first dams in Bosnia and Herzegovina – Case Study Livanjsko Polje

The objective of this project is to introduce dam removal as a nature restoration measure and initiate a barrier removal planning and feasibility phase to conserve and restore Livanjsko Polje.


Livanjsko Polje (LP), situated in the southwest of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), is one of the largest periodically flooded karst fields in the world. It is around 65 km long with an average width of 5km. Total surface of the LP is 405km2. Across the LP flow several rivers, which belong to the Adriatic Sea watershed. The most important of these are the rivers Žabljak, Sturba, Bistrica, Brina, Plovuča, Jaruga and Ričina which are all rich in trout and crab.

The major change in LP happened 50 years ago, by the construction of Buško Lake. The lake is used as an accumulation for the Croatian hydropower plant “Orlovac”. Construction of an artificial lake was followed with amelioration of wetland in the central part of LP with channels and irrigation facilities. The local population built up a number of watermills near sinkholes, followed by small dams (most <2m), used for redirecting water to the watermill. This made barriers for fish migration from surface waters to ground waters. Exchange of the water regime and unsustainable water extraction is a huge threat for peatlands in the LP.

There are also several rivers with unused watermills, irrigation facilities and channels that have a huge impact on the water regime. Removing these dams would improve the habitat for several migratory species, threatened aquatic bird species and the economically important species. Some of the constructions present a direct barrier for a flow of waters from surface water to ground, causing disturbance of sinkholes that exist, especially in the south of the LP, nearby border line between BiH and Croatia.

At a glance

CountryBosnia and Herzegovina
RiversThe Žabljak, Sturba, Bistrica, Brina, Plovuča, Jaruga and Ričina
Key habitatsrivers, springs, lakes, sinkholes and breeding grounds
Focal speciesChondrostoma phoxinus (EN), Squalius tenellus (EN), Phoxinellus alepidotus (EN), Aulopyge huegeli (EN) and Scardinius dergle (NT)
Project typeBarrier identification and prioritisation
Project statusLive

Project context and opportunity

Livanjsko Polje, although strongly endangered by human activities, is still preserved as a wildlife area, with a number of specific species and peatlands.

Dam removal has not yet happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The objective of this project is to introduce dam removal as a nature restoration measure and initiate a planning and feasibility phase for barriers to be removed to conserve and restore LP. This activity will be conducted in collaboration with key stakeholders including relevant ministries, municipalities, water management/development agencies, scientists and NGOs.

Through good implementation of the project, good practices can be brought to BiH, with the aim of directing work of those interested in preservation of natural potentials, without losing or reducing the economic activities of the local population. With better coordinated work of all interested parties working on LP, positive results can be achieved both for nature and for people.

Project aims

The project is the first dam removal initiative in the country and although locally based, it will significantly contribute to the process of  introducing dam removal on a national level. This will include engagement on both national and local levels with decision makers, experts, academia, local communities, and coalitions.

Exploring the potential to remove barriers together with the identification of the most urgent places for conservation action related to fish species within LP will create a solid basis for further engagement with stakeholders. Data obtained from researchers will be used as a blueprint to change local policies and practices related to water resources management and also to raise public awareness.

Additionally, the project will make an analysis of legal and institutional aspects of dam removal in Federation Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH). Currently, there is a lack of important documents in the legal system of FBiH, such as a spatial (development) plan. Environmental Strategy for BiH is in the very final stage of adoption, but the Strategy does not recognise dam removal as a measure for improvement of natural resources. This project will create a platform to demonstrate how to protect and restore this unique natural resort.

All actions will be delivered aiming towards the proclamation of LP as an official and nationally recognised protected area.