Eight barrier removals in Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Removing eight barriers to restore river flow, revitalise biodiversity, and preserve Plitvice Lakes National Park's delicate balance.

Introduction

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia’s largest protected area at 296.85 square kilometres, is renowned for its stunning karst lake ecosystem. With 16 cascading lakes split into upper and lower clusters, it earned UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979. The park’s magic begins at the confluence of the Bijela and Crna Rijeka rivers, forming the vital Matica River. The Bijela Rijeka River, spanning 5 kilometres, is crucial for brown trout. However, eight barriers constructed along its course over the past century disrupted trout migration and aquatic invertebrates. Removing these barriers offers hope for restoring the river’s flow, revitalising biodiversity, and preserving Plitvice Lakes National Park’s delicate balance.

At a glance

CountryCroatia
RiverBijela Rijeka River
Km to be opened7,6
Focal speciesBrown trout
Project typeDam removal (demolition)
Project statusLive

Project context and opportunity

This groundbreaking dam removal project in Croatia is a shining beacon of best practices, offering invaluable insights into the planning and execution of similar initiatives, particularly within protected areas. Its impact transcends national borders, setting a commendable example for neighbouring countries to follow suit.

Thanks to the programme-supported barrier identification and prioritisation project, a thorough assessment identified eight barriers along the Bijela Rijeka that demand removal. The commitment is to remove all eight barriers, although in locations 1, 3, 4, and 5, the restoration process takes a more nuanced approach. These sites boast historical significance, hosting remnants of old mills and infrastructure that hold cultural value and are integral to the landscape’s identity.

Project aims

WWF Adria and the Plitvice Lakes National Park Authority will jointly execute this dynamic initiative, forging a powerful partnership to drive positive change in river conservation and restoration. The restoration strategy to preserve this cultural heritage involves redirecting the river back into its original natural riverbed while eliminating barriers. The restoration activities in these sites will align with the timeline of the broader barrier removal project, ensuring seamless coordination to minimise any adverse impacts during the deconstruction process.

WWF Adria will lead a digital awareness campaign that underscores the imperative of dismantling dams and barriers to rejuvenate our rivers, enabling them to flow freely. Anticipated outcomes of this pioneering project include becoming a benchmark for best practices, inspiring other communities, protected areas, and local governments to embrace the dam removal movement and explore similar opportunities across Croatia and the broader region.

Partners