First identification of barriers in the Veliki Rzav River Basin in Serbia

Laying foundations for integrated river restoration in Serbia through first identification and prioritisation of barriers in the country.


After four years of rigorous research conducted by the Institute for Nature Protection of Serbia and the subsequent formulation of a comprehensive protection plan, the Ministry of Environmental Protection officially bestowed Special Nature Reserve status upon the area in 2022. 

Encompassing 60 km2, the Veliki Rzav catchment area boasts rich genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity. It has five tributaries, each managed as natural fish breeding grounds. However, recent decades have seen the broader area grapple with major floods, resulting in significant damage. 

The protection study highlights a critical concern: habitat alterations from barrier construction, existing barriers, and other threats pose a substantial risk to the river’s sensitive brown trout populations and other fish species. 

Equally important, Veliki Rzav is a vital water source for approximately 200,000 residents across five municipalities. This underscores the urgent need to ensure an excellent ecological status throughout the basin. 

At a glance

Project typeBarrier identification and prioritisation
Project statusLive
CatchmentVeliki Rzav
Focal speciesxtensive research has identified key species like Cobitis elongata, Sabanejewia balcanica, Romanogobio kessleri, Cottus gobio, Austropotamobius torrentium, Ephemeroptera Baetis Melanonyx, red algae Batrachospermum sp. and Phaeodermatium rivulare (a first-time discovery in Serbia) and many more. The presence of these species is globally rare, making the removal of dams and habitat improvement in the Veliki Rzav of great importance.

Project context and opportunity

In Serbia, current conservation efforts primarily focus on land preservation, often neglecting the significant threats posed by river fragmentation and regulation resulting from activities like hydropower exploitation and infrastructure development. These threats are particularly concerning as rivers often traverse protected areas. 

Moreover, human activity emerges as the primary threat in the Veliko Rzav basin, impacting sediment retention, triggering floods, and degrading water quality and the ecological status of rivers. 

This project marks a pioneering effort, symbolising the start of endeavours to relieve pressure on rivers within protected areas and other rivers hosting key species and habitats. 


Project aims

The project team’s mission is clear: to engage state and local authorities, alongside competent institutions, in crafting essential legal regulations to meet EU obligations. Through constructive dialogue, they aim to pinpoint legal gaps crucial for implementing projects in Serbia.

Conducting a thorough barrier inventory is vital to kicking off their efforts. This initial step will provide the necessary groundwork to identify potential barriers for removal in the project’s next phase.

The ultimate goal? To safeguard the ecological integrity of the Veliki Rzav basin. This region boasts rich biodiversity, with its tributaries serving as vital habitats for different fish populations. By identifying and addressing barriers, the project team is laying the foundation for revitalizing watercourses and contributing to flood defence plans in local communities within the basin.

They’re committed to fostering understanding among local communities. Through sharing knowledge and highlighting the positive impacts of dam removal, they’re paving the way for a brighter future for the Veliki Rzav basin.

The project team is bringing these conversations to the media and beyond by highlighting the importance of preserving habitats, maintaining flow continuity, and ensuring the migration of aquatic organisms. Together, they can make a lasting impact on the environment.