Livanjsko Polje Ramsar site in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Livanjsko Polje Ramsar site in Bosnia-Herzegovina

15 April 2009
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia-Herzegovina celebrates a major new karst Ramsar site

On 3 April 2009, in the small town of Livno, the Bosnian authorities, experts from local and international NGOs and different stakeholders celebrated the inscription of Livanjsko Polje (Livno karst field) in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. The extensive Livno karst basin is shaped by seasonal floods which provide habitat for up to 70,000 wintering waterbirds, a rare concentration in southeastern Europe. During the dry season, the receding waters disappear through many sinkholes and leave behind lush pastures, large fens, alluvial forests and good-quality arable peatlands that harbour a rich set of species, including in the least accessible areas, probably the most southern breeding pairs of Eurasian cranes (Grus grus), the symbol of the new Ramsar site. And down in the cave bottoms of the secluded sinkholes, a number of endemic fish survive until the next floods. The Ramsar site (45,868 hectares) covers the entire karst field, arguably the largest in the world, stretching over a length of 60 km between the high tops of the Dinaric Alps east of the Adriatic Sea.

Proudly, about 120 people gathered in the new Gallery and Museum of the Franciscan Monastery of Livno to celebrate the inclusion of this new type of Ramsar site in the global network, focusing not only on its natural and cultural heritage, but providing also the framework for a new approach of sustainable economic development. StjepanMatkovic, the cantonal minister of agriculture, water management and forestry, explained how his canton intends to profit from the international recognition by the Ramsar Convention, to develop an ecology-based local economy, providing sustainable livelihoods through the production and marketing of high-quality organic products in the polje (floodplain), such as the internationally-known cheese “Livanjski sir”.

SenadOprasic, heading the national Ramsar Administrative Authority in Sarajevo, expressed his satisfaction that the Ramsar Convention was providing the first legal protection to this outstanding area, while his office is working to prepare the urgently needed environmental legislation for his country, including a law for protected areas. Jaroslav Vego, Ramsar’s national focal point briefly outlined what the Convention has to offer and underlined that Livanjsko Polje is already the country’s third Ramsar site since its accession to the Convention in 2001, after Hutovo Blato Nature Park in the Neretva delta (shared with Croatia) and the Bardacha wetland complex at the confluence of the Vrbas and Sava rivers in the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

This impressive achievement would not have been possible without the incentive and dedicated work of Mato Gotovac, the Cetina river basin project coordinator of WWF’s Mediterranean “Sharing Waters” programme. The latter is coordinated and inspired by Francesca Antonelli and covers also the Neretva river and Skadar lake basins, including transboundary Ramsar sites shared between Bosnia and Croatia, and Montenegro and Albania. These efforts to develop sustainable water management practices, focusing on water abstraction for electricity production, irrigated agriculture, and drinking water provision to booming tourist areas along the downstream Adriatic coast, are crucial in a karst area, where freshwater is such a precious and particular resource. The hydrological studies are complemented by the biodiversity investigation programme of Euronatur Foundation, coordinated by Martin Schneider-Jacoby with the help of Borut Stumberger, who discovered the biological riches of Livanjsko Polje only about ten years ago. Both programmes work in close cooperation and with substantial financial support by the MAVA Foundation.

The Ramsar celebration was also an opportunity to bring together those donor and partner agencies of the Dinaric Arc Initiative which plan specific projects in the area. Representatives of the new Bosnian UNDP-GEF project for the kast polje, the land tenure, rural development and gender programmes of the FAO Budapest office, the Dutch SNV Foundation, and the above-mentioned NGOs and Ramsar IOP were thus able to discuss and clarify their future cooperation for sustainable development in this new Ramsar site. A real opportunity to prepare a brighter future for the people from Livno and its basin, fifteen years after the destructions inflicted upon the area during the civil war and the subsequent emigration of many from the polje.

-- Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

The Livno karst field in summer painted in the early 20th century by Gabrijel Jurkic, exhibited in the special collection of the Franciscan Monastery of Livno

Karst source of the Bistrica river next to Livno town, one of the main contributories to the karst field.

Receding winter floods expose the summer pastures on the edges of the karst field.

The northern part of the karst field consists of large fens, known as the crane marshes (Zdralovac blato)

Impressions from the Ramsar site designation ceremony in the new Gallery of the Franciscan Monastery in Livno:

Senad Oprasic, head of the Ramsar Administrative Authority of Bosnia-Herzegovina addresses the audience, Ivica Udovicic from the ministry of environment and tourism of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina receives a Ramsar site diploma, the participants enjoy an excellent banquet buffet and the watercolour exhibit of the polje, before visiting the landscape in situ (cf. photos above) and closing the day with a rural dinner and local stories and songs.