Croatia is one step closer to free-flowing rivers

NP Plitvička jezera will remove barriers from the Bijela river in cooperation with WWF.


31. October 2023.

Dam Removal Europe (DRE), led by the World Fish Migration Fund (WFMF), is launching a project with regional partners to scale up dam removal in Southeast Europe.

In Croatia, Plitvička Jezera National Park in cooperation with WWF will remove barriers from the Bijela River.

Over 1,2 million barriers interrupt the free flow of European rivers, and more than 156.000 of them are obsolete.

One of the many harmful consequences of barriers is a significant loss of biodiversity. Proof of this is the report that talks about the decline of freshwater migratory fish populations in Europe by as much as 93 percent. 

In addition to significant environmental impact, outdated barriers also threaten human safety. As they reach the end of their lifespan, the risk of their collapse increases. 

The lack of maintenance, as well as the absence of appropriate safety plans, contributes to this. Recent examples of such dangers to humans are collapse the two barriers in Libya last month or the partial breach of the barrier in Norway during the summer.

Removing barriers

Climate change and extreme weather events, such as floods, contribute to a greater risk of the collapse of outdated barriers. Although there are preventive solutions that can partially reduce the risk, the most effective way to avoid collapse is to eliminate them. 

Last annual report Dam Removal Europe (DRE) confirms that barrier removal is an effective tool for nature restoration by showing a record number of reported barrier removals for the second year in a row.

In order to protect our rivers, the regional branch of the world organization for nature protection, WWF Adria, joined the dam removal initiative across Europe, Dam Removal Europe, initiated by the World Fish Migration Foundation.

"Croatia is a country rich in rivers and river biodiversity. However, a huge number of existing and planned barriers represent a real danger - not only for our country, but for the entire region. Our goal in Croatia is to remove as many barriers as possible, and we will start from Plitvice Lakes National Park, where the Park has been working for many years to remove barriers from the Bijela River", he says Matea Jarak from WWF Adria. 

Photo: WWF Adria

Uninterrupted flow 

Although our region boasts some of the last free-flowing rivers, unsustainable activities such as construction of small hydropower plants they turn them into dead channels. 

It is the main goal speed up removal barriers in the region, and some of the expected results are including this topic on the political agenda and improving legislation, creating and spreading a positive image of river restoration, creating opportunities to remove barriers in the region, and providing the necessary expertise and tools to implement such projects. 

This will lead to increased awareness of barrier removal in governments, river managers and the general public, resulting in greater understanding of the benefits of barrier removal.

"The park, in cooperation with WWF, will remove eight existing, but non-functioning barriers in the spring, which will ensure its uninterrupted flow and enable the safe migration of an endangered species of freshwater fish - the Danube trout. This will contribute to the preservation of the Plitvice Lakes, which are not only our national treasure, but also a UNESCO heritage", reveals Kazimir Miculinić from Plitvice Lakes National Park.

Biodiversity protection

Another important aspect of this project focuses on the economic limitations of removing barriers, with the aim of identifying and releasing other sources of funding for their removal.

All the above results should lead to the removal of a large number of outdated barriers in the region and the subsequent restoration of the rivers of Southeast Europe, which are of great importance for biodiversity.

"We are delighted to be able to support this ambitious international project. We wish to encourage more projects to remove barriers in this area of ​​Europe", he said Jack Foxall, Executive Director European Open Rivers Program

He added that by addressing some barriers to barrier removal and proactively facilitating the creation of new initiatives for their removal, this project offers great potential for accelerating the removal of barriers in Southeast Europe, thus contributing to the restoration of European rivers and the protection of biodiversity.

Decree on restoration of nature

Four pilot countries pave the way - Croatia, Greece, Romania and Slovakia - but the benefits and results achieved by the project are expected to cross borders and spread to neighboring countries. 

The project starts just in time for the adoption of the Decree on the restoration of nature, and we hope that the enthusiasm created around that decree will open the door to the benefits of removing barriers for significant changes in Southeast Europe and beyond, said WWF Adria.

A three-year project Scaling up barriers: an implementation plan for South East Europe is carried out with the support of Fauna & Flora, MedINA in Greece, Wetlands International (WI), European Rivers Network (ERN), WWF Adria, WWF Netherlands and WWF Slovakia. The project is financed by the European Open Rivers Programme. 

Photo: WWF Adria


31. October 2023.