Story of the Park

Author: Vlatka Marković
Lonjsko polje: it is one of the biggest and best-preserved natural flood areas in Europe. Floodplain forests of pedunculate oak and narrow-leaved ash growing in the area are highly representative deciduous forest complexes, not merely at the level of Europe, but throughout the Western Palearctic. Lonjsko polje enjoys a truly special place on the map of European natural wonders: it is one of the last areas in Europe where traditional grazing is still preserved, and livestock still roams freely on large joint pastures; on top of that, it has the first declared “stork village” in Europe... Whether by foot, bike, canoe, river ferry or boat, you are free to discover the uniqueness of Lonjsko polje for yourself.

Lonjsko Polje Nature Park is home to biggest complexes of natural and preserved floodplain forests in Europe. That fact alone is sufficient to sense the importance and uniqueness of this area for Croatian, but also for European biodiversity. With the surface of 50,650 hectares, it is one of the biggest protected wetland areas in the Danube basin.

The soil of the area, rich in floodwater, provides good conditions for growth of highly valued Slavonian pedunculate oak and narrow-leaved ash. The durability of these trees is synonymous throughout the world with the extraordinarily high quality of timber it provides. There are other plant species too, making this a truly special place – all of it originating in periodic flooding that creates a unique natural world.

Four leaf clover is one of the plants that covers flooded pastures and silty soil. Lonjsko polje is the last safe home of that species in Europe, since it already disappeared in other areas due to the reclamation and disappearance of wetland habitats.

Nature is inseparable and intertwined, and there are few places where that is clear as vividly as in Lonjsko polje. When a flood recedes, pigs, cows and horses return for grazing, staying in the area until the first snow.

Autochthonous breeds are what gives the identity to this wetland area – the Posavina horse, Croatian cold-blooded horse, Slavonian-Syrmian Podolian cattle, Posavina goose, Posavina pointer, and the Turopolje pig, the latter being the most endangered autochthonous breed.

Lonjsko polje provides an authentic experience of self-regulatory balance in nature. It is a world where plants and autochthonous breeds live in harmony, constantly renewing the cycle of life.

When people in this area built their homes, they didn’t impose them violently on nature. Building heritage and the local houses, rare but also preserved today, are a testimony to the indivisible nature of coexistence between people and nature in Lonjsko polje.

These houses were made from oak, built on the basis of intuition and many years of experience that gradually turned into knowledge of local builders, who fitted the houses into the environment in the best way possible.

In the village of Krapje, a historical building area, the originality of traditional architecture has been preserved in its totality. This is a globally unique example of traditional wood architecture in a floodplain environment, with a characteristic linear spatial organization of the village.

There are many wooden houses in Krapje, silent in their deep and long history, still remembering the hands that built them, inviting visitors to have a look at them. However, other historical facilities can be seen in the village as well: the church, building of the firefighters’ association, municipal building, water mill, cemetery, and a local inn.

Krapje is the only village in Croatia with the status of an architectural heritage village. Since 1995, the European Heritage Days are traditionally marked in the village.  

Houses of this area are witnesses to the character of the land. And that character boils down to – the flood. Waters of the rivers Sava, Lonja, Struga, Una and Kupa do what they please on this terrain. Inhabitants of the area, reconciled with that character, came up with a response to it, placid towards the flood, and yet providing safety for the households: two-storey houses. They built the walls using thick planks, followed by the ceiling and roof construction.

Livestock breeding is in touch with the rhythm of nature as well.

In the flooding season and during the winter period, farmers keep their animals in warm and dry stalls, taking care of the livestock. When the spring comes, and the water recedes, farmers let their livestock on grazing fields. That is traditional grazing, and Lonjsko polje is the only area in entire Europe where such an approach to livestock breeding has survived.

Traditional grazing is an archaic approach to grazing, with several animal species kept on pasture. Wetland habitats are used in the most efficient manner possible, as a result of experience that taught the local farmers about the logical course of animal feeding. Pigs prepare the pasture by routing up the soil, which contributes to better subsequent growth of grass for livestock grazing. Such a system is indispensible for landscape maintenance and biodiversity protection.

The Sava River is the ruler and the defining principle of life in this area.

Matter deposited by the river defined the animal world. A number of wetland birds are nesting in Lonjsko polje. White and black storks, the Eurasian spoonbill, various heron and egret species, the white-tailed eagle and the lesser spotted eagle feed on ponds and pastures of Lonjsko polje.

Two areas within the Park, the localities of Krapje Đol and Rakita, are special ornithological reserves, Krapje Đol being the first such reserve established in Croatia.

There is also the village known for its storks – Čigoč. At the initiative of the EuroNatur Foundation dedicated to the protection of European natural heritage, Čigoč was awarded the title of the European Stork Village. Many houses and barns have stork nests, with almost one hundred storks in around thirty active nests.

Numerous ethnographic collections include traditional furniture, tools and textiles. Tradition also lives on through intangible cultural heritage: dance, songs and the rich oral tradition.

This is a border area, with the spirit that passes from one generation to the next, flowing through the years like the Sava River. It brings many tales from the boundary between the East and the West, or what used to be the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. Regardless of empires, Sava is both the beginning and the end of the story, but also a place where life of people with diverse heritage would always find bridges of cooperation.

Lonjsko polje is calling us. It has the four leaf clover, extinct in Europe, and yet coming alive in this area every spring, its abundance feeding the endangered Turopolje pig. It has more storks than villagers in one village. It is a meeting point between the East and the West in the historical region of the Croatian Military Border. It has wisdom too, with valuable hands of domestic builders leaving behind a legacy worth admiring...

Park ID Card - information about the Park

Natural heritage

Lonjsko polje is one of the largest floodplains of the Danube basin. It is also a globally renowned birdwatching area, given the fact that 250 bird species have been recorded in the area, with 134 species nesting here. White and black storks, white-tailed eagle and Eurasian spoonbill are only several members of the long list of bird world in Lonjsko polje. Wetland meadows and pastures, together with floodplain forests of pedunculate oak and narrow-leaved ash, are just some examples of priceless values characterizing the area.
Lonjsko polje is also an example of an area where people have adapted their lives to frequent flooding, creating a tradition of living with the water, instead of attempting to fight it.

Floodplain forests

Author: Ivana Šustić
Lonjsko polje Nature Park is home to the biggest complexes of natural and conserved floodplain forests of Europe. They represent an important part of the total surface of 200,000 hectares of natural floodplain areas in the central part of the region of Posavina, and their biological and landscape value is priceless. The might of floodplain forests can be seen in the way in which they define habitats and landscapes, with certain specific species adapted to floods developing in these forests.

One of the typical species of the area is the famous Slavonian oak, an epitome of excellence in European countries such as Italy or France due to the high quality of timber. Water and floods are the key factors dictating the development of species and plant communities in forest habitats. Almost 70 percent of the Nature Park is covered by floodplain forests of pedunculate oak and narrow-leaved ash. Pedunculate oak forests of the area are exposed to extraordinarily intensive flooding dynamics, representing a globally relevant phenomenon. The Croatian writer Josip Kozarac, forester by vocation, dedicated some of his most beautiful works to pedunculate oak forests in the area of the Park: “Whoever visits this ancient forest of ours, with all of its marvelous trees that stand so upright, clean and tall, simply cannot forget this epitome of perfection. This is where huge oak trees rise high into the air, their grayish bark marked by straight lines that run the length of twenty-meter high trunks, ending with strong and wide crowns that adorn them as heroes coming back home. And so they line up in their pride, as our soldiers of the past once did, and you can see their enormous strength, their resistance to northerly winds and thunder, and you can see that they are the strongest and the noblest members of their empire and tribe.”

Floodplain grasslands

Floodplain grasslands belong to the most dynamic habitats of the Park, covering approximately 30 percent of its surface. Due to periodical dynamics of flooding caused by waters of the Sava River and its tributaries, hay meadows and livestock pastures of Lonjsko polje and Mokro polje are fully or partially flooded 30 to 100 days almost every year. They play an important role in flood defense as retention areas, and have a major ecological and economic value as part of the traditional grazing system, and as an essential element in the conservation of autochthonous Croatian breeds.

Four leaf clover, a species almost extinct in Europe due to the disappearance of wetland habitats, is still widespread on floodplain pastures of floodplain areas around the Sava River. Its thick cover spreads over the silty surfaces of pastures located in depressions in the terrain, turning into a usual terrestrial plant in times of floodwater retreat. The conservation of this species is connected with traditional grazing. A significant share of autochthonous breeds in the area spend most of the year in joint open pastures, feeding on the plant. In early spring, as the floods retreat, pigs are the first species released to pastures, helping the spread of four leaf clover rhizomes by routing up the soil, thus creating favorable ecological conditions for the growth and development of this plant. In addition to that, this area represents one of the biggest spawning grounds of common carp in the entire Danube basin. The species Eurasian spoonbill uses pastures as feeding grounds only in Lonjsko polje. Finally, hay meadows and natural meadows with tall sedge serve as nesting areas of corn crake.

Animal world

Lonjsko polje Nature Park represents one of the most important bird areas in Croatia, with its 250 recorded bird species (including 134 nesting birds). In 1989, it became part of the list of Important Bird Areas (IBA). Stork is the most interesting species for visitors, as one of the better-known European migrating birds. Adaptation of storks to coexistence with man is clearly visible in the way storks build their nests in human settlements.

Due to a large number of stork nests on the roofs of wooden houses of Posavina, the village of Čigoč became the first officially declared European stork village, back in 1994. In addition, the first ornithological reserve in Croatia was established in the area of Lonjsko polje Nature Park, back in 1963. The Special Ornithological Reserve Krapje Đol is the oldest side arm of the Sava River, protected due to the fact that it represents nesting grounds of a mixed colony of the Eurasian spoonbill and several heron and egret species: grey heron, purple heron, little egret, squacco heron, black-crowned night heron, little bittern and ferruginous duck. White-tailed eagle, the biggest bird of prey in these areas, also lives in the Park. It nests in forests near major water surfaces, and around 15 percent of the Croatian population of this bird species nests in the area of the Nature Park. The stability of 36 nesting pairs is an indicator of the level of conservation and integrity of floodplain forests of Central Posavina, which points to the important role that the area of Lonjsko polje plays in the survival of white-tailed eagle population at the level of the entire Danube basin.

Adaptation to floods

Lonjsko polje is an exceptional example of an area where people have completely adapted their way of life to the floods. Long and constant tradition of living with the floods, rather than against them, has created an extraordinary system that permeates all aspects of human interaction with the environment. People have thus organized their life in the safest places of the area, on elevations called grede right along the river. Behind the settlements, there are orchards, arable land, natural and hay meadows and flood pastures, followed by floodplain forests. Such a mode of land use is clearly conditioned by the arrival of floods and the retreat of water. The flood defense system of Srednje Posavlje uses almost 200,000 hectares of natural floodplain surfaces of the fields of Odransko, Lonjsko, Mokro and Ribarsko.

These natural retentions are important not only for the flood defense system, but also for the purification of water in watercourses, and they play an important role in the replenishment of groundwater supplies. In the international context, the area of Central Posavina with its flood defense system represents one of the first examples in the world where flood defense is based on using the natural floodplain surfaces, thus ensuring sufficient space for rivers. Spacious natural wetland habitats have been preserved in the area of Lonjsko polje, representing one of the key values of biological and landscape diversity in Central and Western Europe. Lonjsko polje Nature Park is listed as a Wetland of International Importance in the framework of the Ramsar Convention. The area is also important as a wintering and resting site for migrating birds, and it is a nesting site for almost 140 species. The values of Lonjsko polje can be preserved only by reasonable use of natural resources through the preservation of traditional agriculture, development of sustainable tourism, and Sava River Basin management in a manner that would minimize the undesirable impacts on ecological and morphological characteristics of the area.

Cultural and historical heritage

Man’s response to living with the floods can also be seen in traditional architecture. Two-storey houses built from globally appreciated oak from the region are an example of the skill of building an entire house without a single nail. The village of Krapje in Lonjsko polje is the only village in Croatia with the status of architectural heritage village, and an example of unique traditional architecture in a picturesque setting.
The walls of wooden houses are built out of thick logs, with added ceiling and roof construction. There are single-storey houses in the area too; however, two-storey houses were much better adapted to life in Lonjsko polje due to frequent flooding.

Traditional architecture

The architectural heritage of Lonjsko polje is a reflection of indivisibility between people and nature. Traditional oak construction is a testimony to the skills of local builders, who managed to merge their houses with the environment in the best way possible. In conserved older houses, timber construction was made by splitting or hewing; in newer ones, sowing represented a frequently used method. The walls are built out of thick logs, and equipped by a ceiling and roof construction.

Although there are single-storey houses in the area as well, two-storey houses are a true reflection of the centuries of development and adjustment of construction skills to the way of life in the area exposed to frequent flooding. Villages along the Sava River are linear, with houses placed in rows that follow the main road passing along the course of the river. The village of Krapje is the only village in Croatia with the status of an architectural heritage village. The original settlement matrix has been preserved in the historical center of the village, together with a number of wooden houses built in traditional architectural style in a very picturesque ambiance. In addition to traditional architecture, public historical buildings can also be seen in the village: the church, parish house, building of the firefighters’ association, a local inn, municipal building, water mill and the cemetery. These are the values that make Krapje a nationally important site, with the European Heritage Days traditionally marked in the village since 1995.

Cultural landscape

Due to its authentic organization of land use and traditional land use system, Lonjsko polje represents a unique landscape developed in the specific political and economic system of the Croatian Military Border between the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire. The area is a unique example of a cultural landscape with a preserved medieval system of joint grazing of several species, typical for the entire Central Europe until the second half of the 19th century.

Lonjsko polje Nature Park is a unique area with a strong concentration of authentic traditional wood architecture. The main construction material is the world-renowned Slavonian oak from floodplain forests of the region of Posavina. Lonjsko Polje Nature Park is a remarkable European example of an area in which man has adapted its way of life to floods in a most comprehensive manner.

Legend of the Outlaws

During the times of the Ottoman Empire, people were exhausted due to incessant wars and poverty. It was the time of hajduci – outlaws that the villages perceived as genuine heroes. While they represented plain thieves and outcasts from the point of view of noble families, the poor folk saw them as a glimmer of hope and a symbol of the glory of heroism. Led by their outlaw code, stating that it is “disgraceful to rob a poor man”, they were only robbing the rich, dividing their loot with the poor locals.

One day, the guards caught a well-known outlaw, and punished him to death by hanging. As he waited for the rope, his mother came crying, and she cried: “Oh, my dear son, why have you chosen such a dishonest life?” The son replied: “How can you say that, mother? I don’t remember you complaining when I was bringing you eggs; you even asked me how come I didn’t bring a chicken too.“ 

Nature Park Lonjsko polje

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