Croatia is located at the meeting point of the Mediterranean, the Alps and the Pannonian plain and has great geographical and natural diversity in a small area. There is a huge diversity of ecosystems, land use patterns and agriculture practices from the Danube floodplain and rolling hills around the capital Zagreb to the rocky mountains of the Dinaric Alps stretching along the Adriatic coast. Coastal and insular Croatia is the most indented part of the Mediterranean coast, with some 6,000 km of coastline including more than 1,200 islands, islets and reefs.
Croatia has two distinct climatic regions: a continental climate in the Pannonian Plain with intense heat in the summer and sub-zero temperatures in winter, and a Mediterranean climate along the Adriatic coast with short, mild winters and long, warm, dry summers.
Croatia is among the biologically richest countries in Europe – it ranks third for the number of plant species per area. The high biodiversity in Croatia is enhanced by its location in quite different climatic, (geo) morphological and hydrological zones: the Danube floodplain, the Karst limestone zone, the Dinaric Alps and the Mediterranean Coast with its unique islands.
Farmland, especially grassland and meadow orchards are very biodiversity rich habitats, hosting numerous valuable species.
Protected natural areas in Croatia cover approximately 10% of the country (excluding territorial seas) and are made-up of 450 protected sites. The best known among these are the eight national parks (IUCN category II): Plitvice Lakes, Paklenica, Risnjak, Mljet, Kornati, Brijuni, North Velebit and Krka and 2 strict nature reserves (IUCN category I): Hajducki and Rosanski Kukovi and Bijele and Samarske stijene.
Several of these have been listed as internationally valuable natural areas. The Plitvice Lakes are included in the UNESCO World Natural Heritage List and the Velebit Mountain is in the UNESCO MaB (Man and the Biosphere) scientific programme. Four areas are included in the Ramsar Convention List (Kopački rit, Lonjsko polje, the lower Neretva and Crna Mlaka).
Appropriate agricultural management is essential for the biodiversity and wildlife of many Croatian protected natural areas. However, most of these areas either are without significant agricultural production or depopulated (or sometimes both). A particular threat is the absence of mowing and grazing in protected natural areas.
As a candidate country for the membership to the EU, the Republic of Croatia has to prepare to designate NATURA 2000 sites. The EU Birds and Habitats Directives require that these habitats and species populations are maintained in Favourable Conservation Status. Given the fact that every third hectare of NATURA 2000 area will have to be managed by farmers, achieving this goal will strongly depend on continuation of farming activities in these areas. Therefore it is necessary to work out appropriately-targeted incentives for nature conservation measures that farmers who still live and work in these regions can easily adopt.
Other designated areas
Birdlife International has identified 23 Important Bird Areas in Croatia, while the State Directorate for the Protection of Nature and the Environment has recognized 40 areas which are important for bird life. Some of these areas are bird reserves, some form parts of national parks or nature parks, while others do not enjoy any form of protection.
Croatia has 97 Important Plant Areas, covering 964,655 hectares. Land abandonment is the greatest threat to Croatia?s IPAs, affecting 62% of sites, so maintaining rural land management practices will be a necessity if Croatia?s plant diversity is to be secured.
Three Prime Butterfly Areas are identified in Croatia covering 290,000 ha. Grasslands are one of the main land use and land cover in all three PBA. The most serious threat is from the abandonment of traditional agricultural practices. Another serious threat is the drainage of wet meadows used by several target species.
Agriculture and Farming
The Croatian agricultural sector has two parallel production systems: family farms on the one hand - 448,532 of them - and 1364 private agricultural companies, most of which have evolved from the big ex-State-owned agricultural enterprises, on the other.
Family farming lies at the heart of the agricultural sector of Croatia. According to the 2003 Agricultural Census, it occupies 80% of the UAA and 75% of the arable land, owns 82% of the livestock and 99% of all tractors, and accounts for approximately 95% of the total workforce in agriculture. As many as three quarters of all Croatian family farms are smaller than 3 ha, but they farm only 21% of the UAA owned by the private sector. A recent survey suggests that the average size of a commercially-viable family farm is substantially bigger: 11.5 ha. The 5% of holdings with more than 10 ha occupy 52% of the UAA.
The Utilised Agricultural Area (UAA) is 1.3 million ha of which 863,023 ha are arable land and 343,306 are grassland. However, Croatia potentially has much more agricultural land (some 500,000 ha). It is mostly neglected grassland in mountainous and coastal areas, where more than half of agricultural land is abandoned, mainly due to intensive resettlement and landmine contamination. A high proportion is likely to have been HNV farmland.
Croatia submitted application for EU membership in February 2003 and has the statute of a candidate country from 2005.
Croatia implemented its SAPARD programme till the end of 2007 and now implements its IPARD Programme.
Common and communal pasture
Common pastures are a significant element in HNV farming in Croatia. More information can be found in this document.