Croatia - High Nature Value Farming
Although all three HNV farmland types can be found in Croatia, there are still no data on them. The first steps for the identification and mapping of HNV farming have just been taken by experts of the State Institute for Nature Conservation. But, even in the absence of precise information, there are some data suggesting that there are large areas of HNV farmland falling into each of the three types.
A number of the future NATURA 2000 sites will be located in agricultural areas and thus logically consist of HNV farmland. Such areas account for around 690,000 ha (31%) of the 2.2 million ha which have been preliminarily designated as part of the NATURA 2000 network. Within this area, mosaic landscapes with arable plots, vegetable gardens, traditional orchards and vineyards are most common (57%), while extensive grassland accounts for 39% of such agricultural land.
Croatia has 97 Important Plant Areas, covering 964,655 ha. After tourism and recreation, agriculture is the predominant land use on Croatian IPAs and grassland habitats occur on 87% of them.
Although many valuable species are in decline, many of these can still be found in agricultural habitats. Croatian arable land and grassland hosts numerous endangered plants such as corncockle (Agrostemma githago) and the whole family of orchids as well as to birds of important European conservation status such as corncrake (Crex crex), stone-curlew (Burrhinus oedicnemus) and Calandra lark (Melanocorypha calandra). These habitats also have a rich fauna of grasshoppers and butterflies. The majority of 187 species of butterflies can be found in meadow habitats including the ant-dependent genus, Maculinea.
HNV Farming systems
Lowland alluvial areas along the Sava, Mura, Drava and Danube rivers are still largely managed in traditional ways. Large floodplain areas, like those in the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park serve as retention areas for the peak flows of the Sava and its tributaries, thus preventing floods. In the summer months, these areas turn into vast pastures where autochthonous breeds such as Slavonian-Syrmian Podolian cattle, Posavski horse and Turopolje pig graze freely. The traditional grazing system is still present today along the entire course of the Sava river. Extensive grazing of the large areas of common pastures is crucial for the preservation of typical lowland landscape with habitats for numerous threatened species such as the corncrake (Crex crex).
Highland Croatia consists of a section of the Dinaric Alps, with the highest peak Dinara reaching 1831 m. It is a ridge of karst (limestone) stretching parallel to the coast. Karst covers 54% of Croatia, from the central mountains to the Adriatic coast and islands. Grasslands of this zone include the Molinio-Arrhenatheretea, Festuco-Brometea and grasslands with Nardus stricta. On the border with the sub-Mediterranean zone, eastern sub-montane dry grasslands (Scorzoneratalia villosae), rich in endemic species, are found. Karstic depressions (poljes) have several endemic grassland communities, all of them home to the Dinaric endemic plant Scilla litardierei.
With a length of 145 km, Velebit is the longest range of the Dinaric Alps. In this mountain area, semi-natural and species-rich grasslands were for centuries maintained by traditional hay-making and the grazing of sheep, horses and cattle. These calcareous grasslands are essentially maintained by grazing which keeps the vegetation low and open, allowing the more delicate plants like orchids to thrive. Velebit is a Prime Butterfly Area with 137 butterfly species, including three target species (Maculinea arion, M. rebeli and Parnassius apollo).
Small-scale mosaic landscapes with arable plots, vegetable gardens, traditional orchards and vineyards can be found all over Croatia, especially in western hilly areas and along the coast. The hills of the North-Western Croatia are characterized by smallholdings, mixed farming and generally low yields. Fruit growing, viticulture, and cattle and pig breeding are the major agricultural activities.
The Adriatic littoral is characterised by rocky soil with small plots of arable land. Sheep and goats are raised, alongside grapes, olives, almonds, figs and other Mediterranean fruits and vegetables. There are some 6 million olive trees in Croatia – only around a fifth of the number less than a hundred years ago. Almost half of the families living on the Croatian coast and 93% of families living on the islands grow olives as part of either their main or secondary work. Low-input traditional plantations and intensified traditional plantations which are following traditional patterns but are under more intensive management (especially the systematic use of mineral fertilisers and pesticides) are the most common. On several islands, the under-storey of olive plantations is still sometimes used for grazing of sheep and goats. A large part of typical terraces and dry stone walls is abandoned, but in some places they are still very well preserved.
Examples of some of the HNV farming systems requiring special and targeted support in Croatia, Text and photos: Sonja Karoglan
Small scale mosaic cropping in western hilly areas
The agricultural habitats in the proposed Natura 2000 zones in Croatia represent some 690 000ha. Mosaic landscapes with arable plots, vegetable gardens, traditional orchards and vineyards prevail (57%), while extensive grassland cover 39%.
The majority of agricultural households in the country are smaller than 3 ha and are not registered in the Farm Register. This puts them outside the administrative, fiscal and inspection system de facto meaning that they will not be eligible for any agriculture policy support.
Traditional hay making by family members
Farmers are getting older and for young people farming, and especially small-scale extensive farming, is not “serious” enough to attract them. As a result, this type of farming is continued mostly to ensure produce for self-consumption in the family.
Without external support, practices such as hand mowing and traditional hay making are gradually disappearing.
Mediterranean grasslands historically used for sheep grazing
Around a million of hectares of grasslands most of which potentially of High Nature Value are ‘lost’ in the official data systems. It is not included in the national statistics or in the Farm Register which most likely means that it will remain outside the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) which is a basic requirement for receiving CAP support.
Many of these areas are already being abandoned and typical man-made features such as stone walls are degrading.
Traditional low input olive groves on the Croatian coast
Low-input traditional olives and intensified traditional plantations (systematic use of mineral fertilisers and pesticides) still prevail. A large part of typical terraces and dry stone walls is abandoned, but in some places they are still very well preserved.
Almost half of families living on the Croatian coast and 93% of families living on islands are cultivating olives as either their basic or additional working activity. If support for the more extensive practices is not provided it is most likely that the management will be intensified in favour of higher yields and less hand work.