Photo owner Frka – Link
The Kopački rit nature park is a floodplain in Baranja, in the north-east of Croatia, between the rivers Danube in the east and Drava in the south. It was founded in 1976. The total size of the nature park is 17,700 ha (177 km2), of which the Special Zoological Reserve includes 8,000 ha. It is administratively located in the municipality of Bilje, Osijek-Baranja county. It is the oldest declared nature park in Croatia.
Kopački rit is one of the largest fluvial-marsh plains in Europe. This area changes its appearance significantly during the year, depending on the intensity of flooding, mainly from the Danube, and much less from the Drava. It is the largest breeding ground and hatchery of freshwater fish in the Danube and the most important ornithological reserve in Croatia. About 140 species of birds nest in it every year, and the great biodiversity of 2,000 biological species is a reflection of the rich flora and fauna of the park. The parts of the land and rit waters form a very complex mosaic, and their form and function at a given moment depend on the amount of incoming water. The canals are the link between the flow of the Danube and the Drava, and there is also a network of canals that form water connections within the rit.
Kopački rit is included in the list of ornithologically important areas – IBA (Important Bird Area), and it has been nominated for inclusion in UNESCO (World Natural Heritage).
The first idea about the “Belje National Park” was presented by the naturalist Szecheny in 1935. In the former SFRY, more precisely since 1959, the Kopački Rit has been managed by the hunting and forestry company “Jelen” from Belgrade, which, in agreement with the then Institute for Nature Protection, in 1958 requested the declaration of the “Moša Pijade” National Park, with which the Conservation Institute from of Zagreb, who advocated the idea of a managed nature reserve. During this period, the settlement of Tikveš and the castle of the same name were built with associated economic facilities for hunting and recreation of the then president Josip Broz Tito. Due to the engagement of Drago Getz and several distinguished naturalists, Kopački rit became a “Managed Nature Reserve” in 1967 due to its preservation, great biodiversity and ecological value. A few years later, in 1976 to be precise, the narrower area of the park was declared a Special Zoological Reserve, and the wider area the “Kopački rit” Nature Park, with a total area of 10,500 ha. In 1993, Kopački rit was declared an internationally important wetland protected by the Ramsar Convention. Since 1997, the nature park has been managed by the Public Institution “Kopački rit Nature Park”. By decision of the Croatian Parliament, the Nature Park was expanded in 1999 to its current 17,700 ha area.
Photo owner Tórizs István – Link
The question of whether Kopački rit should be declared a national park has been raised several times. The requests were repeated in 1958, 1982 and 1999. Proponents of national park status believe that this would improve the development of ecological tourism and refer to the fact that all national parks in Croatia are related to the karst phenomenon. Thus, not a single national park has been declared in eastern Croatia.
Throughout history, the area of today’s Nature Park has been declared an “ecological disaster” on several occasions. During the excavation of the Hulov canal in 1969, 3,000 ha of water surface was lost in the moor. That year, Lake Kopačko almost dried up. In 1985, manure from a pig farm in Darda leaked into Lake Sakadaš, killing a large number of fish. Human activity, fishing and hunting of birds and game disrupts the ecological balance. During the Homeland War, part of the park was mined, and cleaning the park was difficult because the mines were buried in the swamp mud. In the Special Zoological Reserve, about 3,700 ha of land are under mines.
The relief of the Kopački rit area is the result of the work of water, the Danube and Drava rivers, and the floodwaters that flood the area. Rivers in their course create banks and islands. Constant flooding and waves of water in one place deepen the terrain, forming crescent-shaped depressions, while in another place they deposit the material carried by the river. This creates depressions (pools) and elevated areas (beams) that give a wavy appearance. The depressions are filled with water and represent lakes or ponds. Several successive depressions are joined and connected to the Danube, forming a natural channel (foak) through which the depressions are filled and emptied. These natural channels (seals) are often artificially deepened.
Photo owner Darko Tepert – Link
There are two larger lakes in the park, Lake Kopačko and Lake Sakadaš, which are the only permanent areas under water. With an area of 220 ha (average area), Kopačko lake is also the largest lake in the park. It is 1.5 to 5 meters deep and is located in the center of the park. At 7 meters, Lake Sakadaš is the deepest lake in the park and the deepest depression in the ridge.
Rit is flooded for an average of 99 days a year, while the entire area is under water for an average of 32 days. The flood wave comes at the beginning of spring when the water levels of the Drava and Danube rise due to the melting of snow in the Alps. The peak of the flood wave is between April and May, and by the end of summer the waters have completely receded from the ridge. The most important connection between the Danube and the rit is the Hulovski canal, 6 km long and 34 meters wide. The main connection between the rit and the Drava is the Renovo canal, 3 kilometers long and up to 20 meters wide. The longest canal is the Stara Barbara, 26.7 kilometers long, which runs parallel to the Drava.
Flora and fauna of the park “Gnijezda” in Kopački rit
Due to the specific microrelief and constant flooding, different types of vegetation develop in the area of Kopački rit. On the one hand, there are different types of forests, and on the other, swamp and water vegetation, while nitrophilous and grassland vegetation is associated with a higher concentration of game and anthropogenic influence. Of the forest communities, the largest area in the moor is covered by a forest of white willow (Salix alba), which can withstand high and long-lasting floods. On slightly higher terrain, where the floods are shorter, a forest of white willow and black poplar (Populus nigra) develops, and on even higher places there are also oak forests – on lower terrains, forests of common oak and large yellow oak (Genista tinctoria), and on drier in areas of oak and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) forests.
Photo owner Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé – Link
The largest water areas within the moor are covered by water and swamp vegetation with numerous communities. Communities of water lentils mix here, the most common of which is the community of Spirodela polyrhiza. In a mosaic with other aquatic communities, there are also communities of spawning plants (Potamogeton gramineus), communities of sedges (Myriophyllum) and water lilies (Nuphar). However, the largest area is occupied by the community of flounder (Nymphoides peltata). Along the edges of lakes and canals and on occasionally flooded areas, sedges (Scirpus) and communities of tall sedges (Carex: Carex elata; Carex vesicaria) are most widespread. They occupy huge areas of the hill and give it a characteristic appearance. In total, about forty plant communities and over three hundred flora species speak of the great vegetation diversity of Kopački rit.
In the 2010s, the American species Hanging sedge (Scirpus pendulus) was observed for the first time.
The autochthonous flora of Kopački rit provides favorable living conditions for various representatives of invertebrates. To date, more than 400 species of invertebrates have been identified, among which is a new form of bivalve – Unio tumidus kopaciensis. Kopački rit is the largest hatchery and breeding ground for fish in the Danube Region. Based on catch data, 44 species of fish have been recorded so far, of which the following stand out in terms of population size: carp (Cyprinus carpio), pike (Esox lucius), catfish (Silurus glanis) and perch (Stizostedion lucioperca). The extensive reeds, forests and ponds of Kopački rit and the surrounding pastures provide ideal conditions for the life of many species of mammals: red deer (Cervus elaphus), red deer (Capreolus capreolus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), wild cat (Felis silvestris), common badger (Meles meles) and others.
Photo owner Tobias Biehl – Link
The basic ecological distinguishing feature of Kopački rit is the bird fauna. As many as 285 species of birds have been recorded, of which 141 species regularly or occasionally nest in the moor. Particularly interesting are those types of birds that nest in large colonies – herons (Ardea cinerea, Ardea purpurea), common gull (Larus ridibundus), white-bearded tern (Chlidonias hybrida), great crow (Phalacrocorax carbo) and others. In the area of Kopački rit, over 20 pairs of bald eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla), a species that is threatened on a global scale, nest. And of the other endangered European species, 5 pairs of black storks (Ciconia nigra), 4 to 5 pairs of steppe falcons (Falco cherrug), 40 pairs of white egrets (Egretta garzetta) and about 100 pairs of wild geese (Anser anser) nest regularly. Several hundred pairs of mallard ducks (Aythya nyroca), which is one of the most endangered European species, nest in Kopačkok Rit. During the spring and autumn migration, Kopački rit is a very important resting place for many species of wading birds, and hundreds of thousands of birds stay in the rite.
The Kopački Rit Nature Park has great tourist significance in the Osijek-Baranja County, as more than a third of tourists visit the Rit every year. The park itself has great tourist potential. In addition to preserved nature and rich flora and fauna, the cultural and historical heritage stands out. In the settlement of Tikveš there is a palace hunting-residential complex from the 19th century (used by King Alexander and President Tito) and a hunting country villa.
Rural tourism and ecotourism is developing very quickly, but it is still less represented than hunting tourism and recreational fishing.
The text was taken and translated into English from the Croatian Wikipedia – Link