Neretva River Delta

- Croatia -

Photo: © MaGa / Wikimedia

Neretva-Delta_photo-Davorka-Kitonic-e1599428872568 (1) (1)
© Davorka Kitonic


Neretva River Delta was designated as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site) under the Ramsar Convention on 02-11-1992.

More about the site

Neretva River, with its 218 km long watercourse, is the largest river of the eastern Adriatic watershed. Its final section of ca. 22 km stretches through Croatian territory, forming an extensive delta with large reedbeds, lakes, wet meadows, lagoons, sandbanks, sandflats and saltmarshes. Neretva Delta is the most valuable wetland on the eastern Adriatic coast and one of only a few wetlands remaining in the Mediterranean region of Europe. It is the only delta in Croatia and contains the largest reedbed extent in the country, covering more than 3,000 ha. 

Although a large part of former vast marshes of Neretva Delta have been turned into agricultural land, its remaining wetland habitats are representative and important on an international level. A number of habitat types found in the Site are threatened on European level, like the estuary, lagoons, shallow sandbanks, tidal flats and saltmarshes. It is in fact a complex of wetland habitats, containing 17 Ramsar types of wetlands, including 8 marine/coastal, 6 inland and 3 human-made. 

The international importance of Neretva Delta is strengthened by the fact that it is a part of the wider wetland of the Lower Neretva valley that includes Hutovo Blato Ramsar Site in Bosnia & Herzegovina. These two sites are ecologically identical and should be treated as one transboundary Ramsar Site.

In the Neretva Delta, at least 313 bird species have been registered. Altogether, there are around 193 regularly occurring species out of which around 89 are breeding birds. The area is an important stopover place during migrations of birds from Middle and NE Europe to Africa, situated on the route of the Central European (Black Sea/Mediterranean) Flyway. It is also of great importance for wintering – about 1/3 of the registered species are wintering birds, accompanied with residents during the winter. 

The river mouth with its shoals, sandbanks and saltmarshes is of  the greatest importance for migration of waders, the Spoonbill (Platalea leucorodia), terns and gulls as well as for breeding of the Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrines) and the Stilt (Himantopus himantopus). Reedbeds and water bodies shelter migrating and wintering ducks, coots and grebes. Extensive reedbeds are, along with the reedbed in Vranskojezero Nature Park, the most important breeding site in the Mediterranean region of Croatia for many waterbirds.

Food provisionfor people, maintenance of hydrological regimes, erosion protection, flood control, recreation and tourism, scientific and educational services.

People have been present in Neretva Delta for thousands of years, turning wetland into arable land and establishing transportation routes towards the hinterland. Agriculture was developing gradually through traditional ways of creating land parcels in the marsh (digging channels and putting excavated soil aside, thus making small land plots). These traditional channels are called “jendeci” and form unique, specific landscapes in Europe.

This area was inhabited by Illyrian tribes as far back as the Iron Age. In the 4th century B.C., the ancient Greeks founded an emporium (the port) there, which developed into the well‐known Roman market town Narona, today called Vid near the Metković town. Many monuments from the Roman times are present here, such as city walls with towers, Roman villas and mosaics. All over the delta around Narona there were suburbs and estates, the remnants of which are now covered by the marsh and deposited sediments. The whole area has enormous archaeological value. Systematic researches and excavations from the beginning of the 20th century have had sensational results. 

The most famous discovery was made in 1996 in the center of the village of Vid where the remains of the main square (Roman forum) with the temple devoted to Augustus (Augusteum) were found. The temple that was built ca. 10 BC contained 12 marble statues among which is dominant the impressive 3m high statue of the emperor Augustus in his imperial dress. Statues have been placed into the temple over a 200 year period, and include sculptures of Roman imperial dynasties from the times of emperors Augustus, Claudius, Vespasian and Severus. The other famous discovery in Narona was the torso of Livia Drusilla, the wife of Emperor Augustus. The head of Livia belonging to this torso was taken to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford in 1878 while the torso is kept locally in the Opuzen town (so‐called “Oxford‐Opuzen Livia”). This torso probably also belongs tothe  Augusteum. 

Today the group of imperial sculptures of the Augusteum, together with the relief group Ara Pacis in Rome, is the most numerous groups of imperial sculptures of the Old Rome in the world. Sculptures of the Augusteum have been restored and shown in numerous museum exhibitions throughout the Europe, and today they are kept in Museum Narona in the village of Vid, opened in 2007 as the only in situ museum in Croatia. Christianity can be traced in the Neretva Delta as far back as from the middle of the 5th century. Of the five Early Christian sacral monuments, the dominant one is St Vid’s Basilica with a very well-preserved baptistery at the place of the present church in Vid. The medieval monuments are only few. During the Turkish invasion at the end of the 15th century, the impressive fortress Norinskakula (Fortress of Norin) was built by the Ottoman Empire at the mouth of the Norin River into the Neretva, serving for defense against Venetian ships.

One observatory for birds, situated on the Galičak hill near the mouth of Neretva River.

Organized guided tours of tourists and various groups and education of school children.

In the ornithological reserves hunting is forbidden while in the ichthyological‐ornithological reserve of Jugoistočnidio delte Neretve fishery is also forbidden. Fishery is strictly regulated in the whole marine area of the Neretvanski Kanal, which is proclaimed a special habitat for fish and other marine organisms according to the Marine Fishery Law.

Fishery, forestry and hunting are being implemented through sectoral management plans that are obliged to contain nature conservation measures issued by the ministry responsible for nature protection matters. The same is true of water management annual programs of works and the regular maintenance of waters. As Neretva Delta is part of NATURA 2000, all projects that could significantly influence its target features are subject to the procedure of nature impact assessment. General restrictions and procedures for issuing permits for planned projects and activities, including impact assessment, are determined by the Nature Protection Law and the Law on Environmental Protection.

Within the Ramsar Site:

The most prominent factors in the past that adversely affected the ecological character of the Neretva Delta were connected to water management, including land reclamation activities with the purpose of turning wetland into agricultural land. Today the largest threats are also connected to issues of the water management and agriculture sectors. As the consequence of water regulation activities in Croatia’s surrounding area in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is an obvious trend of decreasing water levels and quantity in Neretva Delta that adversely affects not only wetland habitats and biological diversity of the Delta but also agriculture. The less water in Neretva and its tributaries in the Delta, the stronger the influence of the sea and salinization of water and soil can be expected. There are different water management plans and projects currently going on in the Neretva Delta. They deal with solving the problem of salinization; irrigation of agricultural land; flood control; treatment of sewage water of the town Metković and other activities. There are even plans for further melioration of the remaining wetland areas. Other problems and threats to the ecological character of the Ramsar Site include: expansion and intensification of agriculture; excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers; fragmentation of wetland habitats; the spread of urban zones on account of wetland; water pollution with non‐purified urban and industrial waters; unresolved land property rights; illegal taking of state owned agricultural land, including marshes; unregulated recreational and touristic activities, especially at the river mouth; illegal hunting and fishing; frequent fires in reedbeds.


In the surrounding area:

In the surrounding area especially problematic are issues related to transboundary water management and numerous water regulations in the catchment area of the Neretva and the neighboring Trebišnjica River in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The watersheds of these two rivers are connected through the karst underground. Re‐direction of waters from so-called Upper Horizons (“Gornji horizonti”) of Trebišnjica River into the area of Lower Horizons (“Donji horizonti”) with three existing hydropower plants results in a loss of water in lower Neretva area, lower summer water levels, the drying out of water springs and strengthening of the influence of the sea. There are plans to even increase these activities and to take most of the available water for additional use of hydropower plants in eastern Herzegovina.

It has not been adopted yet, but it is under finalization.


Latest updates of these informations: Mars 2020

© Davorka Kitonic