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Velebit has long been recognized for its exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity. Within UNESCO’s programme (MAB) (MAB – Man and Biosphere), the Velebit Mountain was included in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves in 1978. Three years later the entire Velebit area was designated a nature park. Within it there are two national parks– the Paklenica National Park in the south (designated in 1949), and the Northern Velebit National Park in the north (designated half a century later).

Established in 1999, Northern Velebit is the youngest of eight national parks in Croatia. This part of the Velebit Mountain is a true patchwork of the most diverse habitats that are home to countless plant, fungus and animal species – a wealth that is yet to be explored in its entirety. It is this diversity of kart formations, wildlife and landscape, to a large extent created by man, which was the main reason for setting up the Northern Velebit National Park.


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Northern Velebit National Park encompasses several areas protected earlier: Hajdučki i Rožanski Kukovi, strict reserve, the Visibaba botanical reserve – home to the endemic species Croatian sibirea, and the Zavižan-Balinovac-Velika kosa botanical reserve which houses the well-known Velebit Botanical Garden, which has been listed as a monument of landscape architecture.

Due to its exceptional worth the Northern Velebit National Park has been included in the National Ecological Network and is listed in the proposal of the future Natura 2000 network of protected areas.

Northern Velebit National Park is also member of the European Destinations of Excellence (EDEN) network, being the national winner in the category „Tourism and Protected Areas“.

Northern Velebit National Park, together with Paklenica National Park and Velebit Nature Park, has been included in five European pilot-areas as part of the Rewilding Europe project.

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Park’s Identity Card

  • Year of foundation: 1999.
  • Surface area: 109 km2
  • Altitude: 518-1676 m
  • Highest peak: Veliki Zavižan, Gromovača, Vratarski kuk
  • Ecological network - Natura 2000: YES
  • IUCN category: II (national park)

Role of the National Park

The purpose of a national park is primarily to preserve the intrinsic natural values of an area, with wildlife being its vital part. Protected areas play a crucial role in the preservation of wildlife whose existence is threatened due to habitat decline.

Infrastructural and other facilities are increasingly encroaching on natural areas tearing up and fragmenting the land into isolated islands that are insufficient for the life of many species. Each major human intervention in nature represents an insurmountable obstacle for species that need a wider area to move and spread.

The role of protected areas such as the Norther Velebit National Park is to conserve healthy and stable ecosystems which comprise large numbers of species. Such natural spaces are invaluable in that they provide the surrounding area with cleaner air and water, a healthier and more fertile soil, and a favourable and more stable climate, providing the people staying in the area to enjoy the benefits of physical, mental and spiritual relaxation.


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Natura 2000 Protected Areas Network

In the late 20th century, human activity and the exploitation of natural resources changed substantially in the European continent, leading to a dramatic deterioration of biodiversity. These developments drove EU member states to try and stop the negative trends in their territories, and identify the most vulnerable habitats and species, which were at risk of disappearing from Europe, and perhaps even at risk of extinction. Natura 2000, the European protected areas network and the basis for environmental protection in the EU, was thus born. Its objective is to preserve, or restore to a good condition, the rare, endangered and endemic species, as well as their habitats.

In addition to protecting the living world and its habitats, Natura 2000 also supports the principle of sustainable development, aimed at achieving a good coexistence of man and nature. Around 27,500 areas, accounting for almost 20% of the EU’s territory, are covered by the Natura 2000 network, which makes it the world’s largest conservation area system. Natura 2000 is based on two EU directives: the Directive on the conservation of wild birds (Birds Directive) and the Directive on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitats Directive).

When Croatia joined the EU, Natura 2000 was declared in its territory too. The Croatian Natura 2000 protected area network now covers 36.67% of Croatia’s land territory, and 16.39% of its coastal waters. It includes 38 conservation areas of relevance for birds, and around 745 conservation areas relevant for species and habitat types. All three major protected areas on Mt. Velebit – Velebit Nature Park, Paklenica National Park, and Northern Velebit National Park – are parts of the European Natura 2000 network.

Northern Velebit National Park is a conservation area of relevance for 12 species and 13 habitat types, and is located within the Velebit conservation area of relevance for birds.

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UNESCO Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe

At the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee held on 7th July 2017 in Krakow, Poland, the Primeval Beech Forest of the Northern Velebit National Park that grows inside the Hajdučki and Rožanski kukovi Strict Reserve, together with the beech forests in Suva draga-Klimenta and Oglavinovac-Javornik in the Paklenica National Park and beech forests in 9 other European countries were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

This is an extension of UNESCO’s previously protected natural heritage, i.e. the beech forests of the Carpathians (Slovakia, Ukraine) and the beech forests of Germany which, after adding another 63 beech forests in 10 countries (Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Spain), was officially entitled the ‘Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe’. By adding new areas to the World Heritage List the unity of an area with extraordinary universal value, which is also evidence of how postglacial expansion and the natural and free development of beech forest ecosystems within Europe was achieved.

The Strict Reserves’ beech forests are an excellent example of untouched forest complexes and represent ancient, preserved forests in a specific karst habitat. They grow at altitudes of 1,200 to 1,500 metres, above the beech-fir forests and under the mountain pine belt. Despite being old, beech trunks are not huge because extreme climate and karst terrain make them grow slowly in dwarf and deformed shapes. They are primeval beech forests that grow on the edge of the European beech’s ecological niche.

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The entire area of the Hajdučki and Rožanski kukovi Strict Reserve is almost fully protected from human impact. Abundance of species is a result of the palaeoclimatic conditions registered in this area and these beech forests are genetically interesting and priceless to phylogenetic research. They are extremely rich in Illyric species of which some are endemic to Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main types of beech forests within the Reserve include Sub-alpine Beech forest with Buttercups (Ranunculo platanifoliae-Fagetum) and Sub-alpine Beech Forest with Sycamore Maple (Polysticho lonchitis-Fagetum), which are characterised by its specific and highly recognisable trunk form. These communities grow in extreme climate conditions with abundant snow, low temperatures, a short vegetation period and harsh winds. Due to persistent snow that presses young trees, these beech tress are typically bound in their lower parts resembling a pipe. As the altitude increases trees become lower and more crooked with more branches, and the tree looks more like a bush which is only a few metres high. Unusual forms of trees, together with the rocky massif they grow on and stunning views over the Adriatic Sea create a special and unique landscape.

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You can find out more about World Natural Heritage Ancient & Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians & Other Regions of Europe in this short video story.

European Destination of Excellence (EDEN)

EDEN is an abbreviation for European Destinations of ExcelleNce - a project that promotes sustainable tourism development models. The project is based on national competitions for the selection of tourist destinations of excellence for each participating country, drawing attention to the values, diversity as well as common features of European destinations and promoting networking between awarded destinations. The project’s objective is to enhance and promote emerging tourist destinations.
Each year the European Commission chooses a theme, and in 2009 the Northern Velebit National Park received an award in Brussels as the national winner within the theme “Tourism and Protected Areas”. More about the EDEN project.



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