Karst beauty amidst the mountains: Livanjsko polje

We took advantage of a sunny weekend in April to visit Livanjsko polje alongside partners on the project “Restoration and preservation of small freshwater ecosystems of karst mountains in the Mediterranean”, local herders from Dinara, students of Dinko Šimunović high school in Sinj, and members of our association.

  • 26.04.2024.

Biologists Biljana Topić and Goran Topić from the Ornithological Society “Naše ptice” welcomed us at the Ćaićki Lakat viewpoint with binoculars around their necks. From there, we could see the vast Livanja field. It is here that the Ornithological Society “Naše ptice” is conducting the project “Sustainable Future for the Freshwater Ecosystem of Livanjsko Polje in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. After a warm welcome and introduction, biologist Biljana enthusiastically spoke about one of the largest karst fields in the world and one of the most famous in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Livanjsko Polje is nestled between the mountain massifs of Dinara, Kamešnica, Šator, Cincar, and Tušnica, which shield it from external influences. Often depicted as a vast plain, the field sits at around 700 metres above sea level, making it one of the highest fields in Europe. Consequently, winters are moderate, while summers are dry and very warm. It is also the largest wetland habitat in Bosnia and Herzegovina, harbouring significant populations of rare birds, including the Corn Crake (Crex crex), Montagu’s Harrier, and Eurasian Bittern (Botaurus stellaris). Numerous river-sinks are scattered across Livanjsko Polje, such as the Sturba, Bistrica, and Žabljak, which are the only permanent watercourses in the area, merging to form the Plovuća.

The local farmers we’re about to visit understand better than anyone else the importance of the Livanja field and its rich biodiversity for agricultural crops.

Fragrant honey and red cows

The road along the edge of the field leads to the Čaić settlement, home to the Hrga family farm. Welcoming us with a wide smile, beekeeper Tadija Hrga greeted the participants. With a glass of homemade mead in hand, Tadija shared the family’s beekeeping tradition. It all began with his grandmother, who started producing honey in the old-fashioned way, using straw and log hives. Today, Tadija and his family are expanding their operation, creating a tasting room for honey and other products, developing an educational trail about honey, and establishing an open-air beekeeping museum.

While tasting honey from heather, meadow flowers, and linden, Tadija describes the honey production process, emphasising that he doesn’t relocate the beehives based on flowering or grazing patterns. Of particular interest is the future api-room, a wooden hut where semi-open beehives with mesh are installed, allowing people to breathe air from the beehive naturally enriched with pollen and the aromas of flowers and honey.

At Tadija’s property, we encountered volunteers from the Dragodid association who had begun restoring the long dry wall, which will complement the ongoing honey story. Excursionists, particularly the youngest ones, had the opportunity to ask about everything they were interested in regarding the restoration and construction of the drywall and its integration with nature. After a brief rest, the gravel path leads us to the top of the hill in Podhum. We can smell the scent of hay bales and homemade pastry, and the host, Mate Omazić, warmly welcomes us. Later, we discover that our bus was the first to navigate the winding dirt road to this distinctive red cow farm.

Mate Omazić, the host and owner, shares his entrepreneurial journey with us, explaining how he and his colleagues founded Farma Podhum and began revitalising neglected pastures around Livno. Podhum Farm was the first to introduce the Salers breed of cows, known for their resilience and suitability for extensive farming in hilly and mountainous regions. Robust and adorned with large horns, these cows defend themselves well against wolves and other predators, with females displaying a strong maternal instinct. In just eight years, Mate’s relatively young farm has grown to house around two hundred cattle, which he tirelessly cares for day and night. Despite not having a traditional barn, as the cows remain outdoors year-round, Mate has organised the entire water supply system, drinking troughs, and implemented the use of renewable energy sources and mechanisation, all from his beginnings in endless thickets with no prior knowledge of cattle breeding.

During the summer, the cows graze in Livanja polje, while in winter they retreat to the mountains,  which coincides with their calving season—a special delight for Mate as he observes the newborn calves alongside their mothers. These cows boast the broadest pelvic floors, facilitating calving with minimal veterinary intervention. Reflecting on his farm, Mate emphasises that progress is gradual, aiming for it to become a model of agricultural excellence within the next decade, leading the way in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mate notes that agriculture is being taught all over again, a sentiment echoed by local herders across the Dinara range.

On our way back

Rejuvenated by tales of entrepreneurship, and with batteries recharged for the upcoming workweek, we make our way home, passing by Lake Buško, or the nearby sea as the locals call it. From the edge of the lake, we are greeted by the picturesque vista of a stunning beach and embankment called Queen’s embankment. Biljana and Goran conclude their conversation with an emphasis on the significance of this reservoir for the local population, neighbouring Croatia, and the environment at large. Notably, Lake Buško ranks among the largest artificial lakes in Europe and boasts abundant fish stocks.

Before its construction, the terrain encompassing today’s lake was a patchwork of meadows and pastures, providing fodder for livestock, while arable fields nearer to settlements cultivated a variety of grains and vegetables. However, during the relentless autumn and winter deluges, these fields were often flooded, freezing over in the winter months. Upon the thawing of the ice with the arrival of spring, the area would transform into a vast expanse of mud, earning it the name “Buško blato” or Buško mud.

Ultimately, we depart with a shared photograph capturing the stunning blue and green vistas in the distance. Such memorable tours, hospitality, and vacations should be repeated, and we will definitely come again!

This one-day excursion was organised to acquaint participants with exemplary practices in the surrounding area as part of the “Restoration and Preservation of Small Freshwater Ecosystems of Karst Mountains in the Mediterranean” project, funded by the DIMFE foundation. Alongside the Biom Association, the Biokovo Nature Park Public Institution, the Northern Velebit National Park Public Institution, the Učka Nature Park Public Institution, and Croatian Forests are actively involved in this project. The project’s primary objective is the restoration of small freshwater ecosystems within the karst mountains, where ponds and wells serve as crucial hubs of biodiversity and invaluable cultural heritage for local communities.