Nature Park Mount Velebit

Mountaineers are attracted by the diversity of the natural beauties.

Views towards the sea, wealth of karstic shapes, contrasts of the littoral and land slopes, unity of land and sea, botanical and zoological rarities, very good and numerous accesses, about 1000 km of forest roads, fifteen mountain lodges, closeness of Paklenica Natural Park and North Velebit Nature, natural reserves, well marked mountain trails of the „Velebit Mountain Trail“, the longitudinal tourist trail “Premužićeva staza“ across the north and center of which is about 50 km long and incomparable in beauty and length. 

But this, of course, is not all there is to see in Velebit Nature Park. 


Instead of presenting to our readers already known facts about Velebit which has been so frequently portrayed, we offer a quotation from the book “Flora of Velebit" (Biljni svijet Velebita) by Sergej Forenbacher. These are the words of an expert on Velebit, whose knowledge and experience gained during his numerous visits to this special world have been passed on to us in the form of a useful and instructive book.


As our geographic, orographic and other sources tell us, Velebit is one of the largest mountains in this area of the Dinarides, and stretches about 145 km in northwest-southeast direction from the Vratnik pass above Senj to the River Zrmanja valley. Its average width from the coastal belt to its continental foothills in Lika averages 14 km, and varies in places from 30 km in its northern parts to 10 km in its most southern parts. Over a surface area of about 2,270 square kilometres are scattered various karst ridges and sinkholes, barren karst peaks, valleys, and foothill peaks, of which 130 rise above 1,370 m above sea level. The northern peaks of Velebit reach up to almost 1,700 m (Mali Rajinac 1,699 m), while the central peaks rise to 1600 m (Šatorina 1624 m, Ograđenik 1604 m, Ograđenica 1614 m), and in its southern and highest part, the peaks range from 1700 to 1758 m (Babin vrh 1723 m, Vaganski vrh 1757 m, Segestin 1715 m, Malovan 1709 m, Sveto brdo 1751 m). On a clear day, the entire mountain is visible from an altitude of 8000 m. It appears as a huge, craggy arch protruding into the sea. Its slopes are steep, and its crest wide. The coastal slope of Velebit that sweeps toward the sea is much higher than its inland slope. The difference in altitude from the coastal slope to the lowest pass is about 700 m, and to the highest peak even 1757 m. On the inland side, Velebit rises from 150 to 1150 m above the plateau of Lika, which itself lies 500 to 600 m above sea level. Both slopes also differ greatly in landscape. The coastal slope is very rocky and bare, moon-like in some places and grey or yellowish-grey in colour, speckled with short plant life. Although steeper, the inland slope seems gentler. It is almost completely covered in forest so that it is dark-green in colour. The coastal slope is characterized by two more or less distinct longitudinal terraces (the foothill plateau and the longitudinal coastal plateau), which like stairs spread along the entire Velebit ridge.


Climate

The climate of Velebit varies dramatically at relatively small distances (10 km), ranging from a sub-Mediterranean climate in the Velebit Channel, a mountain climate on the denuded peaks of Velebit, to a continental climate on the plateau of Lika.

There are also significant differences in the microclimate of individual parts of Velebit, which among other are caused by the specific landscape (karst planes and valleys, coves, crests, white peaks).

The nature park area is characterized by complex precipitation patterns. In the highest parts of Velebit, average annual precipitation exceeds 3000 mm, which mostly falls in the most exposed area of southern Velebit (1200 – 3000 mm).  Precipitation declines from southeast to northwest. The outer edge of Lika abounds in greater quantities of rain (1884 mm) than on the coastal slope of Velebit (1188mm). Almost two-thirds of the precipitation occurs in the winter half year. However, this may vary locally due to the landscape or by altitude.

As the air masses of various temperatures mix together above the edge of Velebit, between the coast and the inland, fog occurs quite frequently, i.e. 187 days/year, in the highest part of the Velebit ridge.

The entire area of Velebit is exposed to strong and frequently gale-force winds. The coastal slope of Velebit and its foothills are open to gusts of NE winds (mainly in winter), which are the strongest in the mountain passes.

The number of days with a snow cover higher than 30 cm varies widely.  On the coastal slope of Velebit it is almost negligible, the highest parts of Northern Velebit are covered in snow for about 70 days a year, while the top of Southern Velebit is covered in snow even more than 100 days a year.  On the Lika slope of Velebit, the snow cover may last between 20 to 40 days.


International protection of Velebit

In order to preserve the biodiversity of Velebit, in 1978 UNESCO enlisted it into its international network of biosphere reserves under the Man and Biosphere Programme.

Velebit is the only area on the territory of Croatia that is included in this programme.


Flora

According to existing data, Velebit is home to 1854 registered plant species, of which 79 are endemic. Such a great many endemic species is why Velebit is often called "the centre of endemism" of this part of Europe .

The essential habitats for these endemic plant species are the rocks and "gulles" (western Velebit slope), caves, rivers (Krupa and Zrmanja), as well as alpine meadows and grasslands. Among the Velebit endemics is the Velebit degenia (Degenia velebitica), the Croatian sibbirhaea (Sibiraea altaiensis ssp. Croatica), the Velebit bellflower (Campanula velebitica), the Window bellflower (Campanula fenestrellata), Kitajbel's primrose (Primula kitaibeliana), the Velebit dianthus (Dianthus velebiticus)…  The rocky grounds and cliffs of Velebit are also home to peculiar and exquisite plant species – roseroot (Rhodiola rosea), Croatian barberry (Berberis croatica), twin-flowered violet (Viola biflora), creeping saxifrage (Saxifraga rotundifolia), mountain avens (Dryas octopetala), edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum), and others.   

Although forest habitats predominate on Velebit, the alpine meadows and grasslands are very important to the conservation of its overall biodiversity. The most widespread forest association in the mountain-vegetation belt, the beech forest with large red dead nettle (Lamio orvalae-Fagetum), inhabits altitudes below 900 meters.  At altitudes above 800 m, dwell the Dinaric beech and fir forests (Omphalodo-Fagetum). The coastal beech forest with autumn moor grass (Seslerio autumnalis-Fagetum) prevails on the rocky plateaus above 1000 m. Subalpine forests of beech and hollyfern (Polystycho lonchitis-fagetum) inhabit areas from 1100 to 1650 m above sea level that are typically covered in snow, have a shore vegetation period, and are exposed to strong winds. The trees of these forests are bent at their lower section under the weight of the enduring snow.  The main features of the top-most landscape are the bare, karst formations that alternate with forest valleys and dry grassland areas.


Fauna


Existing data on Velebit includes:


  • 10 amphibian species
  • 26 reptile species
  • 23 species of small mammals (insectivores and rodents)
  • 23 species of bat

Three large carnivores widely inhabit in the area of Velebit – the brown bear (Ursus arctos), the wolf (Canis lupus) and the lynx (lynx lynx). The otter (Lutra lutra) is also an inhabitant of Velebit.


Velebit, as a Dinaric karst area, is also very important to the subterranean habitats where there live 23 species endemic to Croatia , and partly to Velebit.


Within the proposal for the Croatian NATURA 2000 network, the Ornithological Institute of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts has singled out Velebit as an ornithological area where 18 bird species satisfy the classification criteria for the European network of NATURA 2000.


Velebit represents:


-  The most important nesting grounds of the Ortolan bunting (Emberiza hortelana ) (1500 to 2500 pairs), and

- One of the most important nesting grounds of the capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus ) in Croatia , and


- One of the most important nesting grounds of the Eurasian pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum ) and Boreal owl (Aegolius funereus ), as well as the white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopus leucotos ).


Threats


  • Velebit is highly threatened by one of the most severe soil erosions in Europe . This is a major problem in the coastal part of the biosphere reservation of Velebit.
  • As a result of dwindling human activity (both grazing and harvesting are gradually being abandoned), grasslands have yielded to certain types of thicket and forests only, which has in turn resulted in diminishing of biodiversity
  • Stronger pressures on forestry, especially with respect to the construction of many new forest  trails and roads.
  • Hunting pressures are on the rise (poaching, inaccurate data on game numbers)
  • Rising pressures of tourism
  • Rising pressures of road transportation
  • Severe tapping on water resources
  • Cases of illegal picking  of plants and butterflies
  • Spreading of urban areas, especially along the coast, has brought more pollution risk (the Park area might end up being used for waste disposal), significant modifications made to the original landscape and damages and burying of speleological structures.


Protection of this area should be carefully planned and its biodiversity systematically monitored in order to provide the right balance between land utilisation and nature preservation.