Lara Samošćanec i Jasna Puhar

Đelekovec has been declared the first sand martin village

Đelekovec, June 10, 2024 – The village of Đelekovec has been declared the first sand martin village in Croatia. Within the same municipality is a steep riverbank on the Drava River called Libanovec, which serves as a home and favorite nesting site for one of the largest colonies of these strictly protected bird species. This recognition highlights the importance of preserving natural habitats and the successful collaboration between the local community, farmers, and ecological experts.

Jasmin Sadiković, Zeleni Osijek

Jasna Puhar

Igor Tošić


The sand martin (Riparia riparia) is a small migratory bird that nests in colonies on steep, sandy riverbanks. Its presence is a significant indicator of the health of river ecosystems. About 70% of the Croatian sand martin population nests along the Croatian-Hungarian border, with the Libanovec bank being a crucial habitat for this species.

Sustainable Management and Nature Conservation

The steep riverbank at Libanovec was formed in the 1980s due to significant changes at the mouth of the Mura into the Drava. The municipality of Đelekovec sought to protect the agricultural land along the bank. Various options were considered, and a solution was reached that satisfied all parties involved – water management, nature conservation, the Municipality of Đelekovec, and farmers. The land was leased to the owner of the Puhar family farm. The municipality and Mrs. Puhar will sign an annex to the contract allowing erosion of the agricultural land, which will reduce the rental price. This initiative represents a successful example of cooperation between the local community, farmers, and ecological experts in preserving biodiversity and improving the quality of life.

“Instead of environmentally less acceptable bank reinforcements, so-called cross groins were constructed,” explained Igor Tošić from Hrvatske vode. “An integrated water management approach allowed us to protect this valuable natural habitat, thereby also protecting the area along the bank from erosion.”

“We are proud to declare Đelekovec as the first sand martin village in Croatia today,” said the mayor of the Municipality of Đelekovec, Lara Samošćanec. “I am glad that we will protect the sand martins so that our land remains their favorite summer destination and so that our residents and visitors can continue to enjoy them.”

“We farmers live from and with nature, so we care about preserving it for future generations. We are pleased that we reached a satisfactory agreement with the Municipality and the partners of the DRAVA LIFE project and that we continue to cultivate the land in harmony with these beautiful birds. We hope that this activity will enable their numbers to increase in the future,” said Jasna Puhar (Puhar Family Farm).

The sand martin, a small migratory bird from the swallow family, nests in colonies along sandy riverbanks. It serves as a crucial indicator of river ecosystem health. In your municipality, the steep banks of Libanovec are a vital habitat and breeding ground for one of Croatia’s largest sand martin colonies. Nearly 70% of Croatia’s sand martin population resides near the Croatian-Hungarian border. Globally, this species is declining, making the preservation of the Libanovec coast and its avian visitors critically important.

“We are proud to have protected the steep bank in Libanovec as part of the DRAVALIFE project. This colony has hosted over 1,000 breeding pairs of sand martins in some years”, said Tanja Nikowitz from WWF Austria. 

“At the project’s outset, we explored various ways to protect the steep bank while also addressing the needs for farmland and water protection. Our collaborative solution integrates water management and nature conservation to safeguard the land behind the steep bank. The farmland, already publicly owned and managed by the municipality of Đelekovec, is leased to Mrs. Puhar, a dedicated farmer. Both parties were committed to preserving the sand martin colony for the future. Consequently, they will sign an agreement allowing for farmland erosion, with reduced rent for the farmer. This initiative by the municipality of Đelekovec and Mrs. Puhar is exemplary, not only in Croatia but beyond.”

“Several other endangered and valuable steep banks along the Drava River require similar protection. Natural contractual measures like those in Libanovec, or land purchases, are essential for conserving these habitats and their avian residents. Ensuring the security of the land behind these banks is crucial for effective water management and erosion control. Such integrated river management efforts necessitate joint forces”, concluded Nikowitz.

“This is an exceptional recognition for Đelekovec and the entire Koprivnica-Križevci County. The natural areas of the County, renowned for their beauty and exceptional value for the preservation of biodiversity, are protected as part of the Natura 2000 areas, the Mura-Drava Regional Park, and are part of UNESCO Five-Country Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube”, said Željka Kolar, Director of the Public Institution for the Management of Protected Natural Areas in the Koprivnica-Križevci County. 

Donja Dubrava
Donja Dubrava

Restored branches near Donja Dubrava, Legrad, and Gola were opened

Donja Dubrava, March 14, 2024 – Activities for the restoration of Drava River branches within the project “DRAVA LIFE – Integrated River Management” have been completed in the areas of the municipalities Donja Dubrava, Legrad (rkm 238.2-241.4), and Gola (rkm 215-217). With the increase in water levels, the restored branches have become flowing again.

Through the opening and creation of new branches, the removal and adaptation of riverbanks and other water structures, as well as the preservation of floodplains and natural steep riverbanks, key natural features of the Drava River ecosystem, one of the last remaining natural European rivers, are restored. Sediments and barriers were removed from existing branch channel routes, ecological ponds and deep pools were constructed, and gabion barriers and transition ramps were reconstructed at several locations.

After the restoration works, which began at the end of September 2023, the left bank branch near Donja Dubrava will be 1.56 km long, and the right bank branch will be 1.88 km long,” explained Igor Tošić, the project manager from the Croatian Waters. Both branches, which were overgrown and silted before the restoration works, will relieve pressure on existing water structures downstream, especially during flood events, by opening and diverting new inflow from the main river channel, thus protecting embankments and nearby settlements. This will reduce the need for repairs and construction of regulatory structures along those sections of the Drava, and specifically, with the restoration of the left bank branch in Donja Dubrava, it will increase embankment safety for flood protection.

Foto: Goran Šafarek

Additionally, in the left bank inundation from stations rkm 215+000 to 217+000 in the municipality of Gola, near the village of Novačka, works have been completed to open the first 100 meters of an existing non-flowing branch, approximately 1.3 km long.

Drava is known for its highest biological diversity of fish in Croatia and colonies of river birds.

The habitats on the Drava include some of the most endangered in Europe, such as floodplain forests, wet meadows, gravel bars and sandy shores, branches, steep banks, dead arms, standing branches, abandoned channels, and meanders. Due to various adverse effects, with climate change leading the way, there are changes in hydrological conditions, often causing degradation and disappearance of these habitats, making them increasingly endangered, with their area reduced,” explained Željka Kolar, director of the Public Institution for the Management of Protected Nature Areas in the Koprivnica-Križevci County.

Sand martins and king fishers

In addition to the positive effects on flood defense and Drava’s hydromorphology, branch restoration activities will significantly contribute to increasing biodiversity. New river habitats will intensify along the banks, and new habitats for spawning, feeding, and resting of fish and amphibians will be created within the branches themselves. Drava is known for its highest biological diversity of fish in Croatia. Out of 70 recorded species, five are endemic to the Danube basin: Danube salmon (Hucho hucho), bleak (Rutilus pigus), monkey goby (Gymnocephalus baloni), racer goby (Gymnocephalus schraetser), and streber (Zingel streber)). Out of 70 recorded species, 38 are included in the Red Book of Freshwater Fish of Croatia. Positive effects will also extend to birds nesting on gravel and sandy bars and steep banks, such as the sand martin (Riparia riparia) and the kingfisher (Alcedo atthis).

After the recently opened new branch near Gabajeva Grede and the completion of works in the municipalities of Donja Dubrava, Legrad, and Gola, preparatory work for the branch near the Botovo bridge will continue until the end of March, followed by a break until September to prevent disturbance to river birds, such as sand martins (Riparia riparia), European bee-eaters (Merops apiaster), and kingfishers (Alcedo atthis) during the breeding season.

Intensive educational activities will be carried out during these months. Besides the restoration of the Drava River ecosystem, education on nature protection and Natura 2000 areas in local communities is an important part of the DRAVA LIFE project to increase awareness of the importance of natural and preserved rivers for humans and living beings dependent on them and to prevent human disturbance of birds during the breeding season through recreational activities such as fishing, paddling, and swimming.

In September, restoration works on the Drava will continue at the remaining planned locations in Varaždin and Virovitica-Podravina counties.


Božica Trnski

Community Gathering in Hlebine


At the Social Center in Hlebine on Thursday, March 7th, a presentation of the project “DRAVA LIFE – Integrated River Management” was held. The local population was presented with the achieved results so far, as well as the announced plans and activities for the upcoming period.


The Mayor of the municipality, Božica Trnski, received the book “Drava Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” by author Goran Šafarek. The book, made within the framework of the DRAVA LIFE project, summarizes the most relevant data about the river and illustrates them with beautiful pictures. It provides information on the physical characteristics of the river, its social and cultural importance, species and habitats, threats, and the future of this river landscape, taking into account the restoration projects currently underway on the Drava River. We thank everyone who attended!

This year ahead of us is full of activities, both in the field and in the municipalities and places covered by the DRAVA LIFE project. If you wish to receive our news, we invite you to subscribe to the newsletter on the homepage of our website.

Drava - Donja Dubrava - Legrad
C3_Donja Dubrava-Legrad (2)

Natura 2000 Day

We mark Natura 2000 Day on the 21st of May since 1992 when both the EU Habitats Directive and LIFE programme were approved. Today Natura 2000 consists of more than 27 800 sites on land and sea across EU successfully contributing to the preservation of our unique natural heritage.

This year, we are putting the spotlight on the proximity of Natura 2000 sites to people and on the benefits that nature brings to people and the planet, including those related to health. The Natura 2000 network with its vast coverage brings nature literally to our doorstep. Nature is not a luxury but our vital ally and we need to value, protect and restore it.

We are proud that our whole project area is proclaimed as Natura 2000 and we invite you to go to the Drava River and celebrate this day by cherishing our unique nature.