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Strict Nature Reserve - Primeval forest “Perućica”

Date of Submission: 23/05/2017
Criteria: (vii)(ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Republic of Srpska, Upper-Drina region, Sutjeska National park
Coordinates: N44 20 20 E17 7 48
Ref.: 6260

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Sutjeska National Park is a jewel in the Green Crown of Europe, and undoubtedly the most precious jewel, never fully explored, the largest natural reserve of this kind in Europe, real challenge for all botanists but, at the same time, inaccessible to the common man for decades is Strict Nature Reserve “Perućica”. The whole region is rich in cultural heritage and tradition. Perucica is one of two remaining old growth forests in Europe.

Back in late 1938 preparing a developmental study on the Maglić Mountain the foresters- taxators found in the Perućica river basin, in a valley between Maglić, Volujak and Sniježnica, beautiful stands of beech, fir and spruce whose standing stock exceeded 1.000 m3  per hectare, and the height of some trees reached over 50m. The forest stands of Perućica had no equal in the Dinarides, not only by its standing stock and height, but also by its composition, physical features and beauty. All this was the reason why the Government of the Socialist Republic of BiH separated the area of Perućica of 1.234 ha from “the regular forest management as the forest facility necessary for scientific research and education”. It was in 1952, while in 1954 the area enlarged by 200 ha, was placed under the protection of the state as the natural reserve by the Decision of the National Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments and Natural Rarities of BiH.

The NP Sutjeska is established in 1962 and its primary purposes is “to conserve and enhance Sutjeska National Park’s natural and cultural heritage, with special regard to the unique Perucica forest; to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the parks’ special qualities by the public; and in doing so, to diversify the park’s economic base in a manner in keeping with the park’s conservation objectives and in a way that contributes towards sustainable local and regional socio-economic development.” From these primary purposes one of the management objectives is defined: To conserve and protect the park’s forest ecosystems, in particular the Perucica forest.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The primeval forest, also called „the lungs of Europe“, spreads at 1434 ha. Living world of Perucica, expressed through vegetation is very numerous and rich. Within this strict natural reserve, besides forest parts of beech, fir and spruce, also parts of subalpine beech, pure or with mountain maple, subalpine spruce, vegetation of pines and mountain grassy vegetation are protected. About the richness of the primeval forest, testifies the fact that over 170 species of trees and bushes, and also over 1000 species of herbaceous plants are registered. The area has exceptionally conservation significance due to the scale of its old growth forests, which include extensive undisturbed areas where natural processes are on-going.

Criterion (vii): Skakavac waterfall is formed on the Perućica, a mountain creek, in Perućica primeval forest. It is one of the highest waterfalls in the country, at about 75 metres (246 ft) in height. View from Vidikovac (a look point) to Perućica and Skakavac waterfall, which fells down from height of 75 meters, makes every man pleased and happy to be the part of this iconic nature, with such a wealth and diversity of wildlife, preserved intact for present and future generations. At this particular look point a somewhat frightening beauty of deep, forest-covered valley, almost totally inaccessible suddenly opens at observer’s feet. In the hearth of this primeval beauty waterfall Skakavac rumbles crushing down into the precipice, while on the other side of this hill-encircled valley rocky cliffs of Volujak suddenly rise, on the left rises the highest peak of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Maglić and on the right in the distance across the Sutjeska canyon the peaks of Zelengora can be seen. An unforgettable view!

Criterion (ix): Perućica conserves a diverse complex of protected forest ecosystems which exemplify the South-Eastern European mixed forests terrestrial eco region. The area has an exceptionally high nature conservation value, including extensive old-growth forests. The large and integral forest area supports complete food webs including viable populations of large mammals and large carnivore. Diversity of plant life in the whole area has contributed to the survival of many animal species. Animal life is very rich and diverse, with a large number of invertebrates, especially butterflies (Lepidoptera), but also amphibians, reptiles and fish, 36 species and 18 families of mammals, and many species of birds. Important mammals are: Bear- Ursus arctos, Chamois- Rupicarpa rupicarpa, Roe dear- Carpelous carpelous, Wild boar- Sus scrofa, Wolf- Canis lupus, Fox- Vulpes vulpes, Badger-Meles meles amongst other. The richness in dead wood, standing and on the ground, leads to a consequent high diversity of fungi and saproxylic invertebrates. The long tradition of research on the little disturbed forest ecosystem and the numerous publications, including description of new species, also contributes significantly to the values of the nominated property. 

Criterion (x): Perućica is an irreplaceable area for biodiversity conservation, due in particular to its size, protection status, and substantially undisturbed nature. The biodiversity conservation values are extensive; Flora is diverse and regionally significant. Within the Strict Nature Reserve, among others, in addition to the stands of beech, fir and spruce, forests of subalpine beech, pure or mixed with Greek maple; Subalpine spruce, and the vegetation of Mountain pine or Mugo pine and mountain grassland vegetation are also protected. There are also rare and endangered wildlife species: wild cat (Felix sylvestris), Lynx (Lynx lynx), Mole rat (Spalax sp.). List of bird families (in the entire Park) includes nine species of woodpeckers (family-Picidae). This represents 90% of the Picidae family in Europe and this number shows how this forest area and environmental diversity of the park suit them. Woodpeckers depend on old, diseased and dead trees, because it is their food source but also very important for building their nests.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The property is a large, coherent area conserved via a range of protective designations representing the full range of forest ecosystems of the region, and providing habitat for large mammals. The presence of extensive undisturbed areas is crucial to its nature conservation values. According to scientists at the University of Yale, Perućica offers a unique study on the role of forest in the global carbon cycle, considering that Perućica is one of the last primeval forests in a modern Europe, which makes it a perfect natural laboratory. The forest has many trees that are over 300 years old and the primeval forest age is stated to be 20,000 years (before the Ice Age). Due to its southern position in Europe (sub-Mediterranean-Mediterranean region), during the Ice Age Perućica was a very important refugial area allowing many thermophilic species of the European North and the central region to be preserved in this area. The Ice Age affected Perućica so its high areas were covered with icicles. Remnants of glacial period testify to this (glacial cirques and troughs, different types of moraines, glacial pebbles, etc.). The lowlands of Perućica remained at least partially, non-covered by glaciers which facilitated the development of refugial flora and vegetation (hornbeam - Ostrya carpinifolia and its community).

In some stretches, the forest is almost impregnable. There can be found trees over 50 meters high and with the highest volume of the stands, to more than 1000 cubic meter per hectare. The tallest measured Norway spruce (63 m) is located in this forest. Perućica is considered as the location of special scientific interest. In Perućica, as well as in other parts of the Park, we can find a true wealth and diversity of different plants, and a number of endemic and rare species. Over 170 species of trees and shrubs and over 1000 species of herbaceous plants testify to the wealth of the Perućica plant life.

Topography of the reserve is mountainous and steep. Geology is dominated by limestone on the slopes and cliffs surrounding the reserve and acidic sandstone and shale in the central area. Soils are diverse and may be derived from a mixture of parent materials, especially where calcareous soils have eroded down slopes. Vegetation in Perucica varies depending on altitude, slope position and soils. In the lower part, below the Skakavac waterfall, the terrain is very steep. Here at altitudes below 1000 m the forest is dominated by several broadleaved species like Downy oak (Quercus pubescens) and other Oak species, Silver and Broad-leaved lime (Tilia tomentosa and T. platyphyllos), Hop-hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia), Oriental hornbeam (Carpinus orientalis), etc. Most of the reserve between 1000 and 1600 m a.s.l. comprises old growth beech - fir forests with dominant European beech (Fagus sylvatica) and European silver fir (Abies alba) and less frequent Norway spruce (Picea abies), sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus), Wych elm (Ulmus glabra) and European ash (Fraxinus excelsior), while in the area further west, nearer to the Perucica river and especially near the confluence of the Perucica and Prijevorski river (1000 - 1100 m a.s.l.), some of the tallest trees of both species were found and measured (up to 57.4 m for Norway spruce and 54.0 m for European silver fir) as well as the tallest beeches and sycamores.

Comparison with other similar properties

Primeval forest Perućica is one of the last two saved primeval forests in Europe. Another one is Białowieża Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site sprawling across the border of Poland and Byelorussia. Both of the primeval forests, Perućica and Białowieża, represent the last and largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest that once stretched across the European Plain. UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Program (MAB) designated the Polish Biosphere Reserve Białowieża in 1976 and the Belarusian Biosphere Reserve Belovezhskaya Puschcha in 1993. The forest has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an EU Natura 2000 Special Area of Conservation. The World Heritage Committee by its decision of June 2014 approved the extension of the UNESCO World Heritage site “Belovezhskaya Pushcha/Białowieża Forest, Belarus, Poland”, which became “Białowieża Forest, Belarus, Poland”.

From the other hand, primeval forest Perućica is EU Natura 2000 Special Area of Conservation, highly protected area of Sutjeska National park with no any intervention. This is the greatest natural value within the Park. The forest enjoys Zone 1 protection which is followed and enforced. Activity in this zone is strictly controlled and kept to a minimum, with access to the forest by visitors restricted to designated trails only. Research and monitoring activities can be carried out but are subject to the approval of SNP Director. There are no extractions or hunting permitted in this zone. Signs are erected on all trails and roads close to the forest warning visitors that they are entering a Restricted Zone and that they should remain on the designated paths. No other development takes place in this zone.

Preservation and protection of Perućica in its original state is one of the main tasks of National park Sutjeska. In the reserve, nature is let to take its course. Birth, life, dying and rebirth, this eternal cycle, goes on without any human intervention. New life exuberantly grown on remnants of trunks that died a natural death. Perućica is a laboratory in nature, so rare these days, having a great importance for many scientific disciplines, as well as for a simple delight in pristine and intact nature.