With their beauty, abundance and diversity, protected areas represent a fundamental value and one of the most significant natural resources of the Republic of Croatia. Due to its specific geographical position where Pannonian, Dinaridian, Mediterranean and Pre-Alpine biogeographic influences intertwine, Croatia is extremely rich in terms of landscape and biological diversity. The Nature Protection Act in Croatia protects 433 areas, of which the most beautiful and valuable areas are placed under protection in 8 national parks (95,472 ha) and 11 nature parks (419,621 ha), which in total cover 515,093 hectares.
Because of their value and uniqueness, many parks have been included in the lists of internationally valuable areas and thus the National Park Plitvička jezera (Plitvice Lakes) is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Nature Park Velebit, whose area also includes National Parks Paklenica and Sjeverni Velebit (Northern Velebit), is listed in the World Network of Biosphere Reserves under the UNESCO programme “Man and Biosphere” – MAB. Nature Parks Kopački rit and Lonjsko polje are on the List of Wetlands of International Importance under the Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR). Concurrently, Lonjsko polje and Vransko jezero (Vransko Lake) are included in the List of European Important Bird Areas (IBA).
Under the current Nature Protection Act (OG 70/05, 139/08 and 57/11), there are 9 area protection categories in Croatia. These are: strict nature reserve, national park, special nature reserve, nature park, regional park, nature monument, important landscape, forest park, park architecture monument. The total surface of these protected areas is 696,709.32 hectares.
National parks and nature parks are proclaimed by acts of the Croatian Parliament.
Strict and special nature reserves are proclaimed by the Government of the Republic of Croatia by a regulation at the proposal of the competent ministry. Regional parks, important landscapes, forest parks, nature monuments and park architecture monuments are proclaimed by county assemblies or the city assembly of the City of Zagreb, except in cases when these protected areas are located in the territory of two or more counties; then they are proclaimed by the Government of the Republic of Croatia by a regulation.
The values of an area proposed for protection are determined by an expert basis prepared by the State Institute for Nature Protection and the public is informed about the proposal on the designation via public access to information.
An area for which it was established by an the expert statement of reasons as having characteristics of a protected area or a procedure of placing thereof under protection has been launched shall be designated to be under preventive protection. The decision on preventive protection shall be passed by the competent ministry. It shall establish the protected area and the designated period of preventive protection (maximum of three years).
National parks and nature parks are managed by Public Institutions founded by the Government of the Republic of Croatia, while other protected areas are managed by county public institutions and their role is to protect, maintain and promote protected areas. Public entities administering nature parks and regional parks also control the method of carrying out authorized business activities with the aims of safeguarding rational and sustainable use of natural resources.
In order to ensure rational, efficient and sustainable management of protected areas, the following management documents are passed: governance plan and spatial plan of the area distinguished by particular features.
The governance plan for strict nature reserves, national parks, nature parks, regional parks, special nature reserves or protected landscapes is adopted for a period of ten years setting out development guidelines, the method of implementing protection, use and management of the protected area, as well as more detailed guidelines for protection and conservation of natural assets of the protected area, taking into consideration the needs of the local population.
A spatial plan of the area distinguished by particular features regulates the spatial arrangement, method of use, planning and protection of space in a national park or nature park, and it is adopted by the Croatian Parliament.
For the purpose of improved and more efficient management of protected areas, the Ministry established an integral geoinformation system (GIS) of protected areas including national parks, nature parks and county public institutions as one of the strategic goals of nature protection. This strengthened the control and management system as well as providing availability of information to the wider public entitled to public participation in decision making in nature protection matters.