The Devastation of Hutovo Blato

According to the tradition which is still alive both among the people of Croatia and Serbia, to the creation of Hutovo Blato, an area covering more than 6 thousand hectares, contributed saints while still walking on earth. People have been taking away from Hutovo Blato for ages. All they could place their hands on. Those were first the Turks whose agas and begs were to be served by the 
subjugated non-Muslims just here and whose courts had to be supplied with fish and bird meat. ("And so it went on until one summer, long ago, a certain beg got poisoned by the fish caught in the lake of Jelim. The villagers prepared a carp for him, a bit grilled, a bit baked on the hot Herzegovinian rock, and offered it to him for lunch. It happened to be his and his escorts' last lunch, the legend says. After that a rumor spread about poisonous fish from Hutovo Blato, and thus fishing and tyranny ceased.") Austria-Hungary exported dry eels and carps. Fishing was well developed and dry eel a favorable food served on Paris dining tables. From those times originate the names of ravines and ditches in Hutovo Blato given after the surnames of the families who used them and lived on them. Those were the surnames of the Croatian and Serbian families who even today live in Hutovo blato. After Austria-Hungary, Hutovo Blato was ruled over by the king's subjects and Tito's servants who used it as an exclusive hunting ground. The new democratic governments, responsible for the bitter war and disintegration of the peoples, when peace was brought back to the land, prohibited all kinds of hunting in Hutovo Blato. Does this suppose to be the beginning of a new happier period for Hutovo Blato? Time is an incorruptible witness as well as a judge . It remains to be seen.


The nature and ornithological reserve of Hutovo Blato has been frontally attacked from all sides. It appears that in the post-war poverty the first thing that comes to mind of the local people is just Hutovo Blato and its natural resources they would like to exploit. Of course, in an illegal way. It's about fishing, a swamp bird hunt, peat digging and uncontrolled forest clearing, all of these bitterly destroying nature. The overall damage is much greater compared to trivial individual profits gained by various kinds of poachers. However, digging of peat, which is used for fertilizing soil in greenhouses, has become a profitable venture. The price of one tractor trailer loaded with peat has reached an amount of 150 KM. Fish are killed (with harpoons, dynamite, and electric power), swamp bird stocks, once numbered in more than 350 various species, have been decimated, there are no longer meadows lying on the peat bog.

Hutovo Blato is no longer what it used to be 

The devastation of the nature and ornithological reserve began, during the Social Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the construction of the reversible hydroelectric power station « Čapljina.» The turbines of this power station are located in the village of Svitava, where in the region of Hutovo Blato, that is inside the reserve, the upper compensational basin (known today as the Svitava lake) was built. The upper basin is situated near the village of Hutovo, at the end of the concrete bed of the river Trebišnjica. Accumulated waters of the Trebišnjica, which is no longer a lost river, release from the height of about 200 meters above sea level and flow, through a tunnel eight kilometers long, toward the turbines. When electricity is produced, the waters are not lost but saved in the upper compensational basin. Then the turbines, which have produced electricity, turn to pumps and, through the same canal, return the waters (if there is shortage) to the upper basin to reproduce electricity. The forming of the artificial lake in Hutovo blato and the taming of the Trebišnjica have destroyed the century-old natural balance. Besides Svitovsko, there are six other lakes and around one hundred smaller and more powerful springs in Hutovo Blato. The lakes are Deransko, Jelim, Drijen, Orah, and Škrka.

People are more and more indifferent when entering this mother nature park. The situation is no better when local authorities and individuals are concerned. A canal was dug from Karaotok, situated at the entrance into the reserve from the direction of Gnjilište near Kučevo, to the Škrka lake. That way the natural flowing of the waters from the lake into the Krupa River has been blocked, whereas the artificial one has been released. The water level of the lake has fallen for almost 2 meters and all the springs surrounding the lake have gone out. If we bear in mind that a road has been built from Prebilovci to Košćela, in which way the reserve has become even more open, the concern for the future of this pearl of nature is quite understandable. Needless to say, with a bit more goodwill, understanding and love for Hutovo Blato much more might have been done and it could have become known worldwide, could have been a golden egg-laying hen in the tourist offer of Herzegovina. It is still not too late.

In 1954 Hutovo Blato, with its 6 thousand hectares of land, was declared to be an ornithological reserve.

In 1971 Hutovo Blato was included in the register of internationally recognized marshlands.

In 1980 the International Project for Protection of the Mediterranean Marshlands was adopted. Hutovo Blato is included in that project.

In 1998 the International Council for Bird Protection (ICBP) placed Hutovo Blato on the list of Internationally Important Swamp Bird Habitats . Three years latter (2001), a UNESCO Paris-based office included Hutovo Blato on its list.

In 1999 local authorities placed a ban on hunting in Hutovo Blato. Before that (1995), the International Enterprise Nature Park Hutovo Blato had been established.


Hutovo Blato should, first of all, be used as a tourist potential. It should be made inaccessible to poachers, not only by the legislative authority decisions, which no one obeys, but in reality, too. Hutovo Blato should be opened to tourists equipped with cameras. Those informed about rare nature precious stones, as is Hutovo Blato, find them themselves. Some get lost, as was the case this summer with a bus full of Austrian tourists or a group of tourists from Holland. They all found themselves in Prebilovci while searching for the road to Hutovo Blato. The traffic signal wrongly set led them astray. Namely, beside the highway Mostar-Metković, where it branches off and leads to Prebilovci, there is a sign indicating the way to Hutovo Blato.


According to the tradition still alive among the Croats and Serbs living in this area, saints, while still walking on earth, passed through Hutovo Blato. Legends recall, and people talk about St. Peter and St. Sava. Once upon a time St. Sava spent the night in a village beneath Kučevo. None of the poor villagers received the unexpected guest in his house, except an old woman living at the end of the vast village in the valley full of ancient oak trees. "I'd gladly put you up for one night, good man, but I have neither bed nor food to offer you. Look! Under the iron pan an oak bark bread is baking, so if you can eat such a whiteless bread, then you may sleep here, by the hearth, on a stone bed. The unexpected guest traveler thanked the old woman and accepted her offer. Sitting on a three-legged stool by the hearth, he touched the iron pan with his stick. Then he said to the old woman: "Will you check, perhaps the bread is already baked.” It was no more the oak bark bread but the wheat one. The old woman crossed herself and thanked the Creator for the gift. While they were having dinner, he said the village was going to be flooded the next morning and proposed they get up earlier and leave it. And as, at the crack of dawn, they were leaving the village, climbing the hill, the old woman remembered that she had forgotten her cards. "Water will bring them," the saint said. The place where the old woman was sitting with the man who is believed to have been St. Sava is even today called Babina Gomila (Old Woman's Pile). The village was flooded and thus the Škrka lake was formed. Even today, at the lake's edge, when the weather is nice and the water clear, the remnants of the house are visible at the bottom of the lake."

(Recorded in Prebilovci /1981/, according to the story told by Anđa Zurovac-Tripković, born in the village of Loznica)


To tell the truth, this is how one can reach Hutovo Blato. You can even choose between two directions toward the lake Škrka , as well as toward the Košćela and Jelimsko lakes – the most attractive part of the vast area of Hutovo Blato. The roads are macadam and hardly passable for passenger cars. Besides, in the wilderness, when one enters deep into it, there is no road sign and it rarely occurs to one to come across a passerby. And even if foreigners happen to come across one, it is of little use. The language is an insurmountable obstacle .

The road from Prebilovci through Dijela and Hrvenica to Košćela, built during the last war, formerly a dirt road, has brought the first tourists to Prebilovci, even if they be the stray ones ("Searching for Hutovo Blato, they have discovered a village destroyed in war," the people of Prebilovci can often be heard to say). This road is frequently used by poachers and various kinds of smugglers and drug dealers. It sometimes happens, the inhabitants of Prebilovci say, that during the night, in the distance and out of sight of the police, lorries are reloaded while cars pass by. This shortcut and shorter road from the west to the east Herzegovina has brought about, besides these problems, some property-legal ones, too. The landowners have not been compensated for the lands across which the road was built. However, this road has opened immensely vast areas of intact nature. It has been shown during the last few years that it has also considerably contributed to the further devastation of Hutovo Blato. The fact is - it could and should have been different. It is still not late. The road from Prebilovci to K ošćela , the roads around the Derjansko lake, as well as to Svitava and from Svitava to Hutovo are, in fact, a ring encircling Hutovo Blato, which should serve as a way of approaching to this pearl of nature to those who search for an intact and rare nature beauty.


The Krupa River is interesting in many ways. According to the legend, its origin has to do with St. Peter. The river has no typical source. It rushes out of the Derinsko lake and, breaking through the plain of Hutovo Blato, joins the waters of this swampy region with the Neretva River, a kilometer or so upstream from Metković. The Krupa flows like no any other river in the world – in both directions, sometimes from the source toward the mouth and sometimes vice versa. Hard to imagine! It's a small river, less than 9 kilometers long. However, from the place where it comes out to the surface up to its confluence with the Neretva, the distance is believed to be, by air line, twice as short. Isn't it a challenge to get to know such a river? St. Peter, who used to have his residence in this region, which is even today visited by the believers, would pass through Hutovo Blato at those times when one could go from one end of Hutovo Blato to another through oak treetops without touching the ground. In a village near Jelim (some say it was the town of Jelim) he asked a mother to give him her baby. The mother refused to be separated from her baby and began to run away. Her efforts were in vain since St. Peter, the legend goes on to say, had predicted that the water would open behind her and swallow her so that her baby would then come to him. The poor woman was running away from the water for a long time, and when she became exhausted, the water swallowed her. At that place, at the mouth of the Neretva, the river is the deepest today. Since Hutovo Blato lies only three meters above sea level, аnd since the bottom of most lakes is below sea level, when the water level of the Neretva is high and when the water current is powerful, the Krupa flows upstream until the Deransko lake is filled with water. When that happens, then the Krupa flows as all other rivers do, downstream.


In making an appraisal of Hutovo Blato, it is necessary to face the truth. Аnd the truth is that Hutovo Blato has been devastated, that swamp birds are rarely to be found here, that there are no wild horses in its wilderness. A local TV station claims the opposite and illustrates it with some pictures. They really represent horses, but not the wild ones. They are those that belong to the villagers from Prebilovci and Drijen. And they are alive today thanks to Hutovo Blato. During more than a ten year period the whole horse farm has developed from Ekme čić's and Ragužev's horses . Perhaps some day they will really be the wild ones. "Wild horses, tarpans," we learn from encyclopedias, "can be found only in highland steppes in Africa and Mongolia."


The photos illustrating this story have been taken over from the official website of the Public Enterprise Nature Park Hutovo Blato. Published in September, 2006

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