Učka Nature Park brings together Istria and the mainland of CroatiaOct 29, 2015
The mountains of Učka and Ćićarija are different in terms of relief, but they form an integral mountain chain, separated by the mountain pass of Poklon. Rising along the coast of the northern Adriatic, Učka brings together the peninsula of Istria and the mainland of Croatia. A separation line between diverse landscapes, a mountain with the origin of its name still shrouded in mystery, it is a loved and appreciated destination.
The highest peak of the mountain and the Istrian peninsula is Vojak (1,401 meters). On its top, the mountain is marked by exposed grasslands growing on steep slopes. A stone tower was built on the very peak back in 1911, its year of construction still visible on the doorstep. The tower is a sightseeing point providing a majestic panorama of Istria, the bay of the city of Rijeka, the northern part of the Adriatic and its islands, the Gorski kotar region, and mountains of Velebit and Ćićarija. When bora wind clears the air, one can also see Venice, the bay of Trieste, the Julian Alps, and the Dolomites in Italy.
The two mountains, Učka and Ćićarija, circle the Istrian peninsula like an arc, clearly and imposingly separating that region from the mainland. What makes Učka and the Nature Park special are geological, biological and relief characteristics.
Although the area of the Učka Nature Park is small, its biodiversity is considerable. This is the only area in the world where you can take a photo of the stenoendemic plant Campanula tommasiniana – for it grows only on the mountain of Učka. If you are patient when looking towards the sky, you can be rewarded by seeing the flight of griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) or golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos).
Coexistence of continental and Mediterranean species
As a result of its position, Učka Nature Park includes an interesting mix of continental and Mediterranean species.
The flora of the Park includes approximately 1,300 species. That is a considerable number, compared with the Park surface. Research of the flora has a long tradition in this area, since botanists were the first scientists who visited Učka. Mostly foreign scientists were researching the mountain; in 1838, a major enthusiast for the world of plants, the King of Saxony Frederick Augustus II, visited the Učka Mountain. He was accompanied by the botanist Tommasini and Josip Jelačić, who later became the viceroy of Croatia. Croatian botanists, Ljudevit Rossi (1853-1932) and Dragutin Hirc (1853-1921), also gave valuable scientific contributions.
In the last century, considerable research was dedicated to the rich flora of the protected area. However, one can only conclude that the space for research is still open for new discoveries, because the area itself continues to represent a major source of new knowledge about the plant world. Forests cover seventy percent of the Park’s surface. Beech forests are predominantly littoral, with pronounced Mediterranean characteristics in areas closest to the sea. Subalpine beech forest grows only around the highest peak of Učka. When it comes to less represented forest communities, we should mention the sweet chestnut marron, its fruit being a very popular and tasty local treat.
Both plant and animal life are not fully researched. Preserved beech forests and wide grasslands are home to many animals, and the presence of large carnivores such as bear, wolf and lynx has also been recorded. The area of the Park is also a habitat of the Eurasian eagle-owl, the biggest owl species of Europe. There are 167 species of birds. Endangered birds of prey are nesting on inaccessible rocks of the Park. They include the golden eagle (Aquilla chrysaetos) and peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus).
A bow to the visitor
Life on Učka, thousands of years old, has formed a landscape that clearly points to a beautiful and useful coexistence. The settlements of Lovranska Draga and Mala Učka in the area of the Park are particularly interesting in terms of the originality of their ambiance.
The interest for Učka is growing – mountain climbers already know it pretty well, but more and more “ordinary” visitors are discovering the mountain too.
Učka is truly a bow to the visitor, just like the Croatian name of the mountain pass separating Učka from Ćićarija suggests. According to some, the name of the mountain itself actually stems from the word used for wolf. Names of various localities on the mountain stem from the pre-Christian Slavic heritage, on the other hand. For example, the peak of Perun got its name after the Slavic deity Perun. According to the Slavic mythology, Perun is a thunderer, the god of thunder and lightning, and a supreme deity in the pantheon of Slavic gods.
The Učka Mountain – as the peak of Perun undoubtedly testifies – has been enjoying the respect of man for quite some time. According to the Slavic mythology, the world is portrayed as a holy tree, with Perun, the ruler of the world, sitting on its topmost branch and observing the world. The view from Vojak, the topmost peak of the mountain, promises such a special moment. One can only feel gratitude for that experience while descending from the mountain.
Učka Nature Park is one of 19 national and nature parks included in the project PARCS which is from 2014 carried out by UNDP Croatia in cooperation with the Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection. Resolving the disparities in the funding, improving human capacities, investment in infrastructure and energy efficiency of buildings in the parks, are the main objectives of the project PARCS that is enabled due to the grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in the amount of HRK 27 million. Preservation and protection of parks as national resources are important in order to provide drinking water, healthy food, clean environment and human health. Investing in their development will also contribute to the development of local communities and the creation of green jobs.