Beljarica, a floodplain on the left bank of the Danube, is home to more than 130 species of bird, and several mammals, fish, and amphibians. But now, it faces an imminent threat.
“We really have to save this place,” says ornithologist Dragan Simic as we approach the Beljarica floodplain. It covers nearly 900 hectares of marshland and channels, a mere 15 kilometres from Serbia’s capital. Nicknamed the Belgrade Amazon, it is home to 136 species of bird, as well as several other creatures and creepy crawlies.
A large buzzard, elegantly poised atop a lifted entrance barrier bids us a timely welcome.
For a short moment we stand frozen in a tableau, but as I break the stillness reaching for my camera, the bird is already taking off. The close distance of its beating wings has a mesmerising effect, and my reflexes are not quite fast enough to capture the desired image of the majestic creature.
There are presently plans looming to construct a port at Beljarica. Ministry of Infrastructure announcements and a feasibility study suggest that construction of the new harbour will likely begin in spring 2018. Dragan, who is also the president of the League for Ornithological Action of Serbia, LOA, would like to do more to help the wildlife. He is constantly taking notes about the quantities of the various species of birds we see. LOA organises bird watching tours and leads public awareness campaigns to help prevent the destruction of this natural pearl.
“According to government plans, the new Belgrade Port should be build right here,” he says stressing that Beljarica is not only safe haven for domestic and migratory birds, but also safeguards Belgrade from floods.
He says this was the reason why the Kingdom of Yugoslavia’s hydrologists decided to build some 89 kilometres of embankment here in the 1930s, pulling it several kilometres back from the Danube river bed:
“Obviously this was done not to make a home for migratory birds, river otters and the white-tailed eagle, but to provide the space for a potential flood wave to expend itself in these fields and not in the city of Belgrade. And now, someone wants to cover all this life with concrete.”
LOA initiated the main campaign to protect Beljarica back in 2010. The project, called Wings over Balkans, was supported by Bird Life International.