Čorkova Uvala

Čorkova Uvala Old Growth Forest Reserve, Croatia

Within the borders of Croatia’s most visited and famous national park, Plitvice Lakes, lie some of the largest areas of protected forest in Croatia. Of all these forests the grandest is the virgin forest of Čorkova Uvala. In this park karst geology and water phenomena meet, resulting in a river canyon containing 16 lakes of varying colors from deep blue to clear. But the true splendor of Plitvice are the waterfalls that connect these lakes, forming countless cascades of varying size in one of the most stunning and unique waterfall displays on Earth. The lakes range in elevation from 534m to 638m. The forests of the park are quite well preserved and cover great areas from ~400m to nearly 1300m in elevation. Despite the presence of only two true old growth forests, Čorkova Uvala and the beech virgin forest of Medvedak, the whole park is full of relatively old and natural forest. Some locations like Crna Rijeka even have spruce up to 50m tall and over 400cm in cbh (circumference at breast height).

Čorkova Uvala Reserve is the first old growth forest reserve declared in Croatia along with the old growth reserve of Štirovača Valley, back in the year 1965. Čorkova Uvala is the best researched out of all the old growth mountain forests of Croatia, as well as the most famous and undoubtedly among the most beautiful. It is a perfect example of a typical beech-fir forest which forms in depressions and on slopes. The virgin forest covers some 80 hectares of productive beech (Fagus sylvatica), fir (Abies alba), and spruce (Picea abies) forest. Sycamore maple (Acer pseudoplatanus) can be found occasionally. Čorkova Uvala comprises elevations of ~860 to ~1028 metres and has average annual temperatures of about 6°C. The average annual precipitation is about 1900mm, and terrain ranges from gentle slopes and sinkhole valley bottoms to steep slopes. Soil is mostly deep but may also be very shallow and rocky in places. Karst topography is well developed, with sinkholes, cliffs, and ravines. Exposition is mostly East or Northeast, but all expositions can be found. The name Čorkova Uvala comes from the meadow and former settlement in the larger valley nearby, and the old growth forest on the side of this larger valley. The forest is very well preserved, with lots of deadwood and impressively tall and large trees. Only indications of human activity are research marks and a few individual stumps cut a long time ago by inhabitants of the nearby village. Access is almost impossible without a guide and would require a few hours of one way hiking to reach otherwise.

Old growth forest in Čorkova Uvala with large fir and spruce trees. Dense undergrowth and slope towards the lower parts of the reserve can be seen below. Elevation is ~950m

Čorkova Uvala probably has among the highest silver fir frequency of the virgin forests of Croatia, and therefore also has a great number of large firs. It is also one of the lowest elevation virgin forests to contain fir and spruce in Croatia at 860m. This is most likely due to its position further into the continent with colder climate. In contrast, virgin forests of similar compositions closer to the Adriatic Sea usually grow at 900m–1400m above sea level.

There are many studies done on Čorkova Uvala, but also many contradictions, mostly regarding tree dimensions. Perhaps this results from different measurement methods. Previously, the national park website listed the max height of spruce and fir trees at ~50m, with cbh of fir up to ~440cm and spruce up to ~410cm. However, there are also records of a 58m tall fir, as well as firs up to 170cm in dbh. Currently the national park site lists a fir tree of 500 years old, 150cm in dbh (probably measured from high slope), and a height of 58m. However, the validity of those measurements is not confirmed by this report, and the different dimensions may be separate maximum measurements belonging to several different trees. This fir is claimed to be the tallest tree of Croatia, but we measured a now broken Norway spruce in the virgin forest of Nadžak bilo which was several metres taller. There was also a spruce tree of similar height to this fir in the virgin forest of Štirovača. However, if this fir is in fact 58m tall, then it may be the tallest living tree in Croatia. However, the mix of different statements in Čorkova Uvala makes those claims seem less valid. One source even lists the max dbh for fir as 149cm, 112cm for spruce, and 193cm for beech! Beech is not known to reach such a dbh when it grows in a natural forest. Furthermore, larger spruce trees clearly exist like the one described below. A study also lists the max dbh for fir as 149cm, but also a max height of 58m belonging to another tree with a dbh of 148cm. It is not unlikely that the 149cm and 148cm tree are the same tree simply listed incorrectly as two different specimens. It is even possible that the supposed 58m tall tree is not very wide at all or that the height is an old inaccurate measurement. The differences between the ~170cm and ~150cm dbh may be due to the differences between mid-slope and high-slope measurements. Further exploration would help to confirm or disprove the information.

Regardless of the conflicting measurements and possible exaggerated claims, the trees in Čorkova Uvala are certainly quite large due to the favourable conditions, and the groves are well stocked, with nearly 800 m3 of living wood measured in a small plot. It is likely that some other hectare sized plots would yield over 1000 m3 of living wood. All regeneration and structural compositions of virgin forests can be found here, and there are open tall groves as well as dense sapling regeneration. The forest displays both dense undergrowth and clean forest floor. Stony outcrops and sinkholes create interesting terrain, causing variations in tree development. Tree maximums are probably comparable to what can be found in other productive mountain forests of Croatia listed on this site. Unfortunately, only about 5 hectares of Čorkova Uvala was personally explored for this report, and not where the largest trees are located.

The region which was researched was a terrace on the border of Čorkova Uvala at an elevation of ~950m between two peaks above the reserve’s bottom. From here we also explored a few of the slopes leading down towards the lowest part of the reserve. Here the forest was mostly covered with conifers of large but not massive size, probably signaling an early optimal age stage of growth. However, there were a few larger and older trees, notably a fir and spruce which stood out from the rest. The forest was quite tall and heavily stocked, and undergrowth was well developed. There were also some exposed rock monoliths near the ridgetop. The largest tree found was a spruce of over 470cm in cbh with an estimated volume of nearly 35 m3 due to very little trunk taper. The tallest tree measured was a spruce of up to ~50m (photo right). There are certainly other 50m trees in Čorkova Uvala. Due to its position within the national park, Čorkova Uvala is surrounded by relatively intact wilderness areas, making it the crown jewel of one of the largest and wildest protected forest ecosystems in Croatia.