Montenegro’s Bistrica River Joins Growing List of Legally Protected Rivers in the Western Balkans

Strengthening Đalovića Gorge's status as Natural Monument represents key victory for durable freshwater protection under United for Rivers initiative

The Bistrica River carves its way through Montenegro's spectacular Đalovića Gorge.
Bistrica River, Montenegro Montenegro's Bistrica River carves through the Đalovića Gorge: a place of astonishing beauty and home to a large diversity of species and habitats. © Milija Cabarkapa

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The Municipal Assembly of Bijelo Polje today voted to bolster the status of Đalovića Gorge as a Natural Monument, marking a siginifcant milestone for sustainable river protection in Montenegro. Following an initiative to protect the Bistrica River, launched by a coalition of environmental groups including Eco-Team and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Environmental Protection Agency of Montenegro evaluated the natural and geological values of the area and recommended strengthening the gorge’s protection.

Today’s decision marks the beginning of work to implement full legal protection measures for the area. While the gorge was originally recognised in 1968 for its geological and landscape value, there were no legal requirements for management. By confirming the designation of Đalovića Gorge and the Bistrica River as a Natural Monument, the Municipality is now legally obliged to establish an Agency for the Management of Protected Areas in Bijelo Polje and ensure the effective management of Đalovića Gorge.

“The Bijelo Polje Municipality is steadfast in our commitment to preserving our natural heritage and we are glad that the revision and strengthening of the legal status of Đalovića Gorge Natural Monument was successfully completed. The decision by the Municipal Assembly underscores our dedication to nature conservation and collaboration with all relevant institutions and civil society organizations.  We look forward to continuing our fruitful cooperation with Eco-Team and The Nature Conservancy to ensure that future generations can enjoy the beauty of Đalovića Gorge and the Bistrica River,” said Armin Sijarić, Acting Secretary of the Secretariat for Rural and Sustainable Development of Bijelo Polje Municipality.

Located in northeast Montenegro, the Bistrica River carved the Đalovića Gorge: a place of astonishing beauty and home to a large diversity of species and habitats. The newest revision covers a protected area of 344 hectares and includes the gorge and parts of the Bistrica River, known and named for its clear water. The protected area is also an important spawning area for the endangered Danube salmon and home to a variety of fish including brown trout and grayling. It is also a haven for flyfishing and canyoneering, attracting visitors from across Montenegro and beyond.

The enhanced protection for Bistrica builds on the momentum started by the declaration of Montenegro’s Zeta River Nature Park in 2019 and represents another significant win for the United for Rivers initiative. The coalition, launched in 2023, is working to protect 400km of rivers across five Western Balkan countries. The initiative announced legal protection for Croatia’s Mrežnica and Tounjčica rivers earlier this month and is also working to secure protected status for Montenegro’s Ćehotina, Morača, and Mrtvica rivers before the end of the year.

“We are proud to have supported the municipality of Bijelo Polje in their efforts to revise and strengthen the protection of Đalovića Gorge and the Bistrica River, helping make today’s decision possible. This decision will enhance conservation efforts in the area and facilitate their management. TNC remains dedicated to supporting the municipality, local communities, and other relevant stakeholders in the management of the area, ensuring its sustainability and the implementation of management best-practices. Our long-term goal is to create a conservation model that serves as an example for other nature conservation practices across Montenegro and the wider region,” said Igor Vejnović, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Southeast Europe at The Nature Conservancy.

“The decision to protect the Đalovića Gorge and the Bistrica River, confirmed today by the Municipal Assembly of Bijelo Polje, follows a thorough review and marks a significant stride in our endeavors to safeguard Montenegro’s natural heritage for posterity. By enacting this decision, we collectively pledge to manage this area sustainably and responsibly, ensuring the preservation of its natural beauty and biodiversity. With the support of local and scientific communities, alongside pertinent institutions and international organizations, we remain dedicated to crafting sustainable initiatives aimed at the conservation and promotion of this natural monument,” said Milija Čabarkapa, Director of Eco-Team.

Building on ongoing work to establish sustainable management of the Zeta River Nature Park, The Nature Conservancy and Eco-Team will work with the new Agency to develop a management plan and help with staffing and training, to help secure the future of the Bistrica River and Đalovića Gorge. This work is made possible by the support of the Wyss Foundation and Enterprise Mobility Foundation.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. The Nature Conservancy is working to make a lasting difference around the world in 77 countries and territories (41 by direct conservation impact and 36 through partners) through a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on X.