Decades of preparatory work has paved the way for the Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve (MDD), Europe’s largest river protected area: 930,000 hectares of natural treasures between Austria and Serbia nominated to UNESCO for protection. The “Amazon of Europe” will be an international model region for nature conservation and sustainable regional development.
12 May 2020 (Vienna/Zagreb/Budapest/Ljubljana/Belgrade) – Last week’s nomination of the world’s first 5-Country Biosphere Reserve to UNESCO is a decisive milestone in the establishment of Europe’s largest protected river landscape. “The five countries involved have proven that nature conservation can overcome national borders for the benefit of everyone. In the context of the current climate crisis and massive species extinction, protecting the last natural areas has become a matter of our survival”, says WWF project coordinator Arno Mohl. The full designation by UNESCO is expected to occur in summer 2021.
The area encompasses 930,000 hectares and has a length of over 700 kilometres. The so-called “Amazon of Europe” begins on the Mura in Styria (Austria) and stretches across four other countries – Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia – along the Drava and all the way to the Danube. Until 1989, the river landscape had been fragmented by the Iron Curtain between East and West. The Amazon of Europe is home to Europe’s highest density of breeding white-tailed eagle, with more than 140 pairs, as well as endangered species such as the little tern, black stork, otters, beavers and sturgeons. It is also an important resting and feeding place for more than 250,000 migratory birds every year. “This is the most valuable connected river landscape of Central Europe and does not need to shy away from being compared with the Amazon,” explains Arno Mohl.
The region’s identity, as well as the livelihoods of almost 900,000 inhabitants living in the biosphere reserve highly depend on the Mura, Drava and Danube lifelines. Intact floodplains protect settlements from floods and ensure clean drinking water supplies, whereas spectacular landscapes enhance the potential for sustainable tourism development. “The new biosphere reserve is an important step away from nature exploitation such as environmentally destructive hydropower dams on the Mura or sediment extraction projects on the Drava. It paves the way for a sustainable coexistence of people and nature,” says Mohl.
The backbone of the future biosphere reserve is made up of floodplains and wetlands along the river, which are protected under a chain of thirteen local protected areas. The core and buffer zones are surrounded by a transition zone with an area of 650,000 hectares, which are allocated for sustainable agriculture and forestry practices, as well as sustainable forms of tourism. The MDD has the potential to become an international model region for nature conservation and sustainable regional development.
For more than 20 years, WWF, EuroNatur and many local conservation partners in all five countries have been devoted to make this dream to achieve a better protection of the rivers’ natural values a reality. WWF-Adria, WWF-Austria and WWF-Hungary, the ministries and nature protection authorities of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia as well as MAB (Man and the Biosphere) committees all participated in the preparation of the UNESCO nomination dossier.
For more information:
Mura-Drava-Danube Team Leader,
m: + 43 676 83 488 300
m: + 43 1 488 17 300
Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is home to some of the last significant intact natural areas in Europe. Natural wonders such as the Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve, Southwestern Carpathians, the Danube Delta and Maramures County (Romania) truly justify the region’s labelling as the “Green Heart of Europe.” The surface coverage of Natura 2000 sites in the region ranges from 21.41% (19,912 km2) in Hungary to 34.37% in Bulgaria (38,146km2). Slovakia and Romania also register above the average 19.04% EU Natura 2000 coverage. Protected areas form the centrepiece of WWF’s conservation efforts around the world. The preservation of functioning ecosystems and the maintenance of their natural processes is crucial for the survival of species and biomes that cannot persevere in areas heavily impacted by human activity. In many cases, such protected areas represent the last hope for critically endangered or endemic species otherwise threatened by extinction. In CEE, species on the brink include large carnivores such as bears, lynx and wolves, as well as sturgeon and primeval beech forests. Moreover, they provide important space for ecological adaptation and evolutionary processes, thus playing a critical role in the face of climate change. Protected areas also generate direct human benefits in the form of ecosystem services.