Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia have jointly submitted a UNESCO application to establish the world’s first 5-country biosphere reserve. The ‘Amazon of Europe’ is set to become Europe’s largest river protected area and it is hoped the region will be an international model for nature conservation and sustainable regional development.
The proposed reserve will begin at Austria’s Mura River and follow the Drava River to the Danube in Serbia, covering 700 kilometres and protecting 930,000 hectares of biodiverse land. Country ministries and nature protection authorities worked together with WWF, EuroNatur and smaller local conservation partners in all five countries. A positive decision is expected to be announced by UNESCO in June 2020.
Andreas Beckmann, CEO of WWF Central and Eastern Europe said: “This landmark cross-border nomination is a powerful demonstration of a shared green vision that builds on, and reinforces both regional cooperation and unity in Europe. It is a significant step forward in protecting the region’s natural treasures and serves as a striking example of how nature conservation can bring countries together.”
The region is a unique natural and cultural landscape. Rare floodplain forests, river islands and oxbows and gravel and sand banks provide habitats to many endangered species such as the little tern, black stork, sturgeons, otters and beavers as well as over 250,000 migratory birds. It is also home to Europe’s highest density of breeding white-tailed eagle. Over 900,000 inhabitants depend on the effective management of the Mura, Drava and Danube river systems too, to protect settlements from floods and ensure drinking water is clean and readily-available.
Arno Mohl, Programme Leader at WWF-Austria and long-time campaigner for the protection of the Mura, Drava and Danube Rivers said: “Five countries have agreed to jointly protect an area which is one of the richest in terms of species diversity in Europe. Such floodplain areas are only surpassed by tropical rainforests. In times of the climate crisis and the vast extinction of species, it becomes a matter of survival to protect our last natural areas.
“The new biosphere reserve is an important step away from nature exploitation such as destructive hydropower dam or sediment extraction projects. It paves the way for a sustainable co-existence of people and nature.”
Until the rise of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the management of river landscapes within the five Central European countries were separate and fragmented. In 2011, environmental ministers of all five countries signed a joint declaration committed to establishing a trans-border protected area, which formed the basis for the UNESCO nomination. Croatia and Hungary were granted biosphere reserve status in 2012, followed by Serbia in 2017, Slovenia in 2018 and Austria in 2019.
“For more than 20 years, WWF has invested a great deal to achieve better protection of the rivers’ natural values. We are very proud of the achievement of this joint nomination which will preserve the unique Mura-Drava-Danube Rivers for us and future generations,” concludes Mohl.
To date, a combined funding of around 14 million Euros, co-financed by the European Union, has been invested into projects to sustainably manage and protect the region. The Coop MDD Project has been running since 2017 to focus on common cross-country goals and trans-border nature protection measures. The Amazon of Europe Bike Trail Project, launched in June 2019, will see bike and nature enthusiasts able to book tours and excursions in the region by 2021, and smaller river projects are undergoing to create new natural habitats and recreational areas for visitors to enjoy the unique European river landscape.
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