The Mura, Drava and Danube area is the first five-state biosphere reserve in the world

The proclamation of the five-state Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO is a historic step towards a new era for nature and people.

Biosphere reserve, which extends through Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia nearly a million acres and 700 miles of river flow, with its proclamation, it has officially become the largest protected river area in Europe and is an international example of the synergy of nature protection, climate resilience and sustainable development. Due to its unique habitats and numerous rare species, the biosphere reserve is also known as the European Amazon.

- The proclamation by UNESCO is an important indicator of international cooperation and a common green vision, a significant step forward in preserving the natural and cultural treasures of the region and a strong example of the unification of countries with a common goal of nature conservation. This is also an important contribution to the implementation of the EU Biodiversity Strategy, which aims to restore 2030 km of rivers and protect 25.000% of the EU's landmass by 30., said Nataša Kalauz, director of WWF Adria, the world organization for nature protection, which has been a part of this initiative from the very beginning.

The area of ​​the biosphere reserve abounds in rare habitats such as large floodplain forests, sand and gravel banks, steep banks, backwaters and backwaters. They are home to the largest population of bald eagles in Europe and the nesting ground of many endangered bird species such as bream, terns and black storks, beaver and otter habitats, and fish such as sturgeon.

Not only do many species depend on the Mura, Drava and Danube, but also almost a million people whose lives have been shaped by rivers. Untouched floodplains protect settlements from floods, rivers provide us with drinking water, fertile soil, mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, and are also zones of recreation and inspiration and can be a driver of sustainable development.

- Although by declaring a five-state biosphere reserve we have achieved a very big step to preserve these three rivers for all future generations, we still have a lot of work to do. In order not to have another "paper park", we need a greater commitment of decision-makers, but also business people in order to encourage the sustainable development of the European Amazon. We expect the continuation of good cooperation, a truly living biosphere reserve in which nature is renewed, innovation is encouraged and in which local communities are the drivers of change., said Ivana Korn Varga, head of the MDD initiative at WWF Adria.

An initiative launched more than 20 years ago

The initiative for the protection of the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers in Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia was launched more than 20 years ago by environmental activists and civil society organizations. Due to the great natural wealth and numerous endangered and protected species present in this area, the initiative has been joined over the years by numerous stakeholders from all spheres, and work on establishing a five-state UNESCO Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve officially began in 2011.

Croatia and Hungary protected their river landscape in 2012, followed in 2017 by Serbia (2017), a year later Slovenia and finally Austria in 2019. A joint nomination, officially sent in April 2020, connected the four pieces of the puzzle into a single protected area.

Three functions of the biosphere reserve

Biosphere reserves fulfill three main functions: maintaining ecosystems, developing regional socio-economic and ecologically sustainable conditions, and encouraging education, research, and monitoring of the state of the environment. There are currently 714 biosphere reserves in more than 129 countries. Of these, 21 are cross-border. The Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve will be the first in the world to be jointly managed by five countries. 

The concept of a biosphere reserve defines about 300.000 hectares of core and impact area and an additional 700.000 hectares of transition area.

The core area is protected by law and consists of the existing network of protected areas as the ecological basis of the reserve. The zone of influence extends along the rivers, away from the riverbed. It is characterized by a mosaic of cultivated land and rural space that also contains less separate parts of oxbow lakes, ponds and small wetlands. The external transition zone provides regional economic and scientific support to the transition zone.

Within the biosphere reserve there is a network of 13 protected areas that emphasize the ecological importance of rivers, and includes the world-famous Nature Park "Kopački rit", Regional Park "Mura-Drava" in Croatia, The Gornje Podunavlje Special Nature Reserve in Serbia and the Danube-Drava National Park in Hungary, as well as Natura 2000 sites in Slovenia and Austria.

Cover photo: the confluence of the Drava and the Danube / Author: Ante Gugić

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