Posted on 15 September 2021
With the world facing climate and nature crises, UNESCO’s designation today of a region that stretches across Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia as the world’s first ‘five-country biosphere reserve’ is a historic step towards a new era for people and nature in Europe. It is also an international model for regional conservation, climate resilience and sustainable development.
The new biosphere reserve covers 700km of the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers and a total area of almost 1 million hectares in what has been called the ‘Amazon of Europe’ due to its thriving biodiversity – making it the largest river-based protected area on the continent.
“As the Mura-Drava-Danube system shows, floodplains can be the source of multiple environmental, social and economic benefits. Nonetheless, we have managed to degrade up to 90% of them in Europe”, commented Eva Hernandez, Living European Rivers lead at WWF
. “The European Commission needs to ensure that the upcoming Nature Restoration Law establishes ambitious binding restoration goals for these habitats, so they can display their full potential, for the benefit of both nature and people”.
WWF is calling for the legally binding restoration goals to be set for 15% of rivers to be restored to a free-flowing status in 2030. This can be done through the removal of physical barriers like dams and the restoration of floodplains.
With its unique natural ecosystems, the new Mura-Drava-Danube reserve sustains extraordinary biodiversity as well as the livelihoods of 900,000 people. Boasting continental Europe’s highest density of breeding white-tailed eagles, the region is home to otters, beavers and critically endangered sturgeons. It is also an important stopover site for more than 250,000 migratory birds every year.
The biosphere reserve represents an important contribution to the European Green Deal
as well as contributing to the implementation of the EU’s new biodiversity strategy
. It is also an international demonstration of how the protection of unique natural areas must be integrated with sustainable development.
“In its biodiversity strategy, the EU pledged to protect 30% of EU land and seas by 2030. The creation of the Mura-Drava-Danube reserve is in line with the ambition of the EU Green Deal, ” said Claire Baffert, Senior Water Policy Officer at WWF European Policy Office.
“The decision to protect the ‘Amazon of Europe’ is a beacon of hope that should be replicated across the continent.”
The new biosphere reserve is the result of years of dedicated work by the authorities in the five countries with considerable support from WWF, the MAVA Foundation, the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Committees
, and many local conservation partners.