The Mura-Drava-Danube region, with its unparalleled rivers, floodplains and natural treasures, is also referred to as the European Amazonia. As a result of twenty years of preparatory work, UNESCO has officially declared the region a biosphere reserve. This is the first biosphere reserve connecting five countries.
The designated biosphere reserve, stretching across five countries, is about 930 thousand hectares in size, which is a tenth of the territory of Hungary. The reserve spans over 700km of the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers, which makes it the largest riverine biosphere reserve in Europe.
The Danube, Drava and Mura are three stunning rivers that, despite human intervention, are home to amazing biodiversity and rare natural habitats such as floodplain forests, river islands, gravel and sandbanks, oxbows and backwaters.
It is home to the largest population of white-tailed eagles in Europe, common black storks that love untouched forests are common here, and the huge number of sand martin nests on riverbanks here is unseen elsewhere. Every year, 250,000 migratory birds fly over and rest along the three rivers. The area is also important for human beings, as 900,000 people live in the area of the biosphere reserve.
The importance of natural assets and a diverse river habitat is evinced by the fact that there are a total of 13 nature reserves in the area stretching across Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia. On the Hungarian side, most of the biosphere reserve belongs to the Danube-Drava National Park, and the area along the Mura is part of the Balaton Uplands National Park.
The preservation of biodiversity is of key importance
The three rivers of the biosphere reserve all have different features, but the Mura, Drava and Danube are similar in that, despite river regulation, there is great potential for the restoration and renewal of waterfront areas, river branches and habitats.
There have been good examples of this in recent years, but the opportunities are far from being fully exploited. Restoration promotes the preservation and renewal of the natural environment, from which society also benefits. Solutions that are based on natural processes, the preservation of the natural environment and biodiversity are key to adapting to climate change.
Intact rivers and floodplains help to prepare for water scarcity, protect from flooding, and improve groundwater supply and water quality. Overall, they are vital for biodiversity and also serve recreational purposes.
Innovative, nature-based solutions are needed
Temporary or permanent water shortages are a growing problem in almost every part of the world. In the management of rivers and floodplains, therefore, new solutions are needed that seek to retain water, revitalize floodplains, and renew former wetlands.
The practice of this has not yet fully developed, which may be due to several reasons. Many are not familiar with these solutions or are afraid to use solutions that limit the regulation of rivers and provide more space for water. Many actors and aspects need to be harmonised, which is a huge task for water and nature conservation professionals, while attitudes of farmers also need to be changed.
In the course of more than 20 years of preparatory work, as well as to national parks, NGOs have also put a huge effort into creating a biosphere reserve that brings together five countries. “The recognition of UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme provides an opportunity for the river management authorities to focus entirely on conservation and improvement of the river status. The Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve can only become a model European area if many solutions for improving the natural state of rivers are implemented” – said Tamás Gruber, head of the WWF Hungary Freshwater Programme.
According to experts, the Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve can only become a well-functioning model if the countries involved seek joint solutions to these fundamental challenges. The Hungarian section of the Drava River is of paramount importance in this respect, as there is a long tradition of cooperation, harmonisation of different aspects and the search for mutually beneficial solutions here. This can serve as an example can for those working with other Hungarian rivers.
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