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Formation of the Largest Protected River Area in Europe

23 November 2009 No Comment

Croatia and Hungary have agreed on the establishment of a cross-border Mura-Drava-Danube biosphere reserve within the UNESCO “Man and Biosphere” program. The biosphere reserve is a representative ecological area with three basic tasks: to protect natural assets, to encourage sustainable development and to stimulate scientific research related to the improvement of the quality of life and sustainable use of natural goods. With very rare but large flood forests, river islands, pebble and sand coasts and oxbow lakes, this protected area covers 500 kilometers of three river flows and around 630 000 hectares of unique natural and cultural landscape. The reserve is also the home of the most numerous nesting population of the white-tailed eagle in Europe and other endangered species, such as the little tern, black stork, otter or sterlet. It is also an extremely important area for more than 250 000 wading birds, which rest or spend their winters here every year. According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) representative, the biological diversity of the species in this region is one of the richest in Europe. This river ecosystem is vital for the social and economic development of the cross-border region. It is the primary source of drinking water, it serves as an efficient flood defense system, offers sustainable forestry, includes agriculture and fishery management, and also has an important role in the development of continental ecotourism and raising awareness of the need to protect the natural surroundings and environment in the entire region. Due to the establishment of a Croatian and Hungarian cross-border biosphere reserve, a bilateral work group for the nomination preparation has been determined and a nomination plan for the Mura-Drava-Danube biosphere reserve has also been prepared. As a result, Croatia must create the Mura-Drava Regional Park, ensuring efficient management of the future biosphere reserve’s central zone. According to expectations, the biosphere reserve will be declared in 2010 and this should additionally entice people and the competent authorities to develop in harmony with the natural surroundings and the environment. The issue of the protection of the River Drava is an extremely significant initiative within the European framework since it is the only remaining part of the River Drava’s natural flow. Great efforts concerning the retrieval of the river bed’s natural appearance and the renewal of biological diversity are being made in other countries, while in Croatia this area is still protected. Due to the specific natural assets of the River Drava area, Croatia has decided to engage in the active protection of this area with the establishment of the Mura-Drava Regional Park which would include the area of this ecosystem on Croatian territory. Besides this, the area has been enlisted into the National Ecological Network as a potential area of the European Union ecologically significant areas network – NATURA 2000. In addition to this and the cross-border cooperation with Hungary on the establishment of the Mura-Drava-Danube biosphere reserve, the entire area of the ecosystem between the two states would be included, which is of exceptional significance for the protection of the natural surroundings. The Croatian and Hungarian statement on the establishment of the cross-border reserve could become the foundation of an international biosphere reserve and countries such as Austria, Slovenia and Serbia might join it. The first reserve of this kind, which would cover five European countries, would be formed and also it would be the largest protected river area in Europe. The representatives of Croatian and foreign non-governmental ecological associations have, therefore, invited Austria, Slovenia and Serbia to join the idea of the proposed biosphere reserve and complete the process of protecting this green zone located in the heart of Europe.

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