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Croatia and Hungary to establish Europe’s largest river protected area

17/09/2009 00:20:39
world/europe/croatia_danube

Floodplains on the Danube in Croatia. Photo credit Kopa.

Biosphere reserve crested in Croatia & Hungary
September 2009 - Croatia and Hungary have signed a declaration that will establish a Trans-Boundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve to protect their shared biodiversity hotspot along the Mura, Drava and Danube Rivers. This paves the way to create Europe's largest river protection area.


Given the global significance of this agreement, WWF has highlighted the leading role of the Governments of Croatia and Hungary with a "Leaders for a Living Planet" award, handed over by Lifeng Li, Director of WWF Global Freshwater Programme.

Area of great natural importance
"This cross border agreement to protect an area of great natural importance will foster regional cooperation, international understanding and peace keeping," said James P. Leape, Director General of WWF International. "It is not only a significant advance for the region but can serve as an example of how nature conservation visions can bring countries together".

630,000 hectares of unique natural landscape
With rare large floodplain forests, river islands, gravel banks and oxbows, the new protected area covers a 500 kilometres section of the three rivers and about 630,000 hectares of unique natural and cultural landscapes. The protected area, which has been declared with help of WWF and partner organisations (e.g. Drava League, Green Action and Euronatur) is awaiting UNESCO approval to become a Biosphere Reserve in 2010.

Little tern on the Drava River. Credit J Bohdal.

Little tern on the Drava River. Credit J Bohdal.

Austria, Slovenia and Serbia to join?
This agreement, which was signed by the Ministers of Croatia and Hungary, Božo Biškupiæ (Minister of Culture) and Imre Szabó (Minister for Environment and Water), has the potential to become the cornerstone for a five-country Biosphere Reserve shared with Austria, Slovenia and Serbia. This would create the world's first Biosphere reserve, commonly shared by five countries.

"WWF greatly welcomes this step of the governments of Croatia and Hungary as a very important milestone for the conservation of Europe's natural treasures," said Gábor Magyar, CEO of WWF Hungary. "This cross-border undertaking between a current and a future EU member is a potent symbol of the proposed unification of Croatia with the European Union," Andreas Beckmann, Director of WWF's Danube-Carpathian Programme added.

White-tailed Eagle, Little tern, Black stork, otters and sturgeons
The area is home to the highest density of breeding pairs of the White-tailed Eagle in Europe and endangered species such as Little tern, Black stork, otters and sturgeons. It is also an important stepping stone for more than 250,000 migratory waterfowls every year. "The diversity of species in this region is one of Europe's richest. Such areas can only be topped by the tropical rainforests," says project leader Arno Mohl from WWF Austria.

Moreover, the river ecosystem is vital for the socio-economic well being of the trans-boundary region. It is a major source for good drinking water, for natural flood protection, sustainable forestry, agriculture and fisheries as well as having an important role in promoting eco-tourism, awareness raising and environmental education in the region.

"We encourage Austria, Slovenia and Serbia to join the proposed Biosphere Reserve with Croatia and Hungary to complete this green belt protecting the heart of Europe", WWF stresses.

The ceremony in the presence of the Prime Ministers of Croatia and Hungary, Mrs Jadranka Kosor and Mr Gordon Bajnai, took place in the border city of Barcs, Hungary.

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