Largest River Protection Area in Europe — in Croatia and Hungary

Croatia and Hungary signed an agreement yesterday to protect a major biodiversity area that crosses borders along three rivers. The agreement is being called a “Trans-Boundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve” and has resulted in the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) awarding the two countries with a “Leaders for a Living Planet” award.

The reserve will preserve several endangered species, among other environmental jewels. There is also the possibility of the reserve expanding several times over into neighboring countries in the future.


The new preserve will be Europe’s largest river protection area. It goes along the Mura, Drava and Danube Rivers and includes “rare large floodplain forests, river islands, gravel banks and oxbows.” In total, it currently covers a 500 kilometer section of the three rivers and “about 630,000 hectares of unique natural and cultural landscapes.”

James P. Leape, Director General of WWF International, says: “This cross border agreement to protect an area of great natural importance will foster regional cooperation, international understanding and peace keeping – 20 years after the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’…. 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.”

5-Country Biosphere Reserve in the Future?

The agreement was signed yesterday by ministers from Croatia and Hungary but may include Austria, Slovenia and Serbia in the future, which would make it the only 5-country Biosphere reserve in the world. The area is now waiting approval as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve — expected in 2010.

The WWF says: “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.”

This reserve links EU and non-EU countries in a positive way. As Andreas Beckmann, Director of WWF’s Danube-Carpathian Program, states: “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.” It is a helpful step in Croatia’s efforts to become a future member of the EU and demonstrates their commitment to some of the EU’s environmental values.

One of the Most Valuable Ecological Environments in the World

The area protected is about as valuable as a place can get in ecological terms. Arno Mohl from WWF Austria says: “The diversity of species in this region is one of Europe’s richest. Such areas can only be topped by the tropical rainforests.”

The WWF states that the area includes “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” and is “an important stepping stone for more than 250,000 migratory waterfowls every year.”

Socioeconomic Value

The area is also very important in many socioeconomic ways. It serves neighboring humans as “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.”

International Success

This is a major conservation effort and success. Much thanks again to the WWF for their involvement in the issue, partner organizations Drava League, Green Action and Euronatur, and the governments of Croatia and Hungary. A truly beautiful environmental achievement.

For more on nature and wildlife protection in the EU, read:
No Love for Animals — 0.1% of European Union Budget!

Image Credit 1: habeebee via flickr under a Creative Commons license

Image Credit 2: Flávio Ferreira via flickr under a Creative Commons license

  • Screen Sleuth

    I wish the WWF would get a new moniker…I keep thinking of the silly wrestling conglomerate from years back when I hear it.

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