Croatia and Hungary to establish Europe´s largest river protected area - 20 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain
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.
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.
"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’”, 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”.
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.
Today’s agreement, which was signed by the Ministers of Croatia and Hungary, Božo Biškupić (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.
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 Arno Mohl, project leader “Mura-Drava-Danube" Biosphere Reserve 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.