Upper Danube | WWF

Upper Danube

Along the Upper Danube, very few stretches of the river remain unregulated like this place in Austria.
© WWF / Michèle DÉPRAZ
The Upper Danube starts at the river's source in the Black Forest in Germany and flows through Bavaria and Austria to the tip of the Carpathians at Devin near the Slovak capital Bratislava. Compared to the middle and lower stretches of the river, the Upper Danube has been significantly modified.
Of the 62 dams on the Danube, 59 are on the first 1,000 km of the river -- the others being Gabcikovo in Slovakia and another two dams at the Iron Gates between Serbia and Romania. On average, on the Upper Danube the river is interrupted by a dam and accompanying impoundment every 16 km.

Only very few stretches can still be characterized as free flowing. Among them are Vohburg-Weltenburg as well as Straubing-Vilshofen in Germany, the Wachau section in Austria, famed for its wine and the Niebelungen, and the stretch of intact floodplain forests stretching from Vienna to Bratislava.

The Isar River, an Alpine tributary, joins the Danube in Germany. The confluence of the two rivers is a natural paradise, home to numerous threatened species. Threatened by water management schemes, WWF purchased land at the mouth of the Isar through donations to protect this natural floodplain forest and demonstrate model forest management. As a result, local native floodplain forest species such as oak and ash are proving to be economically beneficial.

The Inn River, another Alpine river which joins the Danube further downstream, is a major tributary to the Danube, flowing a total of 517 km. Its source is in Switzerland, and for a stretch it forms the border between Austria and Germany before it enters the Danube at Passau.

The Danube Floodplain National Park, girding the stretch of river between Vienna and Bratislava, has approximately 11,000 hectares of floodplain forests, riparian habitats and side arms. This is the last intact floodplain of the upper Danube. In the 1980s, the area very nearly was sacrificed for construction of a hydropower plant near Hainburg before a popular movement forced the Austrian government to change its plans. Soon after, a major campaign by WWF-Austria raised the money needed to purchase a strategic piece of the floodplain near Regelsbrunn, putting a nail in the coffin of the hydropower plans and paving the way for declaration of the area as a national park in 1996. Today, the park is an important area for rest and recreation for people from two national capitals.

Linking to the park at the Danube are the floodplains of the Lower Morava and Dyje (Austria, Czech Republic and Slovak Republic), an extensive area of floodplains and lowland steppe river habitats that until 1989 were preserved within the folds of the Iron Curtain and since then have been declared a trilateral wetland site of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

With some 30,000 ha, the Morava-Dyje-Danube confluence is one of the largest remaining wetland areas in central Europe. Preserved for decades as no-man's land between the Western and Eastern blocs, the area has come under mounting pressure from motorways, bridges, industrial parks and other developments, squeezed between the Austrian and Slovak capitals in what has become one of the most dynamic, growing areas in Europe. WWF has been working with partner organisations in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic first to gain protection, and now to manage and preserve this unique area.

One of the most important resting sites for migrating birds in Europe is the Neusiedlersee and Ferto-Hanság (Austria and Hungary). Here one can still find a steppe lake area with a huge reed belt, adjacent small soda lakes and traditional pastures. Starting in the 1960s, WWF-Austria initiated protection, including land purchases, for this exceptional wetland area, eventually leading to the establishment of the Neusiedlersee National Park in 1993 and its  designation as a World Heritage Site in 2003.


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