Birds' paradise Kopacki Rit on the Danube saved

Posted on 07 April 2014

Croatian environmental ministry stops a regulation project which would have destroyed valuable wetlands
Zagreb/Belgrade/Vienna - The Croatian Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection has stopped one of the largest planned destructions of nature on the Danube River. A 53-kilometer long natural stretch of the Danube along the Croatian-Serbian border has been under huge pressure from the Croatian inland navigation agency to be regulated and channelized.

As a result, the Kopacki Rit Nature Park in Croatia, an internationally renowned bird paradise, as well as Serbia’s most important Danube´s Nature Reserve - Gornje Podunavlje, would have literally dried out. "Stopping this senseless destruction of one of the most valuable floodplains of the entire Danube is a major success for the preservation of European nature," says Arno Mohl of WWF.

The decision of the Croatian Ministry of Environmental and Nature Protection from 26 March 2014 comes after the massive resistance of conservation organizations such as WWF, Euronatur, Birdlife International, Wetland international as well as local NGOs. More than 20,000 people have supported a petition to save Kopacki Rit in 2012. The EU Commission and the EU Parliament had opposed the regulation project, which is contrary to EU law.

Kopacki Rit lies in the strictly protected core zone of the future five-country Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve, which is also listed as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. The river regulation project would have seriously damaged it, threatening biodiversity. Some 300 species of birds, 64 species of fish and up to 50 wild cats live in Kopacki Rit, which is also known as "Amazon of Europe". In January 2014, during the first cross-border white tailed eagle census along the Danube, the area was identified as the most important wintering place for these birds in Europe.

Although the governments of Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia have agreed to protect the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers, their natural values are still at stake. The water management lobby in Croatia may restart the regulation project in the near future. In addition, a huge hydropower dam is planned on the Drava River in Croatia near Osijek, which would destroy the natural meandering Drava River and massively impact upon Kopacki Rit.

"The "Amazon of Europe" needs our continuous support," says Arno Mohl of WWF. As part of the protection concept for the future Biosphere Reserve along the Danube, Drava and Mura, WWF and its project partners promote the restoration of already degraded sections of these rivers.
Kopacki Rit in Croatia.
Kopacki Rit in Croatia.
© Mario Romulic
European Sea Eagle (Haliaetus albicilla), carrying a fish in its talons and being harried by a seagull, Flatanger, Trondheim, Norway.
Sea eagles are the greatest treasure of Kopacki Rit
© Wild Wonders of Europe /Staffan Widstrand / WWF
Gornje Podunavlje Special Nature Reserve in Serbia
© Jaroslav Pap