World's first 5-nation biosphere reserve on the way

Posted on 12 May 2020

‘Amazon of Europe’ becomes an international model region for nature conservation and sustainable regional development.
The successful submission of the world’s first ‘5-Country Biosphere Reserve’ to the UNESCO is a decisive milestone in the establishment of Europe’s largest protected river landscape.

The nominated protected area encompasses 930,000 hectares and has a length of over 700 kilometres. The so-called ‘Amazon of Europe’ begins on the Mura river in Austria and stretches across four other countries – Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia – along the Drava river and all the way to the Danube.

The region is home to numerous endangered species, such as the little tern, black stork, otters, beavers and sturgeons, as well as Europe’s highest density of breeding white-tailed eagle, with more than 140 pairs. It is also an important resting and feeding place for more than 250,000 migratory birds every year.

“The five countries involved prove that nature conservation can overcome country borders for the benefit of everyone. In the context of the current climate crisis and massive species extinction, protecting the last natural areas has become a matter of our survival”, says WWF project coordinator Arno Mohl, a decades-long activist and advocate of the ‘5-Country Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube’.

“This is the most valuable connected river landscape in Central Europe and does not need to shy away from being compared with the Amazon,” added Mohl.

The region’s identity as well as the livelihoods of almost 900,000 inhabitants living in the biosphere reserve highly depend on the Mura, Drava and Danube lifelines. Intact floodplains protect settlements from floods and ensure clean drinking water supplies, whereas spectacular landscapes enhance the potential for sustainable tourism development.

“The new biosphere reserve is an important step away from nature exploitation such as nature destructive hydropower dams on the Mura or sediment extraction projects on the Drava. It paves the way for a sustainable coexistence of people and nature,” said Mohl.

The backbone of the future biosphere reserve is made up of floodplains and wetlands along the river, which are protected under a chain of thirteen local protected areas. The core and buffer zones are surrounded by a transition zone with an area of 650,000 hectares, which are allocated for sustainable agriculture and forestry practices as well as sustainable forms of tourism.

For more than 20 years, WWF has invested a great deal to achieve a better protection of the rivers’ natural values together with EuroNatur and many local conservation partners in all five countries. Alongside the three WWF offices working in the region (WWF Adria, Austria and WWF Hungary), the ministries and nature protection authorities of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia as well as MAB (Man and the Biosphere) committees participated in the preparation of the UNESCO nomination dossier.

The official designation by the UNESCO in Paris is expected for summer 2021.
Mura River
© A. Mohl/WWF
Map of the Amazon of Europe
© WWF Adria
Amazon of Europe
© Goran Šafarek / WWF