Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, and Serbia

Ante Gugić

Reconnecting riverine habitats across a five-country UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

The Mura-Drava-Danube UNESCO Biosphere Reserve incorporates five countries that feed into Europe’s mightiest river: the Danube. This vast river system is host to rare and varied species such as the endemic Danube crested newt and has a vital role to play in adapting to climate change. Over the years, the landscape has been degraded by unsustainable practices including hydropower development, intensive agriculture, and sediment excavation. The transboundary Biosphere agreement provides unprecedented opportunities for collaboration and nature recovery on a large scale.


The five-country Transboundary Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube (TBR MDD) is the largest coherent and dynamic riverine protected area in Europe, stretching through five countries (Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia), covering 930,000 hectares and 700 km of rivers. This project focuses on the core zone of the TBR MDD with a high level of biodiversity and protection: 13 protected areas, two Ramsar sites, and six Natura 2000 sites designated in the EU part of the landscape. The landscape hosts Europe’s highest density of white-tailed eagle breeding pairs and second most important fish spawning area after the Danube delta. It also provides habitat for more than 250,000 water birds and has the Danube´s largest water retention area partially covered by floodplain forests. As well as protected areas, the landscape is also host to many human activities such as agriculture.

Project context and opportunity

Since the rivers are located at the borders, they were not heavily impacted by development in the past and mostly retained natural river dynamics. However, in the last 20 years, rivers have been threatened by sediment excavation, hydropower development, hydropeaking, and unsustainable water management practices. Intensive agriculture is the major industry in the landscape, causing loss of biodiversity and soil degradation. Wet meadows, floodplain forests, side-branches and oxbows are losing their connection to the river while sand and gravel bars are disappearing.

Over 50% of the land within the project area is protected and much of the area retains high biodiversity value. While the landscape still hosts large numbers of species, populations are far from the abundance once present. The most visible losses can be noticed in the habitats connected to the most dynamic parts of this landscape: main river channels and side-branches. It is crucial to restore the landscape to maintain the existing numbers of species and stop further decline of important species such as the endemic European mudminnow.

This project will take advantage of the opportunity created by the Biosphere designation, supporting the countries involved to move the designation from paper into practice. It will harness the restoration potential to retain the high biodiversity value of the landscape and support adaptation to climate change by improving water flows.

What the project will do

This project will restore a large multi-functional landscape that benefits nature, climate resilience and people.  It will establish a restoration task force that brings together key sectors (nature, agriculture, forestry and water) to catalyse recovery across the wider landscape and to promote the Biosphere reserve as a replicable model of inclusive restoration and sustainable development. The restoration measures will increase water retention capacity during floods, minimise droughts and negative impacts of electricity generating practices of the last Drava hydro-dam, enlarge fish spawning areas, increase nesting habitats for over 250,000 water birds and kick-start nature-based wet meadow and forestry management at the landscape level.

To achieve its aims, the project will:

  • Restore wet meadow through removal of vegetation and sediment and introducing native cows.
  • Restore riverine habitats through removal of vegetation and debris, deepening of channels, and creating habitats.
  • Restore floodplain processes through removal of non-native forests and subsequently planting native species.
  • Engage the community through a range of activities such as involving volunteers in restoration efforts and decision making.
  • Enhance opportunities for a nature-based economy through a “Business Incubator”; and through the preparation of a “Guide for investors – how to restore nature and grow your business”.

Project Partners

WWF Adria
Lendava Municipality
Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for Nature Conservation
Croatian Waters
Kopački Rit Nature Park

Quick Facts

Project lead:

WWF Adria

Project location:

Central and southeast Europe


Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia

Landscape size:

930,000 ha

Key habitats:

Wet meadows, rivers, lakes, floodplain forests

Focal species:

Black stork, white-tailed eagle, European kingfisher, sand martin, Danube crested newt, European mudminnow, Eurasian otter, European beaver

Project Gallery

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