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The area alongMura-Drava-Danube Rivers declared the world's first 5-country Biosphere Reserve

At today’s session in Abuja, Nigeria, the International Co-ordinating Council of the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (UNESCO MAB-ICC) designated the Mura-Drava-Danube Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (TBR MDD) as the world’s first 5-country biosphere reserve. Stretching across Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia, the reserve covers a total area of 930,000 hectares extending along 700km of the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers, which makes it the largest riverine biosphere reserve in Europe.

Zavod RS za varstvo narave

RIver Mura | Author Vir fotografije je arhiv Zavoda RS za varstvo narave

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The UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere Programme (UNESCO MAB) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. There are currently 714 biosphere reserves in more than 129 countries, 21 of which are transboundary. The Mura-Drava-Danube biosphere reserve will also be the first in the world to be jointly managed by 5 countries. At the session in Nigeria, 20 new biosphere reserves were considered for listing.

The area and its confirmation as a biosphere reserve

The Transboundary Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube (TBR MDD) is among the largest alluvial complexes in Europe, extending along the floodplains of the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers in Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia and Croatia. The reserve spans over 700km of free-flowing rivers, boasting an outstanding natural and cultural heritage of Europe and the world. This transboundary biosphere reserve is rich in rare habitats such as large floodplain forests, river channels with natural steep sand and gravel banks, side river branches and oxbow lakes, and hinterlands with traditional cultural landscapes. They are home to the largest population of white-tailed eagles in Europe, nesting sites for many endangered bird species such as sand martins, little terns and black storks, as well as beaver and otter habitats, and many rare fish on a European scale, such as sturgeon. This landscape offers us a shared opportunity to pursue sustainable and nature-based development, which will also be in line with the principles of nature conservation and cultural heritage, and based on active participation of the local population.

The lives of almost a million people, as well as the survival of many species, are linked to the conservation of the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers. At a time of significant environmental change, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, this conservation area is crucial for flood protection, climate change mitigation, and the provision of drinking water and fertile land, and is increasingly recognised as a recreation and leisure area, as well as the driving force behind sustainable development.

The endorsement of the TBR MDD provides a basis on which countries, in cooperation with local communities and other stakeholders, have to establish effective coordination, implemation of integrated management and monitoring in order to achieve important environmental objectives at the local level, in each Member State and in the wider region, to pursue sustainable and nature-based development of the lentire arger area,  is also important for achieving the objectives set out in the EU strategies, in particular for biodiversity conservation, water management and climate change. Successful implementation will be a model example of 5-country cooperation on a global scale.


The Mura River is a key part of the reserve

In Slovenia, the key part of this 5-country biosphere reserve is the Mura River region. This area includes the largest conserved habitat complex of floodplains in Slovenia, where the interweaving of natural factors and thousands of years of human presence have created an exceptional riparian cultural landscape. It is characterised by a network of river and riparian habitats with patches of floodplain forest and typical agricultural landscape in the hinterland, which in some parts still consists of wet meadows, mosaic fields and villages on the edges of floodplains. This is one of the most biodiverse areas in Slovenia, with a great number of rare, nationally and internationally endangered habitat types and wildlife species. Special types of historical cultural landscapes are still preserved, such as wet meadows in the Velike Polane area and between Radenci and Veržej. Besides featuring important natural heritage and biodiversity, these areas also constitute unique cultural heritage. The thousands of years of human presence are the reason for a great number of native domestic animal breeds and cultivated plant varieties, which also contribute to the area’s biodiversity.

All Slovenian municipalities from Šentilj to Lendava, as well as professional institutions and NGOs, have actively contributed to the establishment of this reserve. Slovenia has also actively participated in the drafting of the TBR MDD nomination. At the expert meeting of the Coordination Committee in Velika Polana in January 2019, the participation of Dr Miguel Clüsener-Godt (UNESCO MAB) was crucial, encouraging the countries to continue their work and underlining the importance of the 5-country biosphere reserve for the region as a whole, as well as within the global network of biosphere reserves.

The international status and active cooperation within the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) brings new opportunities for the development and promotion of this region, but also an obligation to engage in joint management, conservation and development for the benefit of the local people through different local stakeholders, who actively care for, manage and conserve the rich biodiversity and cultural heritage to achieve the objectives of the newly established 5-country biosphere reserve MDD.

The rich natural and cultural heritage of the area has also been recognised by the European Union, which has co-financed several projects worth more than 20 million euro in recent years, contributing to the protection and development of the area.

From an idea to a 5-country Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve

The initiative to establish a transboundary biosphere reserve dates back to 1992. The signing of a declaration to establish a 5-country biosphere reserve between Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia in 2011 officially marked the start of preparations and joint coordination of activities between all five countries. With the establishment of biosphere reserves in Croatia and Hungary in 2012, Serbia in 2017, Slovenia in 2018 and Austria in 2019, the basis for a joint nomination was set. It was officially submitted to UNESCO in 2020, linking the four contiguous biosphere reserves in the region into a single transboundary biosphere reserve TBR MDD.

More information on biosphere reserves is available here

Biosphere reserves have three main functions:

  • conserving and maintaining ecosystems, species and habitats,
  • promoting socio-economic and environmentally sustainable development throughout the region,
  • encouraging education, research and environmental monitoring. 

Zoning of the Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve

The biosphere reserve covers almost 300,000 hectares of core area and buffer zone and an additional 700,000 hectares of transition zone.

The core area consists of an existing network of special conservation and protected areas acting as the ecological basis of the biosphere reserve. It consists of a network of 13 protected areas highlighting the importance of rivers for the ecosystem, including the world-famous Kopački rit Nature Park and the Mura-Drava Regional Park in Croatia, the Gornje Podunavlje Special Nature Reserve in Serbia and the Danube-Drava National Park in Hungary, as well as Natura 2000 sites in Slovenia and Austria. The core area comprises the best preserved natural habitats, created by dynamic natural processes. It includes long stretches of river habitats, the entire water system with its side branches and oxbow lakes, and continuous riverine forests covering several thousand hectares. The objectives and actions in the core area are mainly focused on the conservation of natural habitats, species and processes, and on the restoration of degraded areas. The buffer zone is sufficiently wide to regulate impacts and is accessible to the various forms of human activity that are still acceptable in this zone. The core area and the buffer zone encompass different habitats in such a way that each habitat in the proposed biosphere reserve is well represented in both zones. They are defined for key species so that they can be provided with all their ecological needs throughout their life cycle. The transition zone is intended to encourage sustainable development. It includes areas that are rich in cultural landscapes and local communities that have lived along these rivers for centuries. The designated biosphere reserve should primarily benefit local communities.

More information