Green Light from UNESCO for the Austrian Biosphere Reserve Lower Mura Valley
“Today’s acknowledgement of the Biosphere Reserve Lower Mura Valley clears the way to develop a Central-European model region where nature protection and sustainable regional development go hand in hand under the patronage of the UNESCO”, says Arno Mohl, Mura-Drava-Danube Programme leader at WWF. Central to this effort is the cross-border protection of a landscape that is unique in Europe. The rivers Mura, Drava and Danube stretch across Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary and Serbia and jointly make up one of the most species and habitats rich landscapes of our continent. Natural river dynamics continuously shape new habitats for many threatened animal and plant species, among them more than 300 bird species. For instance, the white-tailed eagle is represented here with the highest density of breeding pairs across all of Continental Europe. Several fish species such as the sturgeon or the Danube salmon use the 700 km length of the river system for migration. WWF and its nature protection partners from across all five involved countries have been striving for the past twenty years to protect this area over the long-term as a biosphere reserve, the world`s first one stretching across five countries.
The region`s identity as well as living standards for its inhabitants depend to a great extent on the lifelines Mura, Drava and Danube: intact floodplains protect settlements from floods and ensure clean drinking water supplies, whereas pleasing landscapes enhance the potential for sustainable tourism development. “Especially in the current era of climate crisis and species extinction it is not a luxury pastime but a matter of humankind`s survival to protect our last natural areas. The new Biosphere Reserve is a first step away from nature exploitation and towards sustainable living together with nature”, adds Mohl confidently.
Today`s acknowledgement by the UNESCO allows Austria to become part of the greatest river protection initiative in Europe. The riverine areas in Croatia and Hungary were granted their Biosphere Reserve status as early as 2012 and were followed soon thereafter by Serbia (2017) and Slovenia (2018). As a next and final step all five countries need to jointly apply for the UNESCO designation of the Five-Country biosphere reserve status. This is currently in progress.