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Restoring Amazon of Europe
© Ante Gugić

The project aims towards a healthy, resilient, and well managed five-country UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube which improves ecosystem services and biodiversity through large-scale restoration, while supporting a community-led nature-based economy to support sustainable development.

What is the issue?
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 and harness the restoration potential. WWF’s (2022) Restoration Toolbox has shown that 60% of impacted banks could be restored to highly dynamic/near-natural banks and 120 major side-branches with a length of 500 km could be reconnected with the main river. The project is also designed with a long-term focus - it will address key ‘tipping point’ barriers that are needed to empower stakeholders to effectively scale up restoration projects that support conservation of biodiversity and sustainable use.

We identified the following key tipping point barriers the project will address:
(1) lack of knowledge/capacity to inclusively plan for and implement restoration projects within the Biosphere coordination: through ELP building capacities to design and implement inclusive restoration projects; leveraging additional funding into national policies; support fundraising (LIFE),
(2) lack of interdisciplinary collaboration (agriculture, forestry, water management and nature conservation): through ELP all sectors operating in the landscape will start collaborating on the five-country level,
(3) lack of public awareness on the benefits the Biosphere Reserve can bring them: general awareness; inclusive 8 | Page governance; volunteering,
(4) tangible sustainable economic opportunities for TBR MDD communities: Business Incubator; collaboration with big businesses (e.g. food production),
(5) lack of data: through ELP restoration measures and monitoring activities we will add to the pool of data.
What are we doing?
The project aims towards a healthy, resilient, and well managed five-country UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Mura-Drava-Danube (TBR MDD) which improves ecosystem services and biodiversity through large-scale restoration, while supporting a community-led nature-based economy to support sustainable development. It comes at a pivotal moment when all countries of the TBR MDD (Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia) have made bold public commitments through the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve designation in September 2021, and the wider world will look to this landscape as an example of interconnected biological, cultural, and economic progress at a multi-country level. The project also directly contributes to the vision of the Endangered Landscape Programme by catalysing large-scale landscape restoration through creation of inclusive, replicable ecological restoration models that support biodiversity, local economic opportunities, community wellbeing, and climate resilience.

The project will work with communities and government partners to directly restore four sites that are quintessential habitats (wet meadow, two side-branches, and floodplain forest), covering 1,100 ha of the floodplain landscape in three countries. This will provide benefits for more than 30 IUCN red list species, and have positive impacts for six Natura 2000 sites. Those direct restoration measures will increase water retention capacity during floods, minimise droughts and negative impacts of hydropeaking of the last Drava hydro-dam, enlarge spawning areas, increase nesting habitats for 250,000+ water birds and kick-off nature-based wet meadow and forestry management on the landscape level. In addition, the project will build the capacity of (the newly established) TBR MDD Restoration Task Force (RTF) to replicate four restoration projects, with communities, both during and after the project implementation. This restoration model will be showcased as an example to similar protected landscapes. The project will start off the Business Incubator to enhance opportunities for a nature-based economy and support local livelihoods in order to minimise emigration from the landscape, raising awareness of the benefits and opportunities the Biosphere Reserve provides.
Who do we work with?
Our key partners on the project are: WWF Adria-Serbia, Kopački rit Nature Park and Lendava Municipality in Slovenia.

Other partners in project implementation are: Vojvodina šume, forest management Body in Serbia, Croatian Waters, water management body in Croatia, The Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for Nature Conservation, WWF Austria and WWF Hungary.

This project will from its start put efforts in strengthening wide range of stakeholders in restoration planning and implementation, participation in RTF and other project activities. Two-way communication with the interested public will be ensured throughout the whole project cycle, which will enable timely mitigation of potential risks, identified by WWF’s ESSF screening tool. It will be done through public round tables, public consultations related to the restoration planning, regular online Q&A sessions and other actions. Furthermore, through capacity building, we will empower the public to engage more in decision-making processes and increase their knowledge. We see local NGOs supported by local communities as landscape “defenders” and the leaders of change. Thus, their stories and examples of positive change will be presented through a ‘People of the TBR MDD’ campaign to ensure stronger representation of local communities in the media and to demonstrate to the wider public how nature conservation and sustainable development go hand-in-hand. This will help to inspire other community members in the landscape to start or transform their businesses, and the Business Incubator will become an established tool to help them establish, and finance, more nature-based businesses. By establishing a replicable model for sustainable development that is community-centered, this project set a similar, foundational path for inclusive restoration in the future.