The river Danube
Our largest river, the Danube is invaluable to all of us. The side-branches, floodplain forests and meadows give home to a rich wildlife, while the gravel beds beneath the islands hide cheap extractable drinking water. The Danube Bend’s unparalleled beauty is the pride of Hungary. The Gemenc area and the neighbouring Béda-Karapancsa are the biggest floodplains of the country.
WWF is present in all countries within the Danube River Basin, and our work always aims at the preservation of the individual values typical of the river. In the Danube Delta, the most emblematic area, the Romanian colleagues are responsible for the protection of the unique avifauna and water paradise. In this area, WWF Hungary also takes part in an international co-operation that helps local people to adapt to climate change.
The biggest conservation challenge on the Romanian and Bulgarian river section is the revitalization of vast floodplains. Shaping the views of local people is another important task in order to reach a sustainable use of the Danube’s goods. Focusing on maintaining the stability of fish stocks in fishing areas could secure the livelihoods of locals in the long run. Therefore, it is extremely important that we ensure the survival of the Danube sturgeons. This gives us a lot to do! The involvement of high-level decision makers and local communities are both equally necessary. Two examples can illustrate the problem perfectly: 1) we have to fight against illegal caviar trade, which we work on in co-operation with the Traffic team; 2) we need to convince the Serbian and Romanian officials operating the „Iron Gate” hydropower plant to solve the longitudinal connectivity on the Danube.
Unfortunately, sturgeons only reach the river stretches behind „Iron Gate” at random now, even though these areas with their unique natural assets are likely to represent suitable spawning grounds for them. From Belgrad to Szigetköz, huge side-branches and oxbows accompany the Danube, a lot of which were artificially seperated from the river. Reconnect them back to the main branch provides many opportunities, however it also proves to be a serious task. Such successful rehabilitation was executed at Szabadság-sziget and its side-branch near Mohács with the support of LIFE+ Nature program.
The most significant tributaries, such as Tisza, Sava and Drava, flow into the Danube a bit downstrem to this section. Drava is also an important part of our freshwater programs. The estuary of Drava and Danube is one of the greatest bird paradises in Europe. The biggest initiative in our region is to form a nature conservation area along the Drava spanning across several countries. The Mura-Drava-Danube UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is currently approved in Hungary and Croatia. According to our plans, it will extend to three other neighbouring countries in the future, and to this end we are working together with Serbian, Slovenian and Austrian collegues. The protected area of about 800,000 hectares is often called the „Amazonas of Europe” due to its unique features, reefs, islands, slip-off river banks and unregulated river sections.
The Danube, in Hungary, provides not only natural resources but is also immensely valueable to the society. The water bases, which are fed by Danube provide drinking water to about 2 million people. Upstream the Hungarian stretches the river is much smaller, and its floodplains are also not so wide, due to previous river regulations, when the riverbanks were stabilized with stones and concrete. The restoration of these river stretches is currently under process following unique methods in European terms.
The exquisite assets of the Danube are threatened in every country within its catchment area. We are working with other WWF collegues in the Danube region on the prevention of these threats. We are working out joint proposals for changing projects on improving the navigability of the Danube, in order to reduce the risks threatening natural resources. Unwarranted regulations and sediment extractions still occur in certain countries, and we step up against such actions collectively. The deepening of the riverbed is a problem that can only be improved by the collaboration of many sectors, so we are trying to reach out to all experts and decision makers. The task on international scale is to develop a vision of Danube in the 14 countries of the Danube river basin. Natural resources need to be preserved and maintained that strongly depends on what direction are followed in river basin management plans. WWF takes part in international working groups to demonstrate possibilities for the harmonization of ecological conditions and social needs. We introduce our programs to the local people and societies on various engaging events, such as the Living Danube Tour or the Big Jump.