Lower Mura Valley becomes the gateway to the “Amazon of Europe”

Mura river from above

More than 32,000 acres of the Mura River and its crucial floodplains in Austria were declared a “biosphere reserve”—a major step toward conserving one of the richest natural areas in Europe. More than 53,000 WWF activists spoke up to protect the river last year.

UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations that focuses on education, science, and culture, gave the river this special designation that means the area can help promote solutions that conserve wildlife while ensuring that any use of the land is done in harmony with nature.  

The Mura, Drava, and Danube Rivers stretch across Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, and Serbia and jointly make up one of the most species and habitats rich landscapes of the European continent. The wildlife-rich, pristine wilderness is so immaculate it’s been dubbed the “Amazon of Europe.”

River mill on the Mura

The newly protected plains in Austria mark the starting point of a future, 2.5 million-acre biosphere reserve spanning five countries: Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, and Serbia.

Natural river flow in this area shapes new and vital habitats for many threatened animal and plant species, including more than 300 bird species. The white-tailed eagle is represented here with the highest density of breeding pairs across all continental Europe. Several fish species such as the sturgeon or the Danube salmon use the 435-mile length of the river system for migration. WWF and its natural protection partners from across all five involved countries have been working for the past 20 years to protect this area over the long-term as a biosphere reserve.

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 the climate crisis and species extinction it is not a luxury pastime but a matter of humankind`s survival to protect our last natural areas,” said Arno Mohl, the Mura-Drava-Danube program leader at WWF. “The new biosphere reserve is a first step away from nature exploitation and towards sustainable living together with nature.”