The floodplains and wetlands of the Danube basin are uniquely valuable ecosystems in European and even global terms, although few areas are still in their natural or even near-natural state.
According to a study conducted in the framework of the Danube Pollution Reduction Programme, over the last two centuries in particular, most of the larger floodplain areas have disappeared – including up to 80% of the total wetland area along the Danube and its larger tributaries, the Prut, Tisza, Sava, Drava, and Morava.
Wetlands are highly productive ecosystems and provide habitats for many species, including endangered ones. They are, however, sensitive ecosystems that can easily suffer from degrading riverbed erosion, pollution, intensive forestry, hunting and intensive recreational use, as well as measures for flood protection, agriculture and navigation.
Besides their ecological value, floodplains can have a considerable positive effect on water quality and nutrient levels. Wetlands also serve as retention areas and help to even out flood peaks and reduce flood damage by storing surplus water.
Facts and Figures
The "taming" of wild rivers to improve flood prevention, navigation, agricultural production, and energy production, has shortened the length of the Bavarian Danube by 21% and the length of the River Tisza in Hungary by 31%. Drainage ditches and dykes were built on about 3.7 million hectares of permanently or seasonally inundated land in Hungary during the 19th and 20th century. Some 80% of Romania’s floodplains were likewise drained under agricultural intensification schemes during the 1960s and 1970s.
What the ICPDR is doing
Floodplains in the Danube River Basin were surveyed and evaluated by WWF, as part of the Danube Pollution Reduction Programme, in order to identify the wetlands best suited for restoration. These restoration sites have been included in the Joint Action Programme and in a number of locations rehabilitation measures are being implemented by the Danube Countries (see map: Ecological potential of floodplains in the Danube River Basin).
The status of wetlands and floodplains, their reconnection potential as well as respective measures needed are currently investigated and applied in the frame of the Danube River Basin Management Plan (according to the WFD).
The Lower Danube Green Corridor Initiative, a framework for co-operation and co-ordination between the countries of the Lower Danube (Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine), aiming to protect and restore floodplain ecosystems, has been established and is providing support to floodplain conservation and restoration efforts.
As part of this initiative, a World Bank-GEF demonstration project in Bulgaria is focusing on the restoration and sustainable management of thousands of hectares of marsh and wetlands along the Danube – aiming to reduce nutrient levels, improve water quality and protect biodiversity.
Evaluation of Wetlands and Floodplain Areas (2.95 MB) Evaluation of Wetlands and Floodplain Areas in the Danube River Basin, Final Report, May 1999. The Study has been undertaken to define priority wetland and floodplain rehabilitation sites as a component of the Danube Pollution Reduction Programme.
- Ecological potential of floodplains in the Danube River Basin (940.28 KB)
ICPDR Danube Watch: Danube Day 2006: River of Life