Located in the eastern part of the country, this biosphere reserve includes the largest preserved complex of floodplains in Slovenia, where the interweaving of natural factors and human presence has created an exceptional cultural riverine landscape.
It is a tributary of the Drava River and subsequently part of Danube River Basin. Pilot area is defined in the inner water body of Mura River where both banks are located in Slovenia. Catchment area covers a total surface of over 122,3 km2. Mura is as a pearl of the Danube river system, hiding 66 qualifying species and 9 qualifying habitat types (Natura 2000). In 2018, Mura River was certified as UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, with a huge local and national awareness about importance of biodiversity - more than 200 species of birds have been identified here, rare and endangered species from the Red List grow on the wetland meadows, 35 indigenous species fish listed on the Red list of endangered fish and lampreys and 22 on the list of the Habitats Directive.
The main sources of income for residents are agriculture, industry, forestry and tourism. Mura River covers 68 km2 of intensive agriculture, 34 km2 of forest and 11 km2 of settlements. 37% of the pilot area is classified as ecologically important area (The Nature Conservation Act), the forests directly along the Mura River being defined as protective forests (Forest Act). It is also nominated by five countries Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia to became transboundary biosphere reserve along the Mura-Drava and Danube Rivers.
Why is it suitable for testing the IDES tool?
@Simon Lendvai, Slovenia Forest Service
It encompasses a large number of habitat types which are important at the national and international levels (in the Continental Biogeographical Region and in Europe), in particular wetlands and floodplain forests; due to the complex ecological conditions, the core area is a mosaic of well-preserved characteristic habitats of the middle sections of dynamic river floodplains, proving its high ecological value.
Biodiversity destruction and decrease
In past, differnet measures which lead to degradation of nature environment and decrease in biodiversity were taken. Stakeholders on local and national level recognised this so in past three decades a lot of resources and knowledge were invested into regeneration and revitalisation of the area. Area was protected on different levels, thorough diverse mechanisms and all the activities lead to protecting the biodiversity. This lead to increasement of the biodiversity in the area.
Changed sedimentation and transport
Hydropower plants on Mura River in Austria have a big impact on changed sedimentation and transport of the material and minerals in the river. Luckily, in Slovenia, there are no hydropower plants yet. The idea and plans to use Mura river on Slovenian territory for hydropower occurred in 1970s, but was abandoned due to pressure from local residents, NGOs, different national agencies and other experts. At the end of 19th and in the beginning of 20th century, the embankments were built to protect settlements and arable lands before annual floods. These embankments are located between 400 – 1000 meters from riverbed. The embankments have a positive impact on protecting settlements and arable lands from floodwaters, but this has also impact on sedimentation and transport in comparison with past.
Annual flooding occurs in spring (usually in March and April) when the snow in the Alps melts and there is also an increased amount of rainfall and then again in autumn (usually in October and November) where there is more rainfall. Settlements and agricultural land is protected from annual floods with embankments (located between 400 – 1000 m from riverbed). Inside the flooded area there is mostly infrastructure related to tourism and recreation – buildings are from example built on 50 – 100 cm high pillars and the interior is therefore protected from high waters.
Limited tourism and recreation
Tourism and recreation are two sectors, which developed in past few decades. Area around Mura River was recognized with big and important natural value. Nowadays the infrastructure inside floodplain areas is in many cases developed for these two sectors. Gravel roads nearby Mura River and in floodplain forests offer a great jogging, hiking and cycling experience. In flooded gravel pits, the population of different fish species have evolved and these locations are therefore a popular fishing locations – as well as Mura River itself. Swimming, kayaking, SUPing and other water-related recreational activities are also very much present in this area. Different educational trails were built. With development of infrastructure and recreational activities, tourism activities also evolved. Brod vessels, which were in past used for transport from one bank to another, are now mostly used as a tourist attraction. Here we must not forget on mills on Mura river. Local culinary offer has also evolved around this area and the tourists are also attracted by different cultural events, costumes, exploration of traditional local crafts.
Ecosystem services provided by Mura River
The importance of preserving the Mura River include the multiple ecosystem services that it provides. Landscape in the catchment of Mura pilot area did not change drastically over years. Main changes happened through the implementation of water management measures regarding regulating water course of inner Mura. In the 1970s high-water embankments were built to protect settlements and agricultural areas outside of today’s floodplain. Current use of this area is manly floodplain forest as it was in the past, because area was not suitable for agriculture and settlement.
Provisioning services refer to products obtained from the eco-system and this includes production of timber mostly for heating, water for drinking and irrigation, some arable land for crop production and some grasslands. Pilot area provides also commercial fishing in abandoned gravel pits. Flooded forest provides living space for wildlife and management of wildlife is needed.
Regulating services refer to the benefits obtained from the regulation of ecosystem processes. Flood retention is base for other regulating ESS because it excludes to a large extent intensive use of land. Other regulating ESS such as drought risk regulation, local climate regulation, air purification, nutrient retention and habitat related services follow the retention area.
In the past, Mura River was the only source of energy for densely populated surroundings. Nowadays there is no need for this kind of energy use. Floating water mills and brod vessels have remained as part of the cultural heritage, nicely complemented by tourism, recreation and education.