It sounds like a paradise: Being the largest protected river basin in Europe, the transboundary Mura-Drava-Danube is about to become the first five-country (Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia) biosphere reserve in the world under the auspices of UNESCO. The reserve covers an area of about 8,300 km2, which is comparable to more than one million soccer fields. Being extremely rich in biodiversity, it harbours high ecological and cultural diversity and heritage. Therefore, and not surprising, the reserve attracts the interests of manifold stakeholders and interest groups. Forests play a special role in the discussion: They cover 27 % of the total area of the reserve and 61 % of its core zone, while providing multiple ecosystem services including habitats for wildlife and a unique biodiversity, wood and non-wood forest products for forest owners carbon sequestration and many more. Also, local residents use the forest as a recreation area, and a growing numbers of tourists is demanding their space as well. With so many interests tied to the same area, as best practice, participatory approaches are used to decide on management options and biodiversity conservation.
One of the aims of the participatory REFOCuS project was to provide guidance on riparian (= located at the riverside) forest management to forest and conservation managers in the biosphere reserve and beyond. The participatory process was initiated in 2018 with a workshop in Slovenia, aiming at finding an acceptable solution for various stakeholders. Here, the diverse views of foresters, conservation managers, forest nurseries and hunters were discussed. The workshop was attended by 37 stakeholders coming from public administration, SMEs, NGOs and research institutions from forestry and conservation sectors from all five countries. The discussion revealed a common list of relevant topics on riparian forests which was used as an outline for the future manual for forest and conservation managers. Throughout the REFOCuS project, solutions for these topics were developed within several activities and deliverables. Afterwards, these solutions were compiled within a handbook outline and discussed again with stakeholders in an online workshop in 2020. Finally, the outlines were jointly finalised into chapters by project partners and stakeholders, public administration, SMEs and NGOs.
The outcome of the process is a handbook on perspectives for forest and nature conservation management of riparian forests, which will be available in six languages from July 2021 as a printed copy or on the project webpage at http://www.interreg-danube.eu/refocus. It is also important to mention here that the Interreg Europe project BIOGOV inspired the participatory approaches used to draft this book.
This article was prepared by Marjana Westergren (Slovenian Forestry Institute, Slovenia), Gregor Božič (Slovenian Forestry Institute, Slovenia), Mladen Ivankovič (Croatian Forest Research Institute), Laszlo Nagy (University of Sopron, Hungary), Simon Poljanšek (Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, Slovenia), Silvio Schüler (Austrian Research Centre for Forests BFW, Austria), and Srdjan Stojnič (Institute of Lowland Forestry and Environment, Serbia)
Featured image: M. Sallmannshofer