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Resilient Riparian Forests in the Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve

Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve

Riparian forests are threatened by environmental changes, unsustainable human activities, increased incidence of native and non-native pests and diseases as well as non-native plant species. This also affects natural regeneration of such forests. In addition, proper planting material is lacking while legislative limitations for transfer between countries are hindering the use of ecologically suitable forest reproductive material (FRM).

The REFOCuS project aims to counteract this state by developing a holistic strategy for both managed and protected forests, comprising appropriate silvicultural methods, conservation strategies and an international system that will aid identification of pests and diseases in riparian forests.

A consortium of five partner and six associate partner institutions from research, forestry and conservation are jointly taking on this task. The study area is the transnational Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve, recently extended to an area of nearly 850,000 ha in Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia. The entire core zone of this important ecological corridor – a belt of riparian forests along the three rivers – has been designated as part of the Natura 2000 framework.

Map of the transnational Mura-Drava-Danube Biosphere Reserve

The Austrian Research Centre for Forests (BFW) focuses on an improvement of silviculture and conservation practices, forest health and availability and use of suitable planting material across the Biosphere Reserve. We are modelling the distributions of seven target tree species under the current and future climate enabling the development of cross-border seed transfer zones that will help to overcome administrative restrictions. These delineations will be supported by common regional planting material transfer guidelines for planting material use and conservation respecting plant health aspects.

Stakeholder workshops and a questionnaire survey are being used to identify the stakeholders’ needs, their awareness of issues related to forests of the Biosphere Reserve, and beliefs and attitudes. Their results will help to derive management objectives.

The survey is being conducted in five languages and targets key stakeholders. Field assessments are being carried out along the three rivers to investigate the current state of the forests in the study area. To identify further challenges for forestry and conservation, we are also assessing the management systems, discrepancies from the potential natural vegetation, ecological conditions and habitat criteria, and occurrence of pests and pathogens. Demonstration sites for suitable silvicultural methods are being installed in five countries to facilitate knowledge transfer and stakeholder education. Furthermore, we are targeting the policy interface to raise political awareness.

The already available results of a questionnaire survey among experts on existing national seed transfer guidelines reveal issues with FRM availability and cross-border transfer. Legal and practical differences between the countries are to be tackled. The results of an international stakeholder workshop on the identification of needs and problems as well as an analysis of Natura 2000 data indicate major challenges for the management of the Biosphere Reserve.

The project began in 2018 and will finish in 2021. We expect the outcomes of REFOCuS to increase the resilience of riparian forests in the Biosphere Reserve and beyond to preserve all of the functions provided by these forests for the future.


Project website REFOCuSList of project partners

Logo of the Interreg Project Refocus with blue and green colour
Logo of the Interreg Project Refocus

Budget in Euro
Overall: 1503076,78
ERDF Contribution: 1101242,71
IPA Contribution: 176372,54
ENI Contribution: 0