The Danube is an ecological corridor of outstanding relevance for Europe, connecting more bio-geographic regions than any other European river, and hosting extremely rich biodiversity. The Danube islands represent unique sites in the river ecosystems, stand for intact river dynamics and sediment regime, and demonstrate the original beauty and natural rivers, valuable habitats with characteristic fauna and flora.
The DANUBEPARKS Network has already significantly improved coherence in Danube Protected Areas management through several previous Danube-wide cooperation projects. The partnership has focused on the protection of flagship species along the Danube, the preservation and restoration of river dynamics as well as enhancing nature tourism and environmental education programmes.
Danube-wide monitoring expeditions carried out in 2012 and 2014 stressed the outstanding value of Danube islands for characteristic biodiversity. As a follow-up, the first ever inventory of all Danube islands was carried out within the Interreg DANUBEparksCONNECTED project. The study showed that the Danube Wild Island Habitat Corridor comprises about 900 islands with an area of more than 138,000 ha; 385 islands can be characterized as "near-natural", of which 147 islands (14,000 ha) are still largely untouched by human use. In addition to that, these islands host some of the most pristine and well-preserved stands of alluvial forests, a habitat of European conservation concern.
The inventory revealed the great values of the islands, while previous monitoring showed that 90 % of bird flagship species breed on islands – they are flagship habitats for river dynamics.
The collected information on the islands, their state, conservation significance and contemporary threats inspired the creation of the LIFE WILDisland initiative.
In order to implement it, a cross-sector partnership has been formed, uniting the efforts of the Danube protected areas, navigation, forestry and hydropower sectors. First agreements with landowner and first pilot actions were carried out through the support of the INTERREG programme and the DANUBEparksCONNECTED project.
Two successful side arm revitalisations in Austria and Slovakia took place, while Persina Nature Park, Bulgaria tested island restoration through sediment removal from the side-arm behind the island. As means of habitat improvement, both Protected Areas in the Upper Danube tested concrete pilot activities of forest management and the elimination of invasive species on islands. Moreover, to build a base for follow-up steps, Duna-Ipoly National Park developed a modelling of the possible adaptation of hard structures on an island to bring it back to a more natural state.
The concept was used to develop the LIFE WILDisland project.