River bed deepening and decrease of water level
One of the most important elements of the natural dynamic Drava ecosystem is the rich bed load of gravel and sand. Due to 22 hydropower dams, river regulation and gravel, as well as sand extraction, a significant bed load deficit in the remaining free flowing stretches can be observed. As a consequence, the river bed is continuously deepening (at an average of 3 cm/year), which causes a reduction of gravel, sand and steep banks, lowers the groundwater tables, reduces flood retention capacity, declines habitats, natural succession and floodplain forests dry out.
Decline of riverine habitats
The building of river structures, the extraction of sediments and disconnection of side-arms, together with an insufficient sediment transport from upstream, led to a straighter, shorter and narrower main river course. This led to continuous riverbed deepening, lowering of groundwater and surface water levels, disconnection of the floodplain areas and reduction of flood retention capacity. Side-arms, forests and other water bodies are drying out, which in turn leads to the decline of riverine habitats.
In the past 20 years, the Drava more and more became a local, regional and international destination for leisure activities such as fishing, canoeing and swimming. Increased human disturbance on gravel and sand banks have a negative impacts on birds, especially during their breeding season between May and July. Visitor guidance is urgently needed in the most sensitive breeding areas and seasons for river birds.
Lack of information on Natura 2000 on sites
Due to the lack of comprehensive information about the purpose and aims of Natura 2000 sites, and the fact that Natura 2000 sites have only been established recently, there is a considerable lack of awareness, not only on a local, but also on a regional level (daily tourists, cyclists, canoeists, anglers). Therefore, information and environmental education on Natura 2000 and the LIFE project will form an important part of this project.
Insufficient inter-sectoral cooperation in river management
In the past decade, river management in Croatia was often characterized by different views of nature conservation, NGOs and water management. The new legal obligations for Croatia which derive from the EU policies on water and nature protection, along with funding mechanisms such as LIFE, provide a good platform to develop a synergetic approach which will enable closer and better cooperation between relevant sectors.
Lack of international cooperation
Issues and challenges in terms of water management and nature conservation are comparable in all Drava River basin countries (i.e. in Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary). This makes it clear, that joint international cooperation needs to be improved. A first step to achieve this was the „Drava River Vision” (Maribor, 2008) which was followed by a joint ministerial agreement between Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia for the establishment of the Transboundary UNESCO Biosphere Reserve “Mura-Drava-Danube”. The transfer of know-how and involvement of different international experts should furthermore improve the cooperation between Drava countries.