The Danube Basin is home to around 5,000 animal and 2,000 plant species. Of course, it’s difficult to implement protection actions for each one of them – but luckily, this isn’t necessary due to the concept of flagship species.

These flagship species (or umbrella species) have complex demands on their habitats, and therefore by preserving the habitats and dynamics that satisfy their needs, we are able to protect the living spaces of many more species. Additionally, these flagship species are usually attractive and fascinating animals, which is why they are also well-suited to demonstrating to the public the need to preserve their habitats and raise awareness for the effects that our lives have on natural environments.

The DANUBEPARKS Network focuses on various flagship species, like e.g. the White-tailed Eagle and the Sturgeon (described in this chapter), the Little-ringed Plover and Sand Martin (described under Monitoring) and the Black Poplar (described under Habitats).

White-tailed Eagle (© Hoyer)
The White-tailed Eagle, a majestic bird of prey, has two main populations in Europe: One in the area of the Baltic Sea, and one along the Danube. However, the population in the Danube region is mainly confined to the Hungarian-Croatian-Serbian border area with its vast wetlands. The reason for this is that the White-tailed Eagle needs large undisturbed areas, as it sometimes crosses around 80 kilometres in just one day to hunt and feed. In addition, it is very sensitive to human disturbance when breeding.

The Sturgeon is a fascinating fish species: It is a cartilaginous fish with a history dating back to the age of dinosaurs and has had few changes in its appearance since. The biggest can reach a length of eight metres! Six sturgeon species were once native to the Danube River; by now at least one is believed to be extinct in the region and the others are critically endangered. There are many reasons for this worrying status: Overexploitation by fishing and for caviar, disruption of their spawning migration route by the Iron Gates dams, loss of habitats due to river regulation and the introduction of non-domestic sturgeon species by fish farmers. Many of these problems are shared by other fish species; however for sturgeon these pressures have even greater effects, as sturgeon mature rather late in their life – at ages of between five and ten years. This is why they need much longer to recover from negative effects than many other fish.

Activities STEP 2.0

Monitoring White-tailed Eagle (© Persina Nature Park)
The second project builds on the successful elaboration of the Action Plan for White-tailed Eagle during the first joint project (see below) and now brings initial implementation actions to life: As a first step, transnational winter counts will be implemented in a coordinated way, as a means for coherent monitoring activities along the whole Danube. To raise awareness for the White-tailed Eagle, the public will be actively involved in all eight countries covered by the project.

Additionally, the Protected Areas will discuss their further work implementing the Action Plan, including the identification of stakeholders to cooperate with and funding to be used for the activities.

Activities 2009-2012

Opening of the sturgeon monument (© Kovacs)
The Action Plan for the Conservation of the White-tailed Eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) along the Danube was created during this project and was published by the Council of Europe / Bern Convention. A database brought together monitoring information from all Danube countries and is a long-lasting tool for coherent monitoring. Last but not least, an international conference on the White-tailed Eagle took place in autumn 2011 and brought together experts from all over Europe to discuss experience and future plans for protection of this fascinating bird of prey.

Regarding Sturgeons, two main activities were implemented: First, a public conference was organised in Tulcea (Romania) in 2011 to bring together international expertise on sturgeon conservation. Secondly, partners from the DANUBEPARKS Network, joined by universities and researchinstitutions, planned a Life+ project which was submitted in July 2011. Although the project was not selected, the partners are still active in the field, e.g. the DANUBEPARKS Network is represented in the recently founded Sturgeon Task Force.