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.


Bird Collision with electricity wires along rivers is an issue of European relevance. Given the well-known impact on bird life (hundred of killed birds/year/10km), the issue is becoming increasingly relevant among policymakers. The awareness differs strongly from country to country. The White-tailed Eagle Action Plan, elaborated by DANUBEPARKS experts, underlines the relevance of collision and electrocution, but the quantification of the impact differs more than for other threats, which is a clear indication of different levels of sensibilisation. Standards for solutions are already available but not yet in place.

The DANUBE FREE SKY campaign cooperates with the energy sector and develops a best-practice approach for European rivers. During the project preparation, an informal network with electricity providers was built up, resulting in cooperation agreements. This cross-sectoral cooperation is the key for a successful implementation of activities.

DANUBE FREE SKY builds a platform for cooperation between nature conservation and the energy sector, raises awareness, defines standards and demonstrates feasibility by implementing pilot actions in most Danube countries. It intends to formulate technical solutions against collision for all wires crossing the Danube, including a road map for its implementation. Standards for marking of power lines will be defined, with a focus on finding innovative marking methods such as marking the electricity wires by drone.

Activities STEP 2.0

Putting monitoring results on the map (© Kern / Donau-Auen National Park)
The second project built on the successful elaboration of the Action Plan for White-tailed Eagle during the first joint project (see below) and brought initial implementation actions to life: As a first step, a Danube-wide winter count was implemented in a coordinated way, as a means for coherent monitoring activities all along the river. This count was performed in cooperation with many local experts and NGOs, and the public was involved by various events in the countries to raise awareness.

Additionally, the Protected Areas discussed their further work on implementation of the Action Plan, including the identification of stakeholders to cooperate with and funding that might 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 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, several partners are still active in this field.

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.

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