Riparian forest habitats are a substantial part of the river ecosystem. Sadly, around 90% of these zones have been lost in the past century due to human intervention. DANUBEparksCONNECTED aims to restore riparian forests by detecting gaps in the riparian forest corridor for conservation or restoration measures. Such reforestation activities can mitigate climate change significantly by raising the carbon storage capacity of the Danube riparian zones.
Danube Riparian Forest Fitness Check
To determine the current status of riparian forests as habitat corridors throughout the Danube, a Riparian Forest Fitness Check was carried out, based on satellite data from the Copernicus Land Monitoring Services, a unique dataset on riparian zones. The GIS data was analysed based on factors such as the size of forest complexes and fragmentation, as well as habitat typology. Built upon the Fitness Check, a roadmap towards a Riparian Forest Corridor was jointly developed.
Testing and demonstrating the Riparian Forest Corridor
In Slovakia, Hungary and Serbia, as well as in Bulgaria and Romania, much focus was put on the reforestation of gap areas in-between intact forest complexes with domestic species, the conversion of plantations used by intense forestry into native stands, and the management of invasive alien tree species.
Diverse and productive riparian forests are of outstanding importance for bat conservation, as they prefer habitats of old growth forests. To put the results of the Riparian Forest Fitness Check to the test, a survey of bats as indicator species was conducted in the Upper, Middle and Lower Danube, examining about 100 sampling sites. Outstanding results show that Protected Areas house an abundance of species of great significance.
The survey also indicates that 10-20 m3 of standing dead and hollow trees per hectare are recommended for a healthy riparian forest habitat.
A deep-rooted strategy
The protection of Riparian Forests requires strong cross-sector cooperation. Three study visits in the Upper, Middle, and Lower Danube brought Protected Areas and forest enterprises together.
These study visits presented a good opportunity to discuss pilot actions, demonstrate good practice projects, and plan follow-up activities regarding the Riparian Forest Corridor.