The Path to Becoming a National Park

Up until into the 19th century, the Danube was an untamed river. Then humans drastically altered the ecological balance of this riverine environment through extensive regulation and straightening, all in order to protect the area from flooding and to improve the conditions for navigation. Many side arms were dammed up and ever since, are only replenished when the Danube floods. The Marchfeld protective barrier cut off broad portions of the wetlands from the effects of the Danube. Other massive interventions occurred through intensive forestry operations in broad sections of the riparian woods. In the 1950s, construction of a nearly unbroken chain of hydroelectric power stations along the Austrian Danube commenced. This affected the ecology of the entire riverine system. Next to the Wachau, only one remaining free-flowing river section existed - the section of the Danube east of Vienna.

First protection considerations and protection provisions

• starting 1973 initial plans for a Danube-March-Thaya Wetlands National Park

• 1978 Designation of the Lobau as a nature protection zone (from 1977 Lower Lobau also a UNESCO biosphere reserve, but currently no longer valid)

• 1982 Danube-March-Thaya wetlands in Lower Austria are declared to be a nature preserve

• 1983 Danube-March-Thaya wetlands and the Lower Lobau are designated Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention

In 1984, the planned construction of a power plant near Hainburg threatened to destroy the last remaining long section of the free-flowing Danube and its riparian forests. Calls to action by all conservation and environmental groups led to nationwide protests. As the operators of the power plant were to about to begin construction, a peaceful occupation of the wetland forests at Stopfenreuth by thousands of people of all ages and social classes took place - the legendary "Hainburger Wetlands Sit-In". After many unsuccessful attempts by the police in December 1984 to clear the area of protesters, the federal government ordered a cessation of activities in order to reconsider the situation.

Large-scale scientific studies were commissioned and surprising findings were laid bare. For example, there were far more fish species to be found in the Danube than had thought to exist during the planning phases of the power plant. Yet the most important finding of all the studies was that the Danube wetlands in and around Vienna were worthy of national park status. It was then determined that the presence of a power plant could not be reconciled with a national park.

In 1989/90, a large area of the Regelsbrunner wetlands (411 hectares) was obtained during the course of the WWF campaign "Ransom the Environment". In 1990, a contract was drawn up between the Republic of Austria and the federal provinces of Lower Austria and Vienna for the establishment of a national park. From 1991 to 1995, the operating company Marchfeldkanal carried out planning for the national park.

On 27 October 1996, a treaty on the establishment and maintenance of a Donau-Auen National Park was signed by minister of the environment Martin Bartenstein, Vienna mayor Michael Häupl, and Lower Austria provincial governor Erwin Pröll on authority of the Republic of Austria and the federal provinces Vienna and Lower Austria in accordance with Article 15a of the federal constitution. With that, the Donau-Auen National Park had officially been founded.