Conservation

Since the founding of the national park, the ecological equilibrium of the Danube wetlands has already been improved in some vital areas. New perspectives have been created, particularly in regard to the formative environmental factors of the riverine landscape. Additional projects and co-operative activities are planned in the coming years whose aims are the continued improvement of the ecological situation of the Danube wetlands east of Vienna.

Habitat: Water

The regulation of the Danube in the 19th century and its continual engineering and augmentation have changed the wetlands landscape decisively and counteract any natural development of the wetlands ecosystem. The main objective of national park water engineering activities is eschewing the construction of "hard" hydraulic structures which are perceived to be no longer necessary. Where this is not possible, the natural morphological structure of the river should be hindered as little as possible. Landscape-shaping forces (accretion of sediment, erosion, vegetation growth) should be reactivated and the most natural equilibrium possible should be restored.
All river connectivity activities on and near the Danube should follow this principle. On the one hand, the goal is to encourage the freest possible flow of water into the side arms; on the other hand, traverses in the side arms are to be removed or at the very least, changed in such a way as to allow the flow of water.

Forest

The value of the forest areas in the National Park lies above all in their large-scale floodplain-typical character and in the high potential for the water-dominated course of forest development, which is largely unguided by humans.

The different age stages offer different species habitat, food and reproduction opportunities. Habitat structures such as trees with large trunk diameters, habitat trees and deadwood in a wide variety of forms can only be found to a minor extent in the forests used for forestry outside the protected area. In particular, these structures of later development phases are used by numerous insect, bird and fungus species that are endangered today.

Due to their out-of-use status and free development, the forests in the national park have a high degree of closeness to nature and a high conservation value, even where, away from the water-dominated sites, the forest areas no longer correspond to the typical alluvial forest character.

Detailed principles for ongoing forest management are formulated in the management plan. A 30-year transition period (ending in 2028) has been defined for the forest areas of the national park. Within this period, forest management conversion measures, such as the repression of invasive neophytes (Götterbaum, ash maple) or stand-by-stand conversions of hybrid poplar populations, are possible. Forest areas in which no further interventions take place are designated as "nature zone with completed management measures" in the Lower Austrian Management Plan 2009-2018.

Measures in the forest

  • Measures in the forest

  • Regular monitoring is carried out for the forest areas in the national park area in order to document their development. A digital cartographic forest map and an area-wide forest survey (taxation) are available for the entire national park area.

  • Stands with native tree species are no longer interfered with.

  • Stands that do not correspond to the original forest image, especially in terms of species composition and structure, are partially converted, e.g. stands with >70% hybrid poplar in the Mannswörth area.

  • To enrich the forest areas with deadwood, felled or dead wood is partly left in the forest.

  • Old game protection fences are removed.

  • Forest roads that are no longer needed are abandoned or deconstructed.

  • Targeted interventions can be carried out in order to push back "invasive" woody plants that have been introduced and have a strong tendency to self-propagate (black locust, goddess tree, ash maple, Pennsylvanian ash). The preferred method is ringing: strips of bark are removed in a ring. The treated trees die slowly and are less stimulated to re-sprout.

  • Dangerous trees: Despite the above mentioned prohibition of intervention in native tree species, there is an obligation to secure paths and liability for paths, which according to the existing legal situation (§§ 1319 and 1319a ABGB) makes intervention necessary to ensure the safety of National Park guests and facilities. The necessary measures should be taken with the greatest possible sensitivity.

Open and cultivated landscape

Certain historically evolved habitats with high nature conservation value are also consciously preserved and maintained in the National Park. They enrich the diversity of the landscape and ensure species richness without having a significant negative impact on the natural development perspective of the area as a whole. To ensure the preservation of these open land habitats (e.g. meadows, hotlands), interventions are permitted; these are regulated in the management plan of the protected area.

Meadows

On the basis of xeric habitat and meadow mapping, rare meadow types continue to be managed and maintained for reasons of species protection and as a landscape characterising element. These are located in the nature zone with management, which allows maintenance interventions for nature conservation purposes.

Regular mowing with removal of the mown material is the most important prerequisite for maintaining the quality of the meadows. Fertiliser and pesticide application on meadows in the National Park is prohibited. Most of the areas are to be mown twice a year. Most of the meadows are mown by local farmers. They are allocated by the two national park forestry administrations.

The flowering periods of special protected species, e.g. the Siberian iris and the common ragwort, are specifically taken into account when implementing meadow management. On large meadows in the floodplain, the extremely late-breeding and therefore highly endangered corncrake is promoted through a special management concept.

Xeric Habitat

Xeric habitats are subject to natural succession. However, due to the lack of hydrological dynamics, hardly any new open areas are created that follow the character of a hotland in their development, so the early stages of hotland succession in particular have already become very rare.

In order to preserve these extremely dry and species-rich open habitats as a special feature of the Lobau, emerging woody plants must be removed regularly. In some cases, teams of volunteers are deployed for this purpose.

Dykes

The primary objective on the dyke is flood protection. The maintenance measures here are the responsibility of viadonau.

Valuable vegetation has developed on the dyke areas due to the sunlight and the dryness associated with the sediment build-up, which is also to be preserved as a habitat for the special fauna through appropriate mowing management.

A special mowing plan was developed, which also takes into account the small-scale requirements of special sites and the protected species present (especially the European pond turtle and orchids). A continuous maintenance concept therefore exists for the entire dyke.

Game regulation

Hunting and game management have been completely discontinued in the National Park. Shooting is now only carried out within the framework of game population regulation. This is implemented in the National Park by the respective landowners, primarily the management departments of the City of Vienna, the Municipal Department 49 (Forestry Office and Urban Agriculture) and the ÖBf (Österreichischen Bundesforste, or Austrian National Forests). Only "cloven-hoofed game" is regulated, i.e. wild boar, roe deer, red deer and introduced species such as corsican wild sheep and fallow deer. Game regulation in the National Park is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the management plans. Human intervention is to be minimised, large game rest areas have been established.

For the management of cloven-hoofed game in the Austrian National Parks, a guiding principle has been elaborated, which sets out the strategic goals and the essential guidelines for the regulation of game levels in the large-scale protected areas. These include, for example, the equality and equal value of each game species (regardless of whether it can be hunted or not), natural or near-natural selection and the free choice of location of the game.

The primary goal for a large part of the national park area is a development that is as uninfluenced by humans as possible and an undisturbed course of natural processes. This means that there is no hunting in the park as a matter of principle. The natural living conditions for wildlife are extremely limited due to major changes in the national park environment, which has been shaped by humans. With the exception of flood events and diseases, natural regulation mechanisms are lacking in the Donau-Auen National Park.

In order to avoid game damage in the National Park area and to prevent the development of swine fever, the wild boar population is regulated. The regeneration of the forest is impaired when the population density of red deer is too high, therefore its population is subject to regulation. In Vienna, this also applies to roe deer. The introduced species of wild sheep and fallow deer are taken out for basic considerations.

Game population regulation in the National Park is carried out in accordance with the provisions of the management plans without trophy hunting. Human intervention is limited to what is absolutely necessary and is carried out with as little disturbance as possible; large wildlife rest areas have been established. Necessary interventions within the framework of game population regulation are documented and regularly evaluated. The use of lead-free ammunition has already been largely introduced for hunting in national park areas.

Game-ecological spatial planning

The Donau-Auen National Park is a central part of the Alpine-Carpathian trans-European natural corridor, which facilitates the biogenetic exchange between these large areas. However, the remaining migration opportunities for large wild animals to the north-east and south of the National Park are threatened by road, commercial and housing development as well as hunting gates. Together with partners such as ÖBf and BOKU Vienna, the National Park is taking initiatives to raise awareness of this problem in the region and among planning authorities.

Conservation of Species

In the Donau-Auen National Park, biodiversity and endangered species are protected primarily through preservation and development of habitats as well as through the wetland's characteristic dynamic processes. An integral component of the modern National Park approach to conservation is preserving habitats on a large scale and allowing the natural ecological framework to prevail. In certain instances however, special programmes have been developed to protect individual species.

Note: The species protection measures in the Donau-Auen National Park are funded by the Rural Development Programme with the support of the Province of Lower Austria and the European Commission.

European Pond Turtle

The last intact population of the European Pond Turtle, the only native turtle species in Austria, is specially promoted in cooperation with the Schönbrunn Zoo. The successful project in the national park area includes the areas of nesting site protection, research and public relations. On the Schlossinsel, the open-air area of the schlossORTH National Park Centre, the European Pond Turtles can be experienced by guests.

Gravel-breeding birds

Gravel-breeding bird species such as the Little Ringed Plover and the Sandpiper are important indicator species for the ecological quality of the banks of flowing waters. In the area of the Donau-Auen National Park, these specialised birds find suitable breeding sites and food. Monitoring is therefore carried out on an ongoing basis in cooperation with viadonau and BirdLife Austria.

White-tailed eagle

Over the last 20 years, the white-tailed eagle has been able to re-establish itself in the National Park with several pairs throughout the year, and annual breeding successes have been observed. The focus of the support measures for the white-tailed eagle is on calming the areas around the nests, especially during the breeding season in late winter. In addition, another focus of protection is on the one hand on the juvenile years of the animals and on the other hand on gaining knowledge about the large-scale habitat of the species. The use of space is investigated with the help of transmitter measurements of young animals in order to be able to meet the requirements of the animals as well as to recognise unnatural causes of death and to be able to better avoid them in the future.

European mudminnow

The Euopean mudminnow, a typical inhabitant of stagnant waters with muddy bottoms, was considered extinct in Austria until it was rediscovered in remnant populations in the Danube wetlands at the beginning of the 1990s. The most important conservation measure was the revitalisation of the Fadenbach. In addition, captive-bred mudminnows were released into suitable water bodies. In cooperation with the Schönbrunn Zoo, conservation and presentation breeding is carried out on an ongoing basis.

Corncrake

The corncrake used to be a widespread bird of the Danube wetlands. From the 1960s onwards, however, it began to decline drastically. The most important measure to promote this shy bird is a later and staggered mowing of the floodplain meadows to ensure successful breeding. The potential breeding areas are regularly monitored in the national park area in order to be able to initiate necessary protection measures in time.

Deadwood beetles and other deadwood inhabitants

The biodiversity in deadwood, which provides a habitat for countless organisms, is enormous. For many animals such as birds, bats and insects of all kinds, deadwood structures are essential for spending part to most of their lives in them. In the Donau-Auen National Park, deadwood structures are consciously left and enriched in order to make this valuable habitat usable again for the many creatures that depend on it. For particularly endangered species such as the deadwood beetle alpine longhorn beetle, scarlet flat beetle or oak longhorn beetle, targeted mapping is carried out and its findings are incorporated into the management.

German tamarisk & Dwarf bulrush

Both species are pioneer species that were typical for the Danube wetlands before the Danube was regulated. On extreme sites where they have to survive drought and flooding, they can hold their own against competitors. Habitat loss and loss of structure-forming processes have constantly decimated both species.

They are currently classified as critically endangered in Austria and extinct in the national park area. Hydraulic engineering measures and renaturation projects have led to improvements in habitat quality for these plants in recent years. For some years now, breeding has been used to try to preserve the species and reintroduce them into their natural habitat at suitable sites.

Other species supported by special promotion and monitoring programmes

In addition to these representatives, there are many other rare species that are supported by special promotion and research programmes in the Donau-Auen National Park. These include the plants black poplar, common ash, wild grapevine, crayfish claw and several orchid species. Among the animals, increased attention is paid to various bat species, European ground squirrel, beaver, imperial eagle, kingfisher, dice snake, sterlet, Danube crested newt and primeval crayfish.

Research

In all nature conservation projects, science is of course also called upon, in the broad spectrum of disciplines and in all its manifestations. The National Park Society endeavours to build up a research network and to establish national park research and the issues and topics important for the National Park in the research focus areas of cooperating universities and research institutions. Specific support is offered for all university levels, which is intended to promote not only individual projects, but above all the further development of cooperation.

Research in the national park area is promoted through ongoing contact with national and international research institutions, through specialist excursions and support for special courses on floodplain ecology issues, through the establishment of databases and a small laboratory, through support for diploma theses and through the internship programme, as well as through practical assistance with authorities and with work in the field.