Regulatory measures, damming of tributaries, economic exploitation, the drainage of the floodplains and – from the mid-20th century onwards – the construction of run-of-river power plants (ten on the Danube in Austria) have massively changed the river and its environs.
In 1984, a major hydro-electric power plant was planned. Its construction would have destroyed one of the last free-flowing sections of the Danube with extensive floodplains between Vienna and Hainburg.
Resistance began with a protest march to the Hainburger Au - the large naturally occurring flood plain near Hainburg - on 8 December 1984. When the protests were ignored and clearance work began, the Stopfenreuther Au was occupied by thousands of people for days in December 1984. This, combined with protest actions all over Austria, finally brought the project to an end.
But it still took more than a decade before the Donau-Auen National Park was created in October 1996, stretching 38 km from Vienna to the confluence of the March and the Danube. This is one of the largest intact and continuous floodplains in Central Europe. In addition to nature conservation, river revitalisation projects are of decisive importance for the abundance of habitats and the enormous biodiversity of plants, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects and fish.
Protecting the biosphere and nature reserves along the Danube has become a major European goal in the 21st century.
Founded in 2014, the Danube River Network of Protected Areas brings together national and nature parks, biosphere and nature reserves from nearly all the Danube countries, including Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Germany.
The mission of the nonprofit DANUBEPARKS Association is to preserve, develop and restore one of the most important natural treasures of Europe and a backbone for biodiversity conservation.
The European Commission recognizes the Danube as the “most important non-oceanic body of water in Europe” and a “future central axis for the European Union”.