Blue blossoms on the iris meadow, © Naturpark Jauerling-Wachau

Colorful diversity & habitats worthy of protection

The coexistence of river landscapes, dry grasslands, slope meadows, near-natural forests, vineyard terraces, orchards, and small-structured landscape elements makes up the ecological significance of the nature park.

The different habitats are refuges for 30 different types of orchids (e.g., Adriatic lizard orchid) and over 100 butterfly species. Rare bird species such as peregrine falcon, black stork, eagle owl, common kingfisher, and European hoopoe can be observed; and bee-eaters and white-tailed eagles are regular guests. In the tributaries and sheltered from waves shallow water zones of the Danube, young fish are able to survive. Over 50 species of fish – such as huchen (or Danube salmon) and the common nase – as well as beavers and otters can be found. The meadows are home to ground squirrels, praying mantis, and bush-cricket; further, the heraldic animal of the Wachau - the Western green lizard - feels particularly at home in the traditional and ecologically valuable dry-stone walls.

Dry grasslands in the Wachau

The dry grasslands along the Danube have been used as extensive pastures since the Middle Ages. These Wachau dry biotopes were grazed until the second half of the 20th century. This contributed significantly to the emergence and development of a dry grassland vegetation on the former pastures. Today, there is hardly any livestock farming in the Wachau, many meadows lie fallow and become overgrown with bushes. However, some particularly valuable areas are being preserved by committed conservationists, vintners, and the WachauVolunteer project. Special species of these dry grasslands include feather grass, pasqueflower, globeflower and Siberian bellflower, bush cricket, green lizard, Damon blue, sail swallowtail and many more.

Jauerling rough meadows

On the high plain of the Jauerling and its Waldviertel region flanks near Raxendorf and Weiten, livestock and dairy farming are still practiced, although many farms have given up and the land is often subsequently converted into Christmas tree crops. Nevertheless, a large-scale, coherent meadowland still exists here with traditional and species-rich landscape elements such as ridges, embankments, orchard meadows, and terrace structures. These small-structured elements are irreplaceable habitats for birds, small animals, and insects, such as woodlark and red-backed shrike, as well as scarce large blue, Bohemian gentian and Lady’s bedstraw.

Natural forests with deadwood

While the Jauerling summit is dominated by spruce forests, mixed oak and hornbeam forests can also be found on the lower slopes and on shallow and warm sites throughout the Danube valley. Along the Danube, remnants of the original meadow landscape can still be found. Beautiful populations of copper beech can be found on the partly very steep western flanks of the Jauerling. Deciduous forests with a high proportion of deadwood are particularly valuable, as they provide habitats for rare beetles such as the hermit beetle, the great oak beetle, or the very rare violet click beetle.

Danube and tributaries

The heart of the Wachau is the free-flowing Danube. Over a length of 33 km, the river has created one of the most beautiful valleys and water gaps in the world: rugged cliffs alternate with alluvial areas, oak forests and dry grasslands rich in different species. Structures such as gravel banks, steep banks and potholes are created by the natural water dynamics, which is otherwise hardly possible on the Danube. Tributaries offer protected spawning grounds, winter shelters, and resting zones to numerous fish species. Endangered Danube fish such as huchen (Danube salmon), common nase, pigo, striped ruffle, streber, and zingel find important habitats here. The kingfisher also benefits from the dynamics of this habitat: it digs its breeding tube into the rare steep banks. Beavers and otters also have their habitat alongside the Wachau Danube.