Three new Ramsar sites in Hungary dedicated to the 2010 biodiversity target

Three new Ramsar sites in Hungary dedicated to the 2010 biodiversity target

4 October 2006

Hungary designates three new Ramsar sites

H.E. Miklós Persány, the Hungarian Minister for Environment and Water Management, hosted a special ceremony on 29 September 2006 at the new Ramsar site Nyirkai-Hany, part of the Fertö-Hanság National Park. This new site is remarkable for the fact that, where the public can now enjoy rich wetland wildlife and scenery, only a few years ago a monotone agricultural polder was all that remained from the, until the early 19th century, regularly inundated extensive Hanság floodplain, before the intensive drainage works started. With Dutch support, a wetland restoration project was able to create a spectacular new wetland area which provides a net contribution to maintaining and restoring biodiversity. Hungary therefore used the Ramsar ceremony, providing international recognition to its efforts for wetland conservation and restoration, for the signature of its “Countdown 2010 Declaration” to contribute to the UN millennium target to halt or significantly reduce the current rate of biodiversity loss by the year 2010, signed by the Environment Minister and Tamás Marghescu, IUCN’s regional director for Europe.

During the ceremony, the status of “Wetland of International Importance” was also attributed to the upper Kiskunság alkaline steppe wetlands, part of the Kiskunsági National Park, representing a specific Hungarian wetland type, typical for the Pannonian biogeographical region and complementing earlier designated steppe Ramsar areas in Hungary. This was particularly timely in light of this year’s environmental focus on wetlands in drylands, as part of the UN campaign “don’t desert drylands”.

The third new Ramsar site covers the floodplain of the river Rába, a tributary to the Danube, originating in upstream Austria. This highlights the transboundary nature of many of Hungary’s wetland sites. Already, the upper Tisza river plain and the Baradla-Domica cave system have been formally recognized by Hungary and its Slovak neighbours as Transboundary Ramsar Sites. The Fertö-Neusiedl lake area, where for some time already Austrian and Hungarian National Park administrations have been working closely together, could follow soon.

A fourth Ramsar Site diploma was handed to the director of the Danube-Ipoly National Park in charge of the management of the existing Tata, Öreg-tó (Old Lake) Ramsar site, which was, on this occasion, substantially expanded from 269 to 1,633 hectares to include a much larger wetland area in the floodplain and renamed to Lakes of Tata.

Felsö-Kiskunsági szikes puszták (Upper Kiskunság alkaline steppes). 29/09/06; Bács-Kiskun, Pest; 13,632 ha; 47°04'N 019°10'E. National Park, Natura 2000 SPA, UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The intermittent sodic-alkaline marshes and meadows of Kiskunság are a special example of continental saline ecosystems which are characteristic, unique wetland habitat types of the Pannonic biogeographic region. The site presents a high variation of marshes, sodic meadows, grazing lands, sodic terrace and barrens with a typical vegetation consisting of various salt-resistant and halophyte species. The site is important for birds as a nesting, feeding and roosting site and supports more than 20,000 Anseriiformes and Charadriiformes during migration period, and it is one of the Hungarian strongholds for Otis tarda and Himantopus himantopus. The area is used for traditional Hungarian extensive farmland lifestyle with special regard to domestic semi-nomadic animal grazing. Water regulation, extensive agricultural pollution has been followed by a decreasing groundwater level, drying the area and contributing to succession caused by decreasing grazing pressure and the invasion of alien species. About 2,000 hectares of wetlands have already been restored under the management of the Kiskunsági National Park and Biosphere Reserve, to which most of the site belongs. Ramsar site no. 1646. Most recent RIS information: 2006.

Nyirkai-Hany. 29/09/06; Györ-Moson-Sopron; 460 ha, 47°42'N 017°11'E. National Park, Natura 2000. Situated in the Hanság peat lowland, which was previously regularly flooded by Danube and Rába tributaries before it was drained for agricultural purposes in the 19th century. In 2001, a wetland restoration project was started with Dutch support in the agricultural polders, based on flooding to create open water surfaces, reedbeds, reedmace beds, and tall grass-dominated plant communities. Within a short time the area gained great importance as bird habitat for raptors such as Aquila clanga, Haliaeetus albicilla and Falco cherrug, as well as a nesting and feeding place for waterbirds such as Podiceps cristatus, Botaurus stellaris and Platalea leucorodia. It is also an important wintering site for the Anser anser and Anser albifrons, and it supports, amongst many fish species, Misgurnus fossilis, Abramis brama and Silurus glanis. The site has an important role in the recharge of groundwater and serves as a reservoir in the flood control of the Rába river. Intensive agricultural and recreational use, plus peat extraction in the surrounding areas, have adverse affects on water management and increase of desiccation. Most recently the Fertö-Hanság National Park, of which the site is part, began complex ecological monitoring work to ensure long-term conservation management. Ramsar site no. 1644. Most recent RIS information: 2006.

Rába valley (Rába-völgy). 29/09/06; Vas; 10,961 hectares, 47°02'N 016°40'E. Landscape Park. The largest valley of Western Transdanubia, comprising the floodplains along the river Rába from the Austrian border downstream. The Rába meanders largely freely and yearly floods maintain the natural dynamic of oxbows, shifting riverbeds, and typical riverside vegetation. Typical habitat types are floodplain meadows, softwood riparian forests, willow bushes and hardwood riverside forests; the banks support rare nesting birds such as Merops apiaster, Alcedo atthis and Riparia riparia. The Rába holds an especially rich fish fauna, supporting populations of the threatened Zingel zingel, Zingel streber, and Gymnocephalus schraetzer. Negative impacts are caused by uncontrolled tourism, fishing activities, intensive forestry, and the discharge of treated sewage water pollution inflow from upstream Austria. Since 2004 a restoration plan for maintaining the water supply of the oxbows has been in preparation, which aims to improve the fish spawning possibilities and the development of bird habitats - this will assure the use of the rich fish fauna by traditional fishery in the region. These rich and dynamic natural conditions of the area also have great importance for environmental education activities. Ramsar site no. 1645. Most recent RIS information: 2006.

Site extension:

Lakes by Tata. 17/03/89; Komárom-Esztergom; 1,633 ha; 47°30'N 018°17'E. Municipal Nature Conservation Area. The site comprises the Old Lake and the Által-ér river with smaller tributaries upstream, including varied wetland types rich in natural values and numerous remnants of the former extensive fen areas. The Old Lake, which is the largest lake of Komárom-Esztergom region, was created in the Middle Age with swelling up the Által-ér stream. It is an important habitat for migratory birds regularly supporting more than 25,000 waterfowl, especially Anser species, Anas platyrhynchos, and Larus ridibundus. Due to the natural conditions ploughlands and fishponds are the main land use activities, but the area is also wedged between urban and industrial regions as well as the urban agglomeration area of Tata. The main threat is expanding private land ownership and increasing plans for building activities. The implementation of fish ponds were the first, but not deliberate step towards the rehabilitation of the former wetlands. It is planned to develop further ecotourism and education facilities, e.g. a study trail with information panels. Significantly extended in 2006 and renamed from "Tata, Öreg-tó (Old Lake)". Ramsar site no. 419. Most recent RIS information: 2006.

Drainage ditch from the 19th century, when the Hanság floodplain was turned into a huge agricultural area by the influential counts of Esterhazy

Some old-growth alder (Alnus) forests remained in the agricultural plain, now protected and carefully managed.

By managing the water resources differently, and flooding again former agricultural polders, change can happen rapidly:

creating extensive marshes and reedbeds with all the wetland wildlife associated to it,

for the new Ramsar Site Nyirkai-Hany which

provides pleasant observation opportunities to the Ramsar Sites ceremony participants,

and a welcome occasion to the Bösárkány community’s womens’ group to perform in front of all the invited guests at the newly created leasure and angling pond of Szaviz, next to the protected area.

-- article and photographs by Tobias Salathé,
site descriptions by Dorothea August