Project Information

LIFE11 NAT/HU/000924 „Large scale grazing management of steppe lakes in the Hortobágy”

The fund for the nature conservational project was granted to the Hortobágy Nature and Gene Conserving Non-profit Ltd. (HNGC) in consortium with the Hortobágy National Park Directorate, the Hortobágy Environmental Association and 6 more partners.

During the implementation of the project the HNGC and the partners use grazing as a tool for nature conservation on one of the most valuable, but nowadays not adequately managed natural areas of the Hortobágy, on the steppe lakes and their surroundings.

From the beginning of the 20th century more environmentally unfavourable, especially human impact effected the Hortobágy. This time the draining and afforestation of the Great Hungarian Plain had started, fishponds were made, grassland irrigation programs launched and all these had accelerated and intensified during the communist era. The unfavourable human impacts were paired with a decreasing number of livestock based on market demand. This trend escalated after the change of regime.

All these effects worsened the state of saline pans and temporary waters, the so-called steppe lakes. Areas with the damaged catchments, the mosaics of regularly grazed extensive meadow zones scattered  with open water surfaces slowly became overgrown, where homogeneous bulrush and reed - species poor associations - became dominant. These negative changes in the vegetation were followed, with a slight delay, by the ground nesting bird species. The Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola) that is associated with saline water and once was abundant and the Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrius) became extinct from the national park by the 70s, but today the puszta’s once-common birds such as the Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), the Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) and the Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) has also diminished.

Black-tailed Godwit; photo: Attila Szilágyi

Black-tailed Godwit (photo: Attila Szilágyi)

The main objective of the project is to eliminate the threat factors affecting the steppe lakes and to bring these wetlands to a favourable ecological state. During the project we eliminate the manmade canals and dikes which are threatening the catchment areas of the steppe lakes, we are increasing the numbers of grazing animals on the project areas, introducing ecologically sustainable high level grazing which extends to the intensive grazing of wetland habitats. We are cutting down plantation woodlands that are not only act as visual barriers but also provide nesting place for the Hooded Crow (Corvus corone cornix) which is potentially hazardous to the ground-nesting bird species.

During the project a series of research will monitor the condition of the steppe lakes. Monitoring works are done on water chemistry parameters, botanical changes, aquatic macrozoobenton communities, amphibians to follow the positive effects of the project. During the implementation cost-benefit analysis and socio-economic monitoring will be done which will provide an economically sustainable conservation management model.

The knowledge gained during the project will be passed on to laymen, to experts and to decision-makers through meet ups, conferences and an exhibition.