The problems and threats are listed in order of importance, starting with the most detrimental one. All actions target habitat type 1530 especially the sub macro habitat steppe pans. The ecological state of the area has degraded since the 1930’s reference years (the earliest scientifically documented years). Affected species are the character species of 1530. Annex I Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus himantopus), Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) and Common Redshank (Tringa totanus). Some previously significant breeders (Annex I, superindicators) became extinct locally Collared Pratincole (Glareola pratincola), Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) and Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla hungarica). The re-establishment of super indicators after the improvement of ecological status can be expected only as a slow process if it that all happens at all as the overall European population is also seriously declining. The character amphibian population e.g. Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina), also declined; we estimate a 200% increase by the end of the project. Many orders are not researched or known (e.g. character crab species), changes of these populations during the project can only be based on hypothesis.
All listed and identified threats reduce the number of these species and affects 100% of the project area unless otherwise indicated.
The northern portions of the site were once the well documented open watered pans. Several were demolished during the construction of the fishponds e.g. Csúnya-föld, Zoltán-fenék, Kondás-fenék and to a lesser extent Hosszú-fenék. Degraded, but with still intact beds are Matyó-fenék, Ludas-rét, Kis-Kondás-fenék and Hosszú-fenék these can still be rehabilitated. In the southern sites the Nagyág-ér is a remnant of the ancient Hernád River.
T1: Draining of natural rainfall
Most natural wetlands, but especially temporary waters became a victim of drainage as agriculture in the past 100 years considered temporary waters an enemy that was coupled in the case of the Hortobágy with a large scale - but failed attempt of transformation of grasslands into agricultural use. The northern area is affected by the old fishponds' draining canal system. These were constructed in a way that they also drain the natural rainfall from adjacent areas. Some smaller canals have been filled up lately but in the southern area there is a feeding canal without any function. It disrupts the natural water-cycle of the pans: sudden spring floods in the depressions followed by a rapid evaporation period that are required to maintain the rich ecosystem.
L: Kondás, Matyófenek, Ludas-rét, Hosszú-fenék
T2: Diversion and blocking the direction of the flow of natural water bodies
In the Hortobágy waterways are typically north-south oriented it was disrupted by water management practices. The paddies, ditches, canals dykes block both the underground and surface movement of water affecting the development of natural floral zones. Many of these constructions have been demolished. There are still several major objects intact in the project area (Tonnás-canal, Nagy-Kondás-tó, Kis-Kondás dykes, Nagy-rét draining ditch, Halas-fenék cross over dyke, Sáros-ér). Nagy-Kondás- pond as a fishpond ecologically is cut off from the surrounding puszta.
Location in the north Nagy-Kondás- pond northern dykes, a Kis-Kondás dykes system, Tonnás canal.
In the south Nagy-rét draining canal. In Zám the former Sáros-ér’s transformed bed, and Halas-fenék cross over dyke.
T3: Plantation oak woodlands with no conservation value
Tekeszarvi-forest at Szelencés, photo: Attila Szilágyi
The barren grazed puszta landscape of the Hortobágy dates back to the end of the Pleistocene. With the extinction of wild grazing fauna domesticated animals utilized the grassland and maintained the landscape. Natural forest occurred only on the edges of the puszta, no woods were present in the core regions. Beginning from the early 1900's and increasingly from the 1950s plantation forests alongside with various soil improving attempts were carried out. Forests were primarily planted in the natural pans along River Hortobágy these utilize natural rainfall, dry the landscape and have a negative impact on the natural movement of waters. These woodlands also block the connectedness of the puszta and the river and also destroy the open landscape. Plantations create physical barriers for the typical puszta species and lack the typical forest biological systems: there is no scrub layer, the grass level is of degraded grasses. The plantation oaks lack the ability of rejuvenation, the natural replacement is the invasive Red Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) and False Indigo Bush (Amorpha fruticosa) that become dominant and host adventive weed species. These oaks are not N2000 habitats but take up the place of the original 1530 habitat and displace its species. There are no nesting N2000 indicator bird species in these woods. Due to the unfavorable soil conditions the trees grow too short to provide habitat for Red-footed Falcons (Falco vespertinus), European Roller (Coracias garrulus) and Lesser Grey Shrike (Lanius minor). At the same time they host Hooded Crows (Corvus corone cornix) and Common Magpies (Pica pica) that creates a predation pressure on the population of Great Bustard (Otis tarda), Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Common Redshank (Tringa totanus) and Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa).
L:The southern part of the project site is historically known as one of the vastest expanse of open puszta that still exists in big pockets as the plantation woods along the river Hortobagy created physical barriers between the various pusztas.
T4 The decline of habitat 1530's disparity and the increase of widespread and ecologically more tolerant associations, dominance and homogenization
Homogeneous reeds in the Kajla-lapos at Zám-puszta, photo: Attila Szilágyi
As a result of various direct and indirect actions habitat 1530 became unfavorably transforming dry and wet patches of partially dried out and partially often inundated mosaic of habitats. This replaced the formerly typical mosaic of earlier succession state habitats. The loss of disparity is human induced: ploughing of grasslands, draining of rainfall, plantations, the continuous artificial floodings of pans, the decline of overall grazing and creation of a lease system that does not facilitate adequate grazing, the transformation of natural water ways into draining canals. The mostly dry plant association reacted to the adverse circumstances with the reduction of barren halophyte areas, the associations closed up, the grass became taller and organic matter accumulated. The steppe lakes that formed in the former river beds reacted to the drying out and flooding with similar signs: the mosaic aspect of various habitats declined, the fine texture zones often disappeared and large tracts of homogenous reeds and rushes became dominant. Due to the average height, organic matter accumulation and closing up associations of temporary open water bodies, barren surfaces, short vegetation significantly became reduced the open water surfaces declined. The transect zone between dry and wet habitats disappeared, dry grass associations are neighboring marsh vegetation, resulting in the overall decline of habitat 1530, especially in the project area.
T5: Loss of biodiversity
Decline or disappearance of character 1530 species has many reasons. The HNP was established quite late and only for international pressure in 1973 when decades of mistreatment started to add up and most of the harm had already been caused. The park and land use rights were kept separated up until the mid 1990’s; lands were owned and used by the Hortobágy State farm and protecting was fairly weak though the lands were all within the boundary of the HNP. This delay entailed a serious loss of local biodiversity. The state farm pursued its own agenda. Only not-privatized lands were transferred to the HNPD in a degraded state and though the park has been extended important core areas are still left out. The change of pasture structure that dates back to the 1920’s and increasingly to the end of WW2 roots in political, economic and unfortunately conservation causes. The decline of extensive keeping resulted ultimately in a large scale deterioration of habitats and loss of its biodiversity. Another problem is that the tenure system makes it very difficult to influence the farming methods and change of tenant, especially if the tenant disregards the changes required to meet conservationist criteria. Land tenure system within the park often resulted in small scale lots and this paired with the low overall number of animals led to the overuse of better pastures and under grazing of marginal areas. There is a lack of knowledge that only started to build up in the past 20 years regarding the true nature and working of the micro and macro habitat types, especially various wetland type habitats and the differences between them – yet scientific data is still missing far too often to establish the management and rehabilitation regimes.
T6: Decline in numbers of grazing domesticated animals and the lack of grazing with conservation purposes
The puszta has been maintained by herds of large bodied grazing animals that over the past millennia have been replaced by domesticated stocks. The high level of grazing has been continuously present alongside fires, droughts and floods as one of the natural forces that shaped the landscape. Traditional breeds utilized all habitats in the Hortobágy. High level of grazing and associated trampling helped the character halophyte associations to thrive and reduced the swamp associations that favor steady conditions. At times reed beds were missing altogether from the entire Hortobágy. In the dry summer and autumn the high number of animals grazed the plains barren that emerged in early spring with many halophyte pioneer species. The herding and associated herdsmen’s culture reached its peak period from the mid 1700’s- to the mid 1800’s at the time when the plains lost their connectedness to the river Tisza due to the regulations. The landscape became drier, the level of ground water fell but the number of animals remained high so no apparent signs of adverse change were visible. However following WW2 the number of grazing animals fell sharply and the land use system was also transformed into an unsustainable regime: rice, grains on the unproductive soils, regular artificial inundations and irrigation with freshwater, reservoirs and fishponds. As a result the natural water cycle got interrupted and ground water level fell further down. The puszta became a steppe, with a closed phytocoenosis, previous exposed or hardly covered barren patches disappeared.
The national park used the remaining traditional domesticated stock with gene preservation and environmental aims but in very low numbers compared to historical figures. From this point on three distinct grazing systems can be separated:
1. general: applied by the general land-users of the area where the time spent with grazing and grazed areas are determined by economic factors, meeting environmental needs is negligible. This method is acceptable on dry, not too valuable grasses on extensive homogenous meadows if the level of activity reaches a medium level. In case of low level grazing activity no grazing is better for the puszta: in such cases the small flocks should be repositioned.
2. gene preservation: environmental and economic factors play equal role. Main aim the preservation and improvement of the genetic pool. The less valuable individuals (males) can be used for environmental purposes.
3. environmental animals are kept entirely for environmental reasons therefore almost exclusively non-profit and state owned organizations may pursue this activity. It is especially recommended to stock species that are less frequently kept e.g. buffalo, ass, horse, mangalica pigs, and native geese. In general neuter males are preferable and additional fodder may be required even in the grazing season due to the unfavorable conditions. This system is crucial to maintain the special habitats (barrens, pans, sodic lakes) for the character species. It would be desirable to provide additional support for such schemes from agrienvironmental payments.
T7: Dramatic decline in the size of the steppe pans
The Carpathian Basin’s sodic lakes were inventoried (LIFE07NAT/H/000324) and it was established that in the central szolonyec areas of Hortobágy there are no sodic lakes. There may be two reasons for this: in szolonyec the salt accumulation is in the lower layers unlike the szoloncsák (that are found around the sodic lakes) canals drain the salt rich ground water that can not surface in the shallow beds of the pans.
Literature reports high salt content ground water from the region. Due to artificial inundations and drained rainwater the water of the pans loose salinity and it is exaggerated with the dramatic decline of grazers from WW2 on and speeding up from the end of 1960’s. As a result the formerly open pans became overgrown by homogenous stands of reed and rush – it is not a result of natural succession but of human disturbance, the pans degraded into marsh vegetation covered wetlands with unfavorable water balance.
A few non-vegetated temporary pans, so called grazing lakes survived: these were maintained by grazing stocks. Experience, literature and archive photo documents tell if the negative impacts are eliminated and ground water levels are increased and high level grazing is put into place these open temporary waters can be naturally maintained. They are only similar to sodic lakes in the superficial appearance but water chemistry show lower than 1,5 mg/l salt content and ecological factors and characters species are also different. Its extent can not be established due to complete the lack of studies. The former ecological status can be reconstructed from first published description of character breeding birds of the habitat in the early 1900’s. Udvardy observed breeding Collared Pratincoles (Glareola pratincola) on the barest parts of Matyó-fenék, Hosszú-fenék és Kondás-fenék in the 1930’s; in 1969 there were still three colonies in the southern project area with one surviving till the early 1980’s. Kentish Plovers (Charadrius alexandrius) breed on the even more exposed areas of Hosszú-fenék. At present neither species turn up in the area. The negative impacts degraded the habitats to the level when rehabilitation is necessary. The most important element of this is the retaining of rainfall and the increase of ground water levels completed with ecologically high level of grazing modeling the early 1900’s with some differences and adaptations e.g. there is 10 times as much nitrogen affecting the area now; it is counterbalanced with increased mixed flock grazing.
T8: The habitat type and its role, importance is not demonstrated, lack of knowledge of stakeholders and wider public on the functions of the ecological systems.
The targeted habitat type is little known; not only to the public but to professionals as well. It is often misidentified and therefore mistreated its conservational value is not appreciated. As there is no knowledge there is no interest in the existing natural heritage, people are easily manipulated and support negative impact developments. Previous efforts to eliminate water management structures often met suspicion and refusal of co-operation from individuals, policy makers, authorities. There is a positive attitude towards draining and ‘wet’ conditions are often considered medieval and backward and feared for damaging property. It is necessary to create the background knowledge - also for professionals- to achieve the right treatment for this delicate and unique habitat type and build up support. These aims can only be achieved if there is a readily available and accessible mix of infrastructure and information that is actively promoted.
T9: Expansion of predator species’ habitat
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), photo: Dániel Balla
A significant threat for ground breeding character bird species is predation, mostly by Hooded Crow (Corvus corone cornix), Common Magpie (Pica pica), Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) and Wild Boar (Sus scrofa). The reduction of these population is not possible with traditional control affecting negatively the breeding population of Great Bustard (Otis tarda), Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa).
The main reason for the increase of Hooded Crow (Corvus corone cornix) and Common Magpie (Pica pica) populations are the artificial plantation woodlands providing breeding habitats. Dens of Red Fox’s (Vulpes vulpes) are mostly in the dykes of the canal system whereas Wild Boars (Sus scrofa) thrives in the homogenous vast expanses of reed beds caused and „maintained” by artificial inundations and low level grazing. The reduction of these species can only be handled by the reduction of their otherwise low value habitats Location: woodlots as indicated and reed beds as indicated