The last remaining forest steppe in Hungary receives stricter protection through zoning

On the 2nd of June, a historic moment took place for nature conservation in Hungary. After several years of campaigning by NGOs, the Hungarian Government has for the first time introduced a zoning system in Hortobágy National Park. The decree was announced and came into force in June, and defines the framework for the long-term nature conservation management in the protected areas of Hungary.

First Hungarian National Park with defined zonation

The zoning system classifies the various areas of the national park into so-called natural zone, nature-friendly utilisation zone and service zone.

The natural zone (core zone, zone A) includes the areas of the national parks, the sole purpose of which is to restore and maintain the natural processes and structure of the landscape and the ecosystem. The core zone is not a non-intervention zone, as “certain nature conservation management activities are allowed to promote and restore the functioning of natural processes by enforcing the principle of minimum necessary intervention.” The regulation specifies the activities that can be carried out in the nature zone in the framework of nature conservation management. In the Hortobágy National Park, in addition to the Pentezugi Wildlife Sanctuary and the Kunkápolnási Swamp, the Tilos Forest in Újszentmargita has been included, which is one of the last surviving iconic pieces of the forested steppes from the era of the Hungarian settlement in the Carpathian Basin in the 9th and 10th centuries. Traditional land use, such as grazing or logging in from now on clearly forbidden in the approximately six undisturbed areas that constitute the core zone, but they will still remain accessible for nature-friendly tourism. The size of the natural zone is 9,176 hectares, which takes up 11.4% of the total area of the national park.

According to the Ministerial Decree, in the so-called nature-friendly utilisation zone (Zone B) “nature conservation management and nature-friendly utilisation are present side by side; the primary goal is to ensure their harmony. In addition to nature conservation management activities that are allowed in Zone A, farming and types of land use that do not damage the landscape and natural values, but which are not primarily aimed at achieving conservation objectives may also be continued.” The zone of nature-friendly utilisation is 70,297 hectares and represents 87.5% of the total national park area.

The service area (Zone C) includes areas with infrastructure as well as sites that are designated for an intensive, regular human presence. The infrastructure necessary for nature conservation management activities and nature-friendly utilisation measures must primarily be located in the service area. In Hortobágy, this includes the Pusztai Zoo, the Nine-Hole Bridge and the Hortobágy Shepherd Museum. All in all, the service area takes up the remaining 1.1% of the national park with 887 hectares.

24 years until realisation

The zoning of Hungarian national parks is regulated by the 1996 Act on the protection of nature. After years of negotiations, in 2012-2013 the State Nature Conservation, together with the active participation of WWF Hungary, developed a professional concept for the zoning of Hungarian national parks. The Decree of the Minister of the Environment on the classification of the territory of national parks into zones and the general nature protection regulations for each zone was published in December 2013. This provided the detailed rules on the basis of which the territorial delimitation of national park zones could be declared.

Hortobágy National Park is the oldest national park of Hungary, however, until now forestry and other commercial practices could be carried out throughout territory. In connection with the campaign against the planned logging in the untouched forests of the Csarna Valley in Börzsöny back in 2012, WWF Hungary was the first NGO who drew attention to the fact that there are no truly untouched core areas in any of the Hungarian national parks. Grazing, arable farming and other commercial land uses have continued even after the first national parks were established in the 1970s. Based on years of negotiations and joined campaigning, the Government has finally introduced a a zonation with core zone in Hortobágy, that clearly determines the type of land use that allowed in the individual zones of the park.

Natural processes need no human intervention

The number and size of protected natural areas is gradually increasing in Europe and around the world, yet we have not seen a slow down in the deterioration of habitats and biodiversity loss. One of the reasons for this is that the regulatory system and tools ensuring the practical enforcement of the priority protection of protected areas are limited and their application is not efficient. The aim of zonation in national parks is to determine the long-term strategic-spatial framework of their nature conservation stewardship, management and utilisation. Zonal classification provides a tool for more effective practical enforcement of nature conservation, and provides an opportunity to preserve functioning ecosystems through Wilderness stewardship, and a sustainable, lawful and overseeable utilisation of natural resources. The introduction of a zonal system is accordingly in the interest of not just the nature conservation sector, but every stakeholder. We hope that soon, other Hungarian national parks will follow in the footsteps of Hortobágy.

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