Hungary celebrates restoration of Hortobágy's Zám-puszta

Hungary celebrates restoration of Hortobágy's Zám-puszta

14 September 2000

Wetland restoration in Zám-puszta, Hortobágy National Park

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[Upon learning from András Böhm in the Ministry of Environment that celebrations were held on 6 September 2000 at the Hortobágy National Park to mark the completion of a significant restoration project on part of the site, the Bureau requested further background on the event and received this brief report, written by Ms Szilvia Gori of the Park Directorate, who is Hungary's National Focal Point for the Ramsar STRP.]

Zám-puszta, covering 2,800 hectares, is one of the most valuable stretches of the southern grasslands of the Hortobágy National Park (80,000 ha), a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that is also inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The entire area is strictly protected in order to preserve its wildlife. It is highly sensitive to any disturbance, so no admission to the area is allowed. The complex of shallow occasional waters, temporary marshes without any inlet and outlet, and permanent alkaline marshes of Zám-puszta is protected by the Ramsar Convention as a Wetland of International Importance.

The river regulations, the drainage works and the introduction of land cultivation practices (rice-field systems, irrigated grasslands) which did not suit local conditions of the Hortobágy region resulted in the fragmentation and reduction of the formerly vast areas of wetlands. Their wildlife gradually transformed and deteriorated. Alkaline marshes have almost completely disappeared from most parts of Europe, therefore their remains are of outstanding value for nature conservationists.

The Hortobágy National Park Directorate started to restore the wetlands in the 1970s. Wetland rehabilitation in Zám-puszta was the next step of a long-lasting programme aiming at the restoration of all wetland types of the previously varied water-related habitats of Hortobágy. The projects have been expected to result in the increase of the biological diversity of the marshes and in the restoration of the natural landscape structure.

In Zám-puszta a 10 km long, 300-hectare large marsh system was affected by the restoration project carried out in 1998-99. Naturally this system was inundated by large floods. Therefore, its nature conservation management is based on the simulation of the original pattern of water movements before the river regulations. This was the aim of the restoration when the water supply system was created. The feeding canal connects the marshes through a canal with the River Tisza. Simulating the natural late-winter – early-spring floods, the marsh system is filled with water once a year, after the first snow melting.

In order to restore the lost open water habitat type, an alkaline lake with bare shoreline has been excavated as part of the project. The reconstructed alkaline lake serves not only for increasing the habitat and the diversity of the species in the marsh, but also for restoring and preserving a special wetland type, called "grazing-lake". The restoration ensures more favourable conditions not only for the breeding birds, but the marshes and wet meadows are also important feeding grounds. Zám is one of the most important bird migration areas in Hortobágy. In recent years the Cranes spend their overnight in the marshes in autumn in increasing numbers.

The wetland restoration project in Zám-puszta has been carried out with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Fisheries and Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Matra Fund/Programme International Nature Management). Project organiser and administrator: Wetlands International - Africa, Europe, Middle East, P.O. Box 7002, 6700 CA Wageningen, The Netherlands.

-- reported by Szilvia Gori, Hortobágy National Park Directorate