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Management of floodplains on the Tisza (Theiss)
Start date: Jan 1, 2001, End date: Dec 31, 2005 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background Since ancient times the gradual rise of spring flood waters has been a regular feature of the middle course of the river Tisza in the Hungarian lowland plain. The water once used to stand for months in the vast expanses of low-lying marshland, providing the abundant birdlife with food and a habitat, but now the situation has changed are different. Much of the marshland has been brought under cultivation and the water goes as soon as it appears. Regulation of the Tisza, which began in the second half of the 19th century, has led to an deepening of the river bed: erstwhile lateral channels have silted up, lowland riparian forests and meadows have begun drying out, and the once rich biodiversity of floodplain species has decreased. As the land has dried, its use has changed too: extensive use of meadow and pastureland has given way to intensive arable farming. Objectives The project, which would be carried out jointly by WWF Austria and WWF Hungary, aimed primarily to reintroduce environmentally-friendly management: arable land would be turned into water meadows, former gravel pits, now filled with water, would be reconnected to the river and new riparian forests would be planted. Up to 700 hectares of floodplain in five sub-sites along the middle part of the Tisza would be specifically targeted by the project activities. In co-operation with local farmers, a type of grazing-based land use that meets the requirements of the floodplain meadow ecological communities would be tested. Grazing was planned using Hungarian grey cattle, an ancient breed of long-horned grazing cattle. The grazing concepts to be tested as part of the project would be further developed in other agricultural funding programmes. These actions would benefit not only the white-tailed eagle, corncrake, bittern and otter, but also the local population, which would be provided with new sources of income (sustainable agriculture, ecotourism etc.). Results The project site was the Tisza river valley, 150 km east of Budapest, near Szolnok. Overall, the project achieved its objectives. The restoration of clay-pits near Nagykörű was completed. First results indicate that this action was successful in improving the breeding conditions for native fish species. Grazing management with Hungarian grey cattle has been installed already on all project sub-sites where this was foreseen. The grazing management was efficient in removing the invasive shrubs that have colonised abandoned pastures/arable lands. As there is a rising demand of Hungarian grey cattle meat in Western Europe, the long-term sustainability of this action seems to be secured. Beaver introduction was carried out successfully. The project also carried an effective publicity campaign. For example, an international press conference in Vienna and Budapest generated many press articles. The project also published four quality brochures/leaflets in Hungarian and English. Conferences were organised where participants discussed the future of floodplain management, nature conservation and rural development within the project area. Since then, local fairs and information days have followed. However, some actions could not be implemented. The most important ones were linked to the hydrological restoration at Tiszajenö, the acquisition of a permit for the removal hybrid poplars at Tiszakürt and the legal protection of the sub-site, Kötelek. Problems arose from the ownership/management status of the lands (Tiszajenö, Kötelek) and difficulties in negotiating with authorities. More specifically, the project ran into a number of delays regarding the permit procedures for actions, for which it already received verbal permission and supports from the competent authorities. The Hortobágy National Park Directorate did not grant a permit for several months. The reason for these delays related to the re-organisation of the Hungarian nature protection authorities system – until the end of 2004, the national park directorates were the authorities in charge of issuing regional permits. However, a central nature protection agency was set up in Budapest, which took over the permit responsibility from the national park directorates, and administrative responsibilities took time to be re-established.
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