National and regional story (Hungary) - The Carpathians: a biodiversity hotspot in the heart of Europe
Contributors: CZECH REPUBLIC: Šárka Lacinová (Czech Environmental Information Agency), HUNGARY: Gabriella Pajna, (Ministry of Rural Development, Unit of Environmental Policy), POLAND: Lucyna Dygas Ciolkowska (Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection, Department of Monitoring and Environmental Information), SLOVAKIA: Peter Kapusta (Slovak Environmental Agency), INTERIM SECRETARIAT OF THE CARPATHIAN CONVENTION (ISCC): Harald Egerer, Pier Carlo Sandei (UNEP Vienna/ISCC), Giacomo Luciani (EURAC Expert Team/ISCC)
The Carpathians are the largest mountain range of Europe, shared by seven Central and Eastern European countries: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic and Ukraine. The region harbours biodiversity values of common European and global importance, which are among its biggest and unique assets. The area and its treatment as a whole has been a peripheral issue, as large sections of the mountain range constitute borders between countries and are far away from urban centres. The region is still being affected by the processes of transition, aggravated by the recent economic crisis. In order to address these challenges, in 2003 the Carpathian countries adopted the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians.
The Carpathians form an ecological bridge between Western, Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. They exhibit the largest natural forest complex in Western and Central Europe. What makes the Carpathians so unique are also relatively large areas of mountain wetlands especially peatlands, and semi-natural habitats as pastures and mountain meadows. The great variety of endemic plants and animals characteristic for the Carpathian ecosystems is an essential biodiversity component in Europe. The Carpathian Mountains are still great habitats for large carnivores and thus, vital and numerous populations of brown bear (Ursus arctos), wolf (Canis lupus) and Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) can be found there. Yet, all those species require large, preferably undisturbed areas.
Many landscapes, habitats, flora and fauna show characteristics and unique features occurring solely or mainly in the Carpathians. Endemic, alpine, relict habitats and species are the result of long-term evolution, migration and adaptation processes, which started long before human influences came into the area. Other interesting groups of species are those living on the edge of their geographical range as well as “migrant-plants” that entered the area with human settlement and agriculture. Carpathian ecosystems also represent specific animal characteristics, with endemic species that face extinction in other mountain areas in Europe. Specific bird species as the Imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) or the Ural owl (Strix uralensis) are in relatively good population numbers protected.
The region has very specific biogeographical attributes - a fact also identified at European level, namely by determining biogeographical regions.
Figure 2: Biogeographical Regions in Europe, Standing Committee of the Bern Convention
The Carpathians are a living environment for millions of people in the heart of Europe, yet their biodiversity and natural heritage are subject to a variety of threats and adverse impacts from land abandonment, habitat conversion and fragmentation, deforestation, the diminishing population of small settlements involved in typical, small-scale landscape management, on one hand, and from industrialisation, pollution, urbanisation and overexploitation of natural resources on the other. Climate change can lead to changed habitats, a regression in the range of some species and an increase in that of others. Mass tourism - which can play a significant role in introducing new invasive species into native habitats – uncontrolled new infrastructure development and the change of land management forms, as well as air, water and mining pollution have adverse effects on the biodiversity in the Carpathians and migration of animals.
Case Study: Human impact on Pilsko Mountain
As early as the 15th century, agricultural practices based on pastoral management of forest glades and clearings developed around Pilsko Mountain located at the border between Poland and Slovakia. These practices remained largely unchanged for 300 years, stabilizing the structure and composition of habitats. Forest areas fell to 46% of the total area of the massif, while ploughed areas covered 29% and mountain meadows and pastures 23%.
Several new plant associations emerged and became established on pasture glades, including Gladiolo-Agrostietum, Hieracio-Nardetum, Rumicetum alpini, as well as peat bogs. These were originally not found in the region, when the entire area was largely covered by forests. Meadows and pastures in the forest zone included many high-altitude plants such as the chive Alium schoenoprasum and felwort Swertia perennis, and animals such as the Tatra pine vole Microtus Tatricus and water pipit Anthus spinoletta and Alpine newt Triturus alpestris.
These species are now very dependent on the distribution of pastures and meadows (Kurzyński et al. 1996). In the 1970s, a ski resort was developed at the top of Pilsko Mountain, essentially changing the structure of the local landscape. In earlier times, the landscape typically was ‘coarsely grained’, with extensive areas of forest dominating steep slopes, and pastures on flatter ones. The emerging ski industry led to a more ‘finelygrained’
structure, as forests were cut to facilitate access to steep slopes, whereas former pasture areas are now witnessing the initial phases of forest succession (Witkowski 1996). The remaining small patches of meadows and forests are now dominated by common species, as many specialized species were not able to survive.
The Pilsko Mountain case appears to be representative of many new ski resorts being developed in the Carpathians. Similar landscape effects were observed in newly established ski resorts.
Source: Carpathians Environment Outlook, 2007
In the last decade of the 20th century, the Carpathian countries made significant efforts to maintain their diverse native flora and fauna. They have established their institutions and regulation of natural conservation and most of them have taken over the respective guidelines and regulation of the UN and of the European Union.
Five out of seven Carpathian countries are members of the European Union and have therefore incorporated the Europe-wide legal framework on nature protection and biodiversity into their national legislation. In particular, one of the major nature conservation tasks for these countries resulting from the Bird Directive1 and Habitat Directive2 is the building up the Natura 2000 network inclusive of the designation of the Natura 2000 sites and carrying out the protection and management measures that are needed. The responsibility of the Carpathian countries in terms of conservation and biodiversity protection are underpinned by he designation and the relatively large extension of Natura 2000 sites in these countries (e.g. 21% of the total territory of Hungary, and 28,9% of the Slovak Republic are part of the network).
All Carpathian countries started their nature protection programs by designating national parks, while the designation of more permissive protected landscape areas and their regulation followed only later.
Figure 4: Large scale protected areas in the Carpathians, Daphne Institute of Applied Ecology
Numerous local initiatives (both, governmental and non-governmental) promoting sustainable tourism, working on the pastoralism recovery and sustainable use of semi-natural habitats, mainly mountain meadows have been developed.
Case study: In situ and ex situ conservation of wild and cultivated plant diversity in Hungary
The traditional methods of nature protection look back several decades in Hungary and have resulted in considerable expertise in the field and achieving the designation of protected areas. At present there are 10 national parks (3 of which are in the northern part of the country), 38 protected landscape areas and 160 nature reserves, with an expansion of 847 thousand hectares, covering altogether 9,1% of the territory of the Country. Since the year 2002, 24 new protected areas of national importance have been designated: 2 protected landscape areas and 22 nature reserves. Decrees on 32 conservation management plans have been announced.
Map of the protected areas in Hungary is available at: http://geo.kvvm.hu/tir/viewer.htm
The experiences gathered have highlighted that in-situ protection needs to be reinforced by ex-situ conservation, a key example of which is the Pannon Seed Bank Life+ project - financed by the European Commission and co-financed by the Hungarian Ministry of Rural Development - started in January 2010. The main goal of this project is the long-term seed preservation of the wild vascular flora of the Pannonian biogeographical region in order to assist and complement in situ species conservation activities.
In addition to this, several transboundary cooperation initiatives have been developed such as the establishment of the Transboundary Biosphere Reserve (UNESCO biosphere reserve), which includes two existing national parks on each side of the border between Poland (Tatrzanski NP) and Slovakia (Tatry NP) the elaboration of a common ecological network mapping between Hungary and Slovakia or the establishment of a regional science network for collaborative research in the Carpathian mountain region.
Science for the Carpathians (S4C)
The Science for the Carpathians (S4C) initiative is a regional science network aiming at facilitating, coordinating and enhancing collaborative research in the Carpathian mountain region. With roots going back to the initiation of the Carpathian Convention in 2001, the S4C network has been formally established in May 2008 at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. The network connects scientists in Central Europe, namely in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and the Ukraine. The Science for the Carpathians (S4C) initiative held the 1st Forum Carpaticum Conference in Kraków, Poland, 15-17 September 2010. The objectives of Forum Carpaticum were:
The challenge of the future is to exploit the links between conservation and development, by taking into account global, regional and transboundary linkages and by using innovative approaches of cross-sectoral and multi-level governance.
The Carpathian Convention and its Protocol on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological and Landscape Diversity (see the box below) represent a platform for a coordinated action of all the Carpathian Countries in the region.
The Carpathian Convention
On 22 May 2003 in Kyiv, Ukraine, the Ministers of the Environment of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovak Republic and Ukraine signed the Framework Convention on the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Carpathians (Carpathian Convention). The convention has created institutions and procedures in addition to outlining a vision for the whole Carpathian region. General objectives and principles are being tailored into obligatory goals or measures via specific international agreements, so-called protocols, which are gradually being developed in the framework of the general convention. The Protocol on Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biological and Landscape Diversity (Biodiversity Protocol) in the Carpathians has already been adopted. Currently, a Protocol on Sustainable Forest Management in the Carpathians is being finalized.
Within the framework of the Convention the Carpathian Network of Protected Areas and the Carpathian Wetland Initiative represents an important tool for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the Carpathians.
The United Nations Environment Programme Vienna services the Interim Secretariat of the Convention in Vienna, which promotes transboundary and transnational projects aiming at implementing the Convention, such as the Alpine –Carpathian Corridor or the BIOREGIO Carpathians projects.
More info on the Carpathian Convention at: www.carpathianconvention.org and www.unep.at
- UNEP – United Nations Environment Programme, 2009. VASICA (Visions And Strategies in the Carpathian Area) – Protection and Sustainable Spatial Development of the Carpathians in a Transnational Framework
- UNEP – United Nations Environment Programme, 2007. Carpathians Environment Outlook (KEO) (Website: http://www.grid.unep.ch/activities/assessment/KEO/index.php )
- European Academy of Bolzano - EURAC Research (Institute for Regional Development) 2006. Implementing an international mountain convention - An approach for the delimitation of the Carpathian Convention area
1 Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 on the conservation of wild birds (Bird Directive)
2 Council Directive 92/43/EEC of 21 May 1992 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora (Habitat Directive)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe's environment.
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