Natura 2000 is a Europe-wide ecological network of sites hosting natural values of European interest. The habitat type of pannonic salt steppes and marshes is a priority one on the list of habitats of Community importance, targeted for urgent conservation measures. Hortobágy is the largest coherent occurrence of this habitat type in Europe.

The LIFE project was implemented on the territory of the Hortobágy National Park, which is part of the Natura 2000 network as proposed Site of Community Importance under the Habitats Directive and has been designated Special Protection Area under the Birds Directive.

The Hortobágy National Park was established in 1973. It covers more than 80,000 hectares from which 52,000 ha is UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The entire area is World Heritage Site and almost 24,000 ha is protected by the Ramsar Convention. The national park area is dominated by alkaline grasslands extending over vast territory (the largest coherent natural grassland in Europe), interspersed by varied wetland habitats. Continuous, natural grassland covers 54,000 ha.

Considering both size and character Hortobágy is unique in Europe. The "locus classicus" of the alkaline and non-coastal sodic and saline soils in Europe is the Carpathian Basin. Among all occurrences of these types the largest and most diverse area is the Hortobágy considering the types and sub-types of soils, special micro-geomorphologic conditions, surface erosional forms, microhabitats.

Mineralogical and quaterpaleontological data of the last 30.000 years prove unambiguously that the formation of salinised areas here is not a result of human activities.

Alkaline steppes of the project area were damaged by the intensive agriculture practice of the 1950ies with building of grassland irrigation systems and rice-systems. These unused and abandoned infrastructures have fragmented the native grassland, altered the characteristic surface micro-topography of the area and forms an obstacle to local run-off. As natural processes (surface water movements) maintaining originally the alkaline steppes and marshes are blocked by these structures, continuous degradation proceeds. The water management installations of unused paddies and irrigation systems are very good hiding-places for foxes and the dike systems offer good place for burrows. On the project area the fox is the most significant factor responsible for low reproductive success of Great Bustard.
The project aims at eliminating those artificial factors causing degradation, hereby to restore the biological diversity of grasslands, ephemeral waters and marshes. This is the only possibility to ensure long term conservation of flora and fauna of this priority habitat type.

The Hortobágy National Park Directorate have been awarded a grant from the European Union for a LIFE-Nature project in 2002 and the landscape rehabilitation project could be put in action.

The project affects 10,000 ha of the Hortobágy National Park area on the southern grasslands (partly Ramsar Sites). The project implementation includes the elimination of the dike and canal systems and building of some water management structures for nature conservation management purposes.

The project duration is 4 years. It has been started in 2002 and it was completed in 2005.

Download project brochure and laymans report in PDF file.