HORTOBAGY SODIC LAKES - Restoration of sodic lake sub-type of the Pannonic salt steppe and marsh habitat in the Hortobágy

LIFE07 NAT/H/000324

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Zoltan ECSEDI
Tel: +36 30 361 7773
Fax: +36 52 449 810
Email: hortobagy.te@chello.hu

Project description:


The soda lakes (with high concentrations of sodium carbonate) and their catchment areas in Hungary’s Carpathian Basin support lowland Pannonic loess steppic grasslands (6250). These form part of the habitat type Pannonic salt steppes and salt marshes (1530). Most of the lake and catchment sites in the Hortobágy area have been badly damaged or have deteriorated, and so have been designated as protected areas. So far no over-arching, basin-wide restoration programme for these soda lakes has been implemented. This is largely due to limited information and expertise vis-à-vis the complex and extremely vulnerable nature of the micro-ecosystem. Useful experience about appropriate restoration methods for soda lakes was gained in the Hortobágy area during a previous LIFE project (LIFENAT2002/H/008638). This knowledge could be applied on a site-specific basis in areas that are rich in nature conservation value but vulnerable to a range of threats. Such sites include Nagy-szik and Magdolna-puszta.


The primary objective of the HORTOBAGY SODIC LAKES project was to promote the restoration of soda lake habitats and neighbouring steppic grasslands in the Hortobágy area at the Nagy-szik and Magdolna-puszta sites. Project actions focussed on eliminating unfavourable and detrimental processes at these sites, including inappropriate drainage, shrinking of seasonal water bodies, sewage run-off, the decline in traditional grazing, and a lack of environmental education. Around 40 ha of land was purchased in order to help restore hydrological regimes and improve the conservation status of lake bed features and natural shorelines. The aim was to implement measures to retain rain water, rehabilitate habitats by removing waste and invasive species, and eliminate urban and industrial water pollution through the reconstruction of canal systems.


The HORTOBAGY SODIC LAKES project achieved its objective of restoring the sodic lake sub-type of the Pannonic salt steppe and the marsh habitat of the neighbouring steppic grasslands in the Nagy-szik and Magdolna-puszta sites of the Hortobágy area. Thanks to the project’s large-scale landscape modification work, the water regime was restored to its maximum possible extent, in compromise with the requirements of the Balmazújváros municipality (who requested plans regarding a run-off channels were altered). A system of channels, culverts and sluices was developed and channel banks were removed, flattened or reinforced.

The lake bed and catchment area was restored by reintroduction of traditional intensive grazing, in cooperation with local farmers, and through the removal of a waste dump and the elimination of woody and non-native invasive plant species. These actions helped to maintain the high ground-water level. For example, to protect the soda pans it is necessary to remove trees and shrubs due to their high rates of water consumption and evaporation, and their role in sediment accumulation (though wooded lots hosting breeding kestrel or red-footed falcons were left intact).The project team produced studies for the elimination of a waste dump and sewage ponds, and a detailed Natura 2000 management plan for the project area, which were all forwarded to the competent authorities, NGOs and policy-makers.

p>The project proved that disturbed habitats can be restored to natural soda lakes by improvement of the natural water regime, elimination of the marsh vegetation with pre-grazing by Mangalica pigs and a high level of grazing with different types of livestock (Hungarian grey cattle, Hungarian flecked cattle, racka sheep, and donkey). With an optimal water regime this "grazed lake" will work as a transition stage towards the natural soda lake - a healthy ecosystem self-sustained even without grazing. On land purchased during the project within prioritised sodic lake areas (38 ha out of the foreseen 43 ha), nature conservation is guaranteed.

The project team summarised the large amount of research and knowledge gained in recent years on the sodic lakes in a book ‘Ecology and Management of Soda Pans in the Carpathian Basin’. This innovative publication contains the basis for potential restoration plans for every natural soda pan in the basin and has helped stimulate similar conservation projects. The LIFE project concluded that it is an urgent task to introduce grazing habitat management and to carry out the necessary restoration work, if the 77 natural sodic lakes of the Carpathian basin are to be saved. The local farmers, who worked in cooperation with the LIFE project’s community grazing scheme, now understand and accept the importance of temporary water bodies and their role in the maintenance of grazing lands. They have stopped drainage activities and have adapted grazing of their herds to natural circumstances. Farmers (13 families) have become motivated to re-apply for grassland lease tenders/contracts, through the Hortobágy National Park Directorate, while their herds have increased and such activities have been extended to other parts of the Hortobágy.

The project aimed to increase bird populations by 30% through its work in improving breeding habitat for nearly 500 pairs of Annex I and 1 000 pairs of Annex II bird species. Furthermore, the LIFE project supported the habitat of migrant bird species, including 29 000 individuals of Annex I and 308 000 individuals of Annex II species. The ornithological monitoring data provides evidence that ground-breeding shorebird species are the best indicators of the ecological status of the soda lake characteristics. The project team raised awareness among local people about the importance of the soda lakes. The attractiveness of the area was significantly increased, especially by the removal of invasive species, while various dissemination activities (website, promotional literature) and the development of an eco-centre, observation towers, notice boards and visitor services have also increased tourist interest in the area. The facilities constructed by the project have led to the creation of around five full-time jobs.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Habitats - Grasslands


grassland ecosystem‚  grazing‚  wetland‚  restoration measure

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)
  • Directive 92/43 - Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora- Habitats Directiv ...
  • COM(2011) 244 final “Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 ...
  • COM(2013) 620 final “Proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on t ...

Target Habitat types

  • 1530 - Pannonic salt steppes and salt marshes
  • 6250 - Pannonic loess steppic grasslands

Natura 2000 sites

SPA HUHN10002 Hortobágy
SCI HUHN20002 Hortobágy



Coordinator Hortobágy Environmental Association
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description Hortobágy Environmental Association (HEA) is a private non-commercial organisation that carries out bird protection activities and other conservation work at the Hortobágy National Park, and in the wider Hortobágy area.
Partners Foundation for the Nagy-szik of Balmazújváros (FNB), Hungary Tiszatáj Public Foundation for Environmental Protection and Nature Conservation (TPF), Hungary Hortobágy National Park Directorate (HNPD), Hungary


Project reference LIFE07 NAT/H/000324
Duration 01-JAN-2009 to 31-DEC -2013
Total budget 1,557,507.00 €
EU contribution 1,168,130.00 €
Project location Eszak-Magyarorszag(Hungary Magyarország)


Read more:

Project web site Project's website
Publication: After-LIFE Conservation Plan After-LIFE Conservation Plan
Publication: Book "Ecology and management of soda pans in the Carpat ...
Publication: Book "Ecology and management of soda pans in the Carpat ...
Publication: Book "Ecology and management of soda pans in the Carpat ...
Publication: Book "Ecology and management of soda pans in the Carpat ...
Publication: Book "Ecology and management of soda pans in the Carpat ...
Publication: Book "Ecology and management of soda pans in the Carpat ...
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Publication: Technical report Project's Final technical report


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version