Audit on the protection of nature in the Region Lake Neusidl Ferto

The nature-protection of the area is basically determined by obligations emerging from international agreements signed by both countries. Among them are the RAMSAR-Convention (“Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat”), the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the EU-Directives on Bird Protection, respectively Habitat. Lake Neusiedl/Fertő is a frontier water; therefore the provisions of the Helsinki Agreement on cross-border waterways and the protection of international lakes are taken into consideration with special importance.

In the region of Lake Neusiedl/Fertő, on the Hungarian side HUF 14,486.4 million domestic and HUF 1,476.5 million international resources were used for environment and nature protection developments.

Of this, HUF 289.3 million was spent on direct nature protection aims, while the rest served the purposes of traffic developments with a special focus on decreasing air pollution, and the construction of bicycle roads. The shortcoming was observed that the so-called other financial expenditures spent on the audited field, and the expenditures of professional tasks discharged by certain professional bodies, agencies, could not be demonstrated separately.

A recommendation was made to the minister that the accounting of the expenditures going to nature protection be established.

In Hungary, the natural, preservation and surrounding zones of Lake Neusiedl/Fertő were designated, but the list of these was not published in legal regulations; therefore it is not official. In case of the Lake Neusiedl/Fertő area, such legal provisions on increasingly protected and protected areas were applied, that are in line with the international requirements and set out in the law on nature protection.

For the protected areas, management plans valid from 2003 were made, in which the management and cultivation prescriptions were defined by parcel, in accordance with the characteristic features of the land and nature. However, the subsidy necessary for execution and the regulations on indemnification resulting from the restrictions of use are still outstanding. Therefore, the Hungarian State Audit Office has recommended that the government issue the decree on this issue as soon as possible. In its reply the government has indicated that the  preparation of the decree is underway.

Some of the different areas in Austria were clearly determined by law or other regulations. Some other nominations or borders, like the Biosphere Reserve of the UNESCO and the European Biogenetic Reserve could not be empathised at the Government of the Federal State of Burgenland. The cartographic definition of the borders of the RAMSAR protected area was adapted and changed during the audit. The Austrian Court of Audit recommended, to gather all relevant data concerning protected areas and international awards in a single central database. For the sake of juridical guarantee the borders of the different areas should be fixed, updated and defined by the exact borders of the pieces of land. The Government of the Federal State of Burgenland responded, that there were no files about the awards of UNESCO and European Council available, because the Federal State was not involved in the process of nomination.

The demanded update of the borders in the region of Lake Neusiedl/Fertő is in preparation.

The preservation of the protected areas is carried out by the two countries with different methods. On the Hungarian side, the areas have come – through buying-up – under state ownership, and were then utilised in frame of own activity, i.e. agricultural production (animal husbandry, grazing), or leasing out. In frame of safeguarding land for protection purposes, endeavours were made to establish larger, adjoining areas by keeping aspects of economy in mind. In addition to bringing the lands under state management, no other alternative solutions – e.g. renting – have come up. As a result of the decrease of state resources, the rate of buying-up has slowed; therefore a recommendation was made to the minister in charge of environment protection that necessary financial resources should be provided, in order to close the program as soon as possible.

In Austria safeguarding land was done by renting land. For the National Park Neuiedler See–Seewinkel. 9.650 ha were rented from the owners (at the end of 2001). In total there were twelve rent agreements, mainly with interest groups. The Austrian Court of Audit recommended for future contracts to aim at long–term rent agreements.

Besides, a comparison of expected expenses and possible kinds of financing should be made. On the Hungarian side, several developments aimed at the protection of the environment and nature were carried out in the audited region. In the area of reptile-migration, tunnels have been constructed under the motorway running in the area.

Within the framework of mine reconstructions, the revitalisation and restoration of the former open-pit mining areas took place.

The Austrian Court of Audit found out that the actual state of the fishstocks was unsatisfactory due to the distortion of species. The Government of the Federal State of Burgenland reported, that the release of eels (Anguilla anguilla) will be stopped. To protect the fishstocks. Hungarian authorities have submitted a joint project concerning the acquisition of the fishery right.

In consequence of the measures and investments, the quality of water is sufficient; this is checked through continuous water-quality tests, and dredging has been carried out when necessary. As a result of the measures and investments, the habitat of water fauna and flora can be considered secured. The economic use of the salty ponds, that are located in Austrian territory, results in disruption of the natural water management and as a consequence in losses of typical plants and in devastation of the ponds, due to the overwhelming penetration of reed and soil. This endangers the typical fauna of the region.

The Austrian Court of Audit recommended measures for the restitution of ponds. The Government of the Federal State of Burgenland reported the beginning of the restitution of ponds in the National Park, which led to a retreat of reed. Except of singular events there are no more disturbances of the natural water management of the ponds. In addition Beside the Hanság Channel serving the conduct of water from the lake, the Hungarian experts, to maintain and protect the water fauna and flora, have carried out habitat reconstruction covering 430 hectares.

A factor basically influencing the water quality of the lake is the wastewater management of the communities of the area. On the Hungarian side, the channelling of waste waters from the catchment area of the lake – with the exception of three sewage water treatment plants – has practically been solved, the pollution of problematic plants is expected to cease with the investment project due to finish in 2006. The further filtering of pollution will be ensured in the year 2003 by the putting into operation of the two filter-fields established in the cane-field.

For the communities on the western shore of the Lake a central waste water facility was constructed in the community of Schützen am Gebirge. It shall replace the existing nine local facilities.

The quality of reed stock in the Hungarian part of the lake has decreased even though modern equipment – satellite photographs – have been used for the surveillance of its state and quality and the monitoring of the reed harvest. In the interest of professional reed management and the improvement of the quality of the cane-field the management authorities are making efforts to terminate the monopolistic right of usage of reed production. The Hungarian State Audit Office has recommended that the government should issue a decree uniformly regulating reed management.

In Austria there were conflicts of use with agriculture, hunting, fishery and tourism. Drainage in the interest of agriculture has caused the creeping degradation of soil and the salty ponds, due to the continuous loss of salt. A guidance system for visitors, with the indications of requirements and prohibitions, was established only in the National Park. The intensive agricultural use resulted in endangering the typical habitats. Measures for agricultural downgrading, as they are implemented in the National Park, should be extended. Besides, the hunting of waterfowls in a RAMSAR protection area should be scrutinised. Any economic use of the ponds has to be avoided.

In the interest of the preparation of the nature protection measures and decisions, as well as the monitoring of the condition of the region, regular research and monitoring programs are carried out on the lake and in its environment in both countries.

The preparation of a program aimed at the longterm utilisation of the lake has emerged as a central issue. In 2002, the Hungarian National Park – as a result of examinations and professional work – prepared a long-term professional study. In the interest of securing the long-term, unified utilisation of Lake Neusiedl/Fertő, the State Audit Office recommended that the study should be developed into a comprehensive professional and financial project.

In the framework of the EU–initiative INTERREG II two projects were carried out in the Austrian National Park in co-operation with the administration of the Hungarian National Park.

Besides, many research and scientific projects were financed by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management and the Government of the Federal State of Burgenland. The Biological Center Illmitz was also permanently involved in projects of research and monitoring.

The Austrian Court of Audit recommended to develop a concept for research, nature protection and measures of development and to make up a ranking of the planned measures. The Government of the Federal State of Burgenland reported that the Scientific Advisory Board of the Austrian National Park was working on an overall research framework.

Besides, a co–financed project concerning the ponds is planned. In Hungary, the tasks related to the nature protection of Lake Neusiedl/Fertő are carried out by The Ministry of Environmental Protection and Water and its subordinate agencies, while in the Republic of Austria by the Office of the Government of the Federal State Burgenland. The Hungarian and Austrian authorities co-operate within the framework of the Austrian–Hungarian Committee for the National Parks, as well as Austrian–Hungarian Committee for cross border waterbodies. The relationship is outstandingly good, especially in the area of water management, in the framework of which – in addition to data exchange – the water quality is tested continuously and regularly.

The two supreme audit institutions have established in harmony with one another that the results, respectively the acceptance and recognition of the results, prove that the co-operation between Hungary and Austria is excellent both in the field of water issues and the national parks.