Country Profiles

Hungary - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Drastic changes in land use have occurred since the political regime change in the late 1980s and accession to the EU in 2004. Many arable lands and other agricultural areas have been abandoned, over-grazing has stopped and agricultural intensification (use of chemicals) has decreased. Although these changes have favoured agrobiodiversity, traditional land use forms have disappeared. Large-scale vegetation mapping conducted between 2003 and 2006 indicates that only 3.2-9.8% of Hungary’s natural capital of former times remains, with forest area having increased primarily as a result of plantations. Forest area at the moment comprises 20.3% of the country’s territory, with the ratio of indigenous tree stocks exceeding 57% of this area, while non-native species (black locust, red oak, pine) trees grow on 23% of the country’s territory and poplar clones on 6.9%. According to a scientific estimate, 37% of the forests are considered semi-natural. Almost two-thirds (63.5%) of forests have an economic function primarily, while 35.2% have protective functions, with the remaining forests (1.3%) performing healthcare, tourism, education and research functions. As a result of alignment with EU legislation on protected areas, the total amount of territory under protection increased from 9.4% (national legislation) to 22% (national and EU legislation combined), slightly exceeding the EU average.

More than 53,000 described species occur in Hungary, 82% of which are animals, with 3% of the total number of species protected under national law. Since 2003, the number of protected species has grown by 6%. Forty-six endangered habitat types listed in the EU Habitats Directive occur in Hungary. An assessment conducted between 2001 and 2006 listed the conservation status of 67% of these habitats as bad, 20% as inadequate and 11% as favorable. Seventeen per cent of the 520 species in Hungary, evaluated in 2008 for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, were found to be somehow endangered at the global level. All vascular plant species, evaluated in 2007 for the Hungarian Red List, revealed that the percentage of endangered species at some levels is 27.5% and that, between 1989 and 2007, these numbers increased by 30% (69% of these species are protected by national law). Regular monitoring of 211 animal and plant species of European importance has revealed the following trend: 11% of these populations are increasing, 22% are stable and 32% are decreasing.

Grasslands cover 10.8% of the country’s territory and are of great conservation importance within Europe, with 73% of the total grasslands area included in the Natura 2000 network. Hungarian grasslands are often more diverse than in many other countries. Most of them are secondary grasslands. Grasslands are relatively fragile and can only withstand extensive grazing. In Hungary, the number of grazing animals has decreased dramatically and distribution between grazing species has also changed. A strictly protected grassland species with high conservation value is the Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis) which occurs only in Hungary. It is the most endangered member of Hungarian vertebrate fauna of recent times. Through a captive breeding program at the Hungarian Meadow Viper Conservation Centre, these animals are reproducing successfully for the fifth consecutive year and reintroduction will start in the near future.

The most intact areas are forested mountains and the most degraded ones are agricultural lowlands. The least endangered habitat types are rocky habitats, certain halophytic and aquatic habitats, open acidophilous woodlands, dry shrub vegetation with Crataegus and Prunus spinosa and beech woodlands. The most seriously endangered habitats are sand and loess steppe oak woodlands, tussock sedge communities, extensive orchards, closed lowland oak woodlands, water-fringing and fen tall herb communities, wooded pastures, vegetation of loess cliffs, rich fens and Molinia meadows, Cynosurion grasslands and Nardus swards, swamp woodlands, xeromesophilous grasslands and salt steppe oak woodlands.

Common bird populations on agricultural habitats are stable. Forest bird populations show great fluctuations with no apparent long-term trend. Population trends of long-distance migratory birds show declining tendencies most frequently, in contrast with more stable resident, partly-migratory and short-term migratory species. A positive trend is exemplified by the Great Bustard (Otis tarda) which has almost doubled in population in Hungary since the early 1990s. Another positive trend is revealed by the Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) species whose population of 20 breeding pairs has increased to more than 90 since the 1980s and continues to increase. Another positive trend is revealed from the ten-year monitoring of 2 species of large carnivores (wolf and lynx) that now have permanent but peripheral populations in Hungary. The wolf was previously thought to be extinct. Cooperation with Slovakia has enabled this conservation success along with studies on the genetics of these 2 species. The strictly protected root vole (Microtus oeconomus), the rarest vole species in Hungary, has received special attention in terms of monitoring. Of its three isolated populations, 2 in the Szigetköz and Tóköz-Hanság regions have demonstrated a gradation peak and a later decline, while the other population in the Kis-Balaton region, cannot be found any longer.

Of 876 natural and 150 artificial water bodies identified in Hungary, 579 freshwater surface bodies (56%) have been classified as being “at risk” from organic, nutrient or priority hazardous substances (according to the EU Water Framework Directive definitions). Approximately 70% of artificial lakes (mainly fishponds) are “at risk” due to organic and nutrient loads. None of the 108 groundwater bodies identified are considered to be “at risk” due to human intervention however 46 sites are listed as “possibly at risk” (due mostly to nitrate pollution from various sources).

In terms of land use, 62.4% of the country is agricultural, demonstrating the importance of this sector to the national economy. The percentage of the total area under agriculture is outstandingly high in comparison to the rest of Europe. Organic farming comprises 1.3% of Hungary’s territory, a sector which more than doubled between 2000 and 2004 but has since stagnated.

Hungary belongs to a secondary centre of crop diversity, where high diversity of local types and landraces developed. The natural flora is an especially rich source of wild fruits, medicinal plants (including diverse chemotaxa), forage grasses and legumes, and some crop wild relatives (Aegilops, Lactuca, Daucus, Secale, Vitis, Prunus, Pyrus, etc.). Ninety gene banks are involved in the conservation of approximately 150,000 accessions of plant and micro-organism genetic resources. According to FAO data, Hungary’s main crop gene bank, the Research Centre for Agrobotany at Tápiószele, is among the world’s 15 largest national gene bank collections. Between 1996 and 2007, the number of registered cultivars almost doubled in spite of a slight decrease in the number of taxa.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The most significant threats to biodiversity in the country are due to human activity. They include trends related to economic development and the pressures placed on ecosystems, invasive alien species, habitat fragmentation and climate change. Results of monitoring between 2003 and 2006 determined that 5.5% of the country is covered by perennial alien species. Threats to forest biodiversity include the proportion of clear-cutting in private and protected stands, dead wood removal from the forests, overpopulation of game animals in certain areas, spread of alien tree species and conservation measures that are difficult to implement in regard to certain privately-owned forests. The country is also particularly exposed to negative transboundary environmental impacts due to the geographical characteristics of the Carpathian basin which receives 95% of its surface water from abroad.

Other threats to inland biodiversity include: habitat loss resulting from the conversion of waterbed and shoreline which occurred mainly in the past, inadequate water supply and non-natural water dynamics resulting from the uncontrolled use of surface and underground water resources, as well as problems arising from certain water power plants. The water quality of big rivers remains acceptable while the status of some rivers has improved. The status of small bodies of water is more unfavourable as, in some cases, their loading of pollutants is higher than their capacity for self-cleaning. The water quality of big lakes is fair. The ecological condition of the big lakes (Balaton, Velencei and Ferti) has been improved due to smaller nutrient loads as a result of the drastic drop in the use of fertilizers, as well as due to governmental measures and environmental investment programmes that have been undertaken. For other lakes, the eutrophication rate has generally been decreasing, but threat still remains. Notably, the water quality of Lake Balaton is excellent as a result of a comprehensive water-quality protection strategy and connected investments which diminished the pollution load of the lake by almost 50%.

Cheap international transportation of agricultural products affects national production as the prices of agricultural products from other distant countries are often lower than the prices of nationally-cultivated products. The diversity of fruit and vegetables accessible at the markets and supermarkets has decreased. Several traditional varieties are not cultivated due to economic reasons and lack of knowledge about their cultivation.

Pannonian salt steppes and salt marshes occur only in a few EU countries, with the largest surface area and centre of distribution of this habitat type located in Hungary. Compared with other salt lakes and marshes of the world, the alkaline lakes of the Carpathian Basin are characterised by lower salt content but higher alkalinity and, due to limited geographical distribution, belong to the most threatened European communities. These habitats support exceptionally rich fauna and flora and several endemic species. Many Pannonian salt steppes and salt marshes have been totally destroyed for agricultural purposes. Ploughing for agriculture is still a major threat. The remaining communities are also threatened by eutrophication, inadequate management (including water management). Other difficulties include removal of perverse incentives and legislation supporting the cultivation of regularly flooded areas.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Hungary’s NBSAP was adopted in 2009 and is mainstreamed in the National Environmental Programme (2009-2014). Nine themes are addressed in the NBSAP, namely, mining, forestry, fisheries, agriculture, regional development and tourism, land use, hunting, water management, molecular biology methods. The NBSAP’s 7 strategic objectives include social awareness-raising, education, training and information dissemination, the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources, and the integration of biodiversity in sectors and their respective strategies, as well as in regional, micro-regional and local planning. A revision of the NBSAP, based on the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, is planned for 2014, together with the adoption of a new National Environmental Programme for the period beyond 2014.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Information not available

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

National implementation is supported by the New Act on Forests adopted in 2009. Several other planning instruments also exist in which biodiversity has been mainstreamed, either directly or indirectly. Examples include the following: National Environmental Programme (2009-2014); Framework Agreement between Nature Conservation and Hunting Sectors (2012-2017); National Rural Development Strategy (2012-2020) that was to be adopted in 2012; Hungarian Development Plan (2007-2013); National Forest Programme (2006-2015) which highlights the importance of applying the Ecosystem Approach in forest conservation activities; National Fisheries Strategic Plan (2007-2013) which highlights ecosystem-based management, as well as the application of the “wise use” approach promoting the use of traditional values, knowledge and experiences in the use of natural resources of a given ecosystem; National Tourism Development Strategy (2005-2013). The National Climate Change Strategy (2008-20215) incorporates biodiversity considerations to a large degree, addressing in particular activities related to mainstreaming or those that potentially enhance the adaptation capacity of biodiversity to climate change and the importance of addressing ecosystem services in activities.

Tourism activities, including those related to cultural heritage, promote the participation of local communities, bottom-up initiatives and conduct of impact assessments. The continuation of the National Agri-Environmental Programme was implemented within the framework of the objectives of the National Rural Development Plan in 2004. One of the main objectives of the agri-environmental programme is to continue the establishment of a system of environmentally sensitive areas (ESAs) that are the most important for maintaining the natural environment. Among the measures of the Natural Rural Development Programme, farmers are entitled to receive area-based financial subsidies and payments for favourable environmental performance in their holdings provided they voluntarily comply with related management requirements. The amount of payment to farmers is proportionate to the complexity of the measure and to the expected effects on the environment and the economic return of production. The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development provides compensation programmes for farmers in regard to favourable environmental and conservation management practices, as well as subsidies for undertaking voluntary agri-environmental and forest-environmental measures. The new National Rural Development Plan allows private forest owners to apply for payments regarding special voluntary measures that aim to protect forest biodiversity.

A case study on "Supporting business for biodiversity" highlights the ‘Biodiversity Technical Assistance Units’ pilot project, begun in 2007, which aims to create instruments in Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland that apply a public-private partnership approach in exploring business opportunities for safeguarding biodiversity. These instruments aim to facilitate the creation of a new pro-biodiversity investment market for the business and banking sector, and deliver a pipeline of bankable projects for future investment loans for the benefit of biodiversity. The project will run for three years and explore the specific links between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), social and economic development in rural areas, and the protection of biodiversity. The project focuses on areas that have been recognised as high value and that are included in the Natura 2000 network which include the large majority of Important Bird Areas as defined under the EU Habitats and Birds Directives.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The Hungarian Biodiversity Monitoring System (HBMS) is a long-term programme implemented to observe the state of Hungarian biodiversity and, since 1998, has provided long-term datasets on biodiversity trends that have assisted authorities with decision-making. Considerable work has been undertaken in regard to invasive alien species. Hungary has also implemented the Nature Conservation Information System which is a part of the National Environmental Information System. It is a computer-based information system with a complex geographical information foundation which serves to provide information for strategic planning, direct the work of authorities, inform the public and assess the impact of conservation management measures.