22 August - Kiskunság National Park
Fülöpháza Sand Dunes is one of the most interesting sand-dune areas in Central Europe. The rich variety of the surface was created by the predominant northwestern, southeastern winds, which have heaped dozens of meters of sand and loess. There are still a number of drifting sand dunes in the area. The dunes are covered with open sandy grasslands, and give home to ample insect population. In the eastern part of the area there used to be a number of sodic lakes in beds that had been created by the wind. These lakes all dried out during the drought of the 1980s, and are rarely filled up with water any more.
ExDRain (Extreme Drought and Rain Manipulation Experiment) is a climate field experiment to study the impact of a single extreme drought (two treatment levels: extreme drought in 2014 / control) combined with long-term chronic precipitation change from 2015 (four levels: 2-month drought / 1-month drought / control / irrigation) on dry grassland. Till now, the results suggest that some ecosystem functions may recover very fast after extreme events, even if composition remain very different. In addition while aboveground net primary production (ANPP) recovery after extreme event was found unrelated to chronic precipitation manipulations after the extreme event, compositional recovery was dependent on precipitation levels.
Spontaneous recovery of abandoned fields
Restoration experiments started in Fülöpháza in 1995. The target of restoration is the endemic Pannonian sand grassland that is under protection of the EU (Pannonic sand steppe, habitat code 6260). These grasslands were destroyed because of the establishment of arable fields and forest plantations from the 1900s. Land abandoned is continuous from the 1960s that provides opportunity for restoration. The methods tested include chemical application to control invasive species, mowing, carbon amendment and seeding.
23 August - Hortobágy National Park
The Hortobágy – the first Hungarian national park – has an almost flat landscape, sprawling, continuous grasslands with wetland mosaics, the most extensive of its kind in the whole of Europe, comprising of alkaline marshes, meadows, dry alkaline pastures and remnants of loess-steppe vegetation. The National Park is not only the first but also the biggest (82,000 hectares) Hungarian national park to date, also a World Heritage and Ramsar site and a Biosphere Reserve.
Ancient burial mounds are iconic landscape elements of the Eurasian steppes and often act as refugia for grassland specialist species. The proportion of kurgans covered by steppe vegetation increases from west to east and from lowlands to uplands. Despite their small size, kurgans act as biodiversity hotspots and harbour many red-listed species. High overall species richness and a high proportion of grassland specialists are maintained by a pronounced fine-scale environmental heterogeneity. The main factors threatening the biodiversity of kurgans are intensified agriculture, construction works and woody encroachment. Introducing characteristic grassland species on cultural monuments offers a great opportunity to link issues of landscape and biodiversity conservation. By the revitalisation of cultural monuments ecosystem services can also be restored. We will visit several burial mounds, including well-conserved (Csípő-halom) and restored ones (Kócs-halom).
Marsh-land of Egyek-Pusztakócs Marsh-land of Egyek-Pusztakócs has an area of approximately 10,000 ha, and situated in the western part of the national park (near Ohat-Egyek-Tiszafüred). Before the large water regulation campaigns of the 19th century, these marshes collected the huge floods of River Tisza. Hungary's first large-scale, landscape-based habitat rehabilitation program was initiated here in 1976. The basic purpose of the rehabilitation was to construct and operate a water supply system and to reconstruct the original hydrological conditions of the marsh-land. Restored marshes have a central role in the spring and autumn migration of birds. The second phase of the restoration (LIFE04NAT/HU/000119, 2004-2008) included the reconstruction of alkali and loess grasslands on ex-arable lands using low-diversity seed mixtures on a total of 760 hectares, which was one of the largest grassland restoration at that time in Europe. These grasslands are often species-poor because the sown grasses hamper the colonisation of target grassland forbs from the adjacent semi-natural grasslands. As a novel approach, high-diversity sowing in establishment gaps was tested in order to improve the diversity of formerly sown grasslands. During our trip we will visit typical alkali and loess grasslands, and grasslands re-constructed by low and high-diversity seeding. We will pass the bird rehabilitation centre of the national park, where they care for injured predators and storks and conduct in-situ species protection programs. Hopefully we will also see a wild colony of red-footed falcon (Falco vespertinus) in the Péteri-erdő.
24 August - Vértes Nature Park
Zámolyi-medence Natura 2000 site is a narrow depression basin of northeast-southwest direction in the south foreground of the Vértes Mountains. The Zámolyi-medence is a breeding, migratory and feeding area for numerous birds and part of an ecological corridor stretching between the Vértes, Velencei-hegység and Velencei-tó. Among the habitats of Community importance are Molinia meadows (6140), Lowland hay meadows (6510) and to a smaller extent Pannonic salt steppes (1530), Semi-natural dry grasslands (6210), Sub-pannonic steppic grasslands (6240), Pannonic loess steppic grasslands (6250) and wetlands and water habitats (3150, 5430, 6440, 7230). The simultaneous presence of the species with dry and wet ecological demands refers to the habitat diversity of the area.