6 Transboundary Management of Natural Resources Neusiedler See / Fertő-Tó


Katharina Diehl and Alois Lang1

6.1 Introduction

The cross border national park Fertő-Hanság or Neusiedler See covers a wetland area of approximately 300 square kilometres (km2) shared by Hungary and Austria. (See Figure 6.1.) It is located in the western-most part of the Carpathian Basin, east of the mountain formations of the Austrian Alps. The site has been divided by a State border since 1918. However, the joint pursuit of integration of culture with nature and the many links and interactions between the civilizations on both sides of the border has resulted in a geographically and historically uniform cultural landscape.2

The national park was founded on the Hungarian side in 1991. The opportunity to establish the park came with the radical political changes in 1989,3 and the plans for developing a transboundary park were made under the former socialistic government in Hungary in 1988. The Austrian part of the park was established in 1993, according to the country's national park law that was approved in 1992. The two parks were symbolically joined by a ceremony on April 24, 1994.

While the methods that needed to be implemented for preserving or restoring valuable ecosystems turned out to be the same in both parts of the national park, the logistical, legal, and structural background was and still is very different. The situation today is one of successful collaboration between the two park directorates and also between most of the local communities. The EUROPARC award for successful transboundary co-operation in nature conservation, handed over in 2003 to both Directors, gave credit to the efforts that have been undertaken in this field since the foundation of the national park.4

Figure 6.1. World Heritage Site Fertő-Neusiedl Lake

6.2 The transboundary national park area

6.2.1 The geographical setting

The Fertő-Neusiedler See ecosystem is the most westerly in a string of saline steppe-lakes across Eurasia. The shallow (up to 1.8 metres [m] deep) steppe lake is the largest saline water body in Europe, covering about 315 km2. It is about 13,000 years old, at a late stage of succession.5

In former times, the Fertő-Neusiedler See was in hydrological contact with the Danube and Raab River systems. Following intensive drainage of the Hanság basins in the twentieth century, greater floods of the rivers reached the Fertő-Neusiedler Lake through the Mosoni-Danube and Rábca, which contributed to major fluctuations in the lake's water level: at some times the lake flooded the surrounding area; at other times it dried out completely. Its water level is now subject to artificial control – at least in terms of flood prevention.6

Figure 6.2. Transition zone from the steppes to the Alps

The region has always been a typical border region, due to its geographical and geological settting as a transition zone between the Carpathian Plains and the Alpine Mountains. (See Figure 6.2.) Because of the various climatic effects – continental, sub-Mediterranean, alpine – it is a meeting point also of floral and faunal borders. The ethnic composition of the human population shows a similar diversity, consisting of German, Slav (Croat), and Finno-Ugrian-Altaic (Hungarian) ethnic elements.

6.2.2 Common history

Findings from the Stone and Bronze Ages inform us that the region surrounding Lake Neusiedl was inhabitated 8,000 years ago. Archaeological findings prove that the successive civilizations had cultural and trading connections via trade routes crossing the south-west region of the lake, such as the Amber Route, which connected the Adriatic to the Baltic Sea and passed on the west side of the lake. There was also the main road connecting the plain of north-western Hungary to the Vienna basin from the east, with one of its tracks following the southern shore of Fertő-Neusiedler See.

Hundreds of years of continuous land use formed a landscape that is exceptionally diverse in its appearance. This diversity is caused by the gradual differences in altitude and by the numerous traditional forms of land use. The different elements, such as grazing and cattle herding (carried out both by the local inhabitants and by migrating cattle farmers), can be traced back to their historical context. Vineyards had been already established in Celtic and Roman times. From the 1950s to the 1970s, the area under vineyards reached its greatest extent and, particularly in the Seewinkel area, extended to parts of the landscape traditionally dominated by large pastures, dry meadows, and arable fields. The reed cutting is the most recent form of traditional land use (see Figure 6.3) – as the reed started spreading only after the sixteenth century, reaching its extensive area supporting economic use and natural values during the last 150 years.7

Figure 6.3. Reed beds on Fertő-Neusiedl Lake, Schneeberg

The Lake is surrounded by an inner ring of 16 settlements and an outer ring of 20 more. Unlike other protected areas that are characterized by one or more large objects, the Neusiedler Lake area is interrupted almost exclusively by rigidly defined settlements that were built closely together for security reasons in a flat land that was exposed not only to severe weather conditions but also to all kinds of hostile attacks.8

During the wars of the Turkish siege of Vienna, Lake Neusiedl was a besieged and hard-fought territory for more than 200 years. During the time that actually shaped today's cultural landscape (beginning in the second half of the seventeenth century) the region was mainly in the hands of the Austro-Hungarian nobility – i.e., the Esterházy, Széchenyi and Habsburg families. Smaller portions were owned by the Roman Catholic Church.9 (See Figure 6.4.) Overall, large estates dominated the land outside towns and villages. The stability of landownership greatly contributed to the continuity of land-use patterns. Even the sociopolitical upheavals after 1918 and 1945, when the nobility was in part succeeded by the public sector, has not really changed this pattern. The basic social structures defining the land in terms of ownership and source of subsistence for the population have largely remained the same. This has definitely had an impact on the cultural landscape, as it has helped to maintain the traditional socioeconomic structures and thus the balance between land use and the natural environment.

Figure 6.4. Kartenausschnitt Komitat Moson, 1886

Until 1920 the Neusiedler See and the Burgenland belonged to the territory of the Hungarian Kingdom. After World War I, the Deutsch-Westungarn territory was attributed to Austria (Trianon, Saint-Germain, 1919). Since then, the national border introduced between Austria and Hungary has divided the region into two halves. Politically and administratively, the Austrian part of the lake belongs to the province (‘Land’) of Burgenland.

During World War II the area was again an arena for armed hostilities, this time between the German Wehrmacht and the Russian Red Army.

The water, the extensive reed beds cut into segments by a labyrinth of channels, the saline meadows once periodically flooded, and the row of hills enclosing the lake from the west with forests and vineyards on top represent not only the natural-geographical component features but also hundreds of years of identical land-use impacts.10 Around the lake, viticulture is the most important land use, but there are other manmade or seminatural habitats of ecological and landscape importance.

True isolation started with the establishment of the Communists' ‘Iron Curtain’ after World War II. During the Hungarian revolution in 1956, many Hungarians used the reed beds and the shallow lake to try a perilous escape to the west, before the border area was heavily secured for long years. But it was on the south-western part of the lake shore, between Fertőrákos (Kroisbach) and St. Margarethen, that hundreds of participants in a Pan-European Picnic spontaneously tore down the barbed wire and reopened the border in August 1989. The population on the Austrian side had supported this change and welcomed hundreds of people trespassing across the border.11

6.2.3 Protection status

The lake at the base of the Alps is internationally important for migratory birds as a resting and feeding place. The reeds that cover between half and two-thirds of the lake are an important habitat for many nesting bird species, such as the Great White Egret (Ardea alba). To the east of the lake, the Seewinkel area complements the reed beds with some 40 shallow saline ponds as well as with remnant salt meadows, where thousands of geese arrive in late autumn.12 (See Figure 6.5.)

Figure 6.5. Saltwater pans (Lacken)

The basic fauna of the lakeshore is of European or Central European origin, including a few endemic species and a specifically prairie type fauna. The landscape setting of the lake, the bird populations, and the existence of so many biotope types in a relatively small area are the most important natural values of the site.

On the Austrian side of the border, the whole area has been a nature and landscape protection area since 1965, and the protection area has been classified a reserve under the Ramsar Convention since 1983. UNESCO proclaimed a Biosphere Reserve covering the basin of the lake in 1977. The Hungarian part of the lake and its surrounding wetlands has been a landscape protection area since 1977 and a Ramsar Area and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1989.13

The Austrian National Park Neusiedler See-Seewinkel was established in 1993. Today it covers 9,673 hectares (ha), of which 4,329 ha are designated as a core zone and 4,734 ha as a conservation zone. Both zones have been taken out of private economic use. The important areas on the Austrian side of the national park are the reed beds, meadows, and grasslands as well as the salt pan meadows. The Hungarian national park, which was established in 1991, in a first phase comprised 6,400 ha of reed beds, 1,100 ha of water surface, and 670 ha of meadows and salt pans. It was significantly enlarged with the Hanság area in 1994 – today the components of the Fertő-Hanság Nemzeti Park cover more than 20,000 ha.14

In December 2001, the Fertő tó-Neusiedl See area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site under criterion with the justification that:

the Fertő-Neusiedler See has been the meeting place of different cultures for eight millennia, and this is graphically demonstrated by its varied landscape, the result of an evolutionary and symbiotic process of human interaction with the physical environment.15

6.3 Political background

The procedure of establishing a national park on both sides of the border cannot be seen as only the administrative process but has to include many years of development and negotiations that were necessary to form the park as it can be seen today. On the Austrian side, the idea had appeared now and again since the 1930s, when the Neusiedler See had been discovered as a tourist site and the natural assets were therefore seen from a new point of view.16 Between the wars, joint nature conservation efforts were not an issue, and a co-operation on the scientific level was established on a regular basis only much later, in the 1960s.17

6.3.1 Co-operation in water management

Transboundary co-operation in nature conservation and water management started as early as the 1950s.18 The necessity for co-operation was as a result of the natural dynamics of the steppe lake. The lake has a size of 315 km2 but a catchment area of only 1,300 km2, which is spread across both countries. Rainfall, snow, and evaporation are the dominant factors affecting the water level in the lake, whereas small rivers, groundwater, and minor springs do not play a significant role.19 Transboundary water management turned out to be crucial for regional development in terms of flood prevention, agriculture, settlement development, and tourism.20

Before the eighteenth century the water level was subject to very high fluctuations of up to 3 m during only one year, which caused the flooding of vast areas of land – thus forming the salt meadows in the surrounding area. Things changed in the seventeenth century, when severe interventions in form of an area-wide system of channels – built to gain more arable land – changed the water balance and the natural water flow almost completely.21

Figure 6.6. Sluice of the Hanság-Channel

The first The first attempts to control the water level in a large scale to reduce the seasonal fluctuations were made around 1900, by constructing a long channel, the so-called Einserkanal (Fö csatorna). This channel stretches from the southeastern shore of the lake to the River Raab (Raba), some 36 km away. Since it is connected to deep canals that were dug especially between 1958 and 1967 (see Figure 6.6), major damage caused by floods could be avoided. A sluice was built in 1956, allowing a natural fluctuation of the water level of about 50 centimetres.

Transboundary co-operation became more essential because the sluice gate as well as the channel remained in the Hungarian part of the area, whereas some 80 per cent of the lake basin became part of Austria after World War I. From 1956 onwards, a bilateral water management commission for Lake Neusiedl was established. One of its tasks is the regulation of the sluice that was jointly renovated in 1992.22

Although co-operation was necessary to manage the water resources of the lake, nature conservation was not considered grounds for closer co-operation for a long time. However, since the first Biologische Station on the Austrian side of the lake was opened in 1950, the outcomes of scientific research have been exchanged between Hungarian and Austrian institutions. During the years, this exchange process clearly gave an insight into the needs for active nature conservation in this sensitive area. In general, the loss of rare habitats in the cultural landscape and the threats to endangered species showed a similar need for action in both countries, including changes in traditional land-use practices, such as the abandonment of meadows and pastures, unrestricted growth of reeds along the shores of the lake and the soda lakes, as well as a fishery focused on introduced species, like the eel (Anguilla anguilla).23

6.3.2 Co-operation in nature conservation

Around the same time, Austrian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) began to engage in activities to actively protect habitats in the meadows and around the soda lakes.24 The scope of activities ranged from the purchases of land to the reintroduction of cattle grazing.25

While calls for a national park were voiced on the Austrian side, the first attempt to co-operate across borders happened in the late 1970s. The Austrian Nature Conservation Association or Österreichischer Naturschutzbund (ÖNB) had established contacts with the Hungarian president of the regional authority for nature conservation, Zoltán Rakonczay and his colleagues. One result of this exchange of ideas was the establishment of the landscape protection area on the Hungarian side in December 1977, touching the landscape protection area on the Austrian side of the border that had been established in 1965.

On the twenty-sixth Austrian Conservation Day, in 1978, an event was organized by the ÖNB together with participants from the Hungarian side, where the ÖNB presented their manifest (Mattersburger Manifest) for transboundary co-operation for nature conservation together with documents containing concrete suggestions for a national park. These documents included key issues like area, boundaries, zonation, threats, and management plans – and they were regarded as a sound basis for the establishment of the national park in the course of the actual process in later years.26

Other attempts for a transboundary national park had been made in 1973 and 1987. In 1973, a concept had been drafted for a transboundary Europarc by the ninth European Conference for Nature and National Parks. In 1987, distinctive plans for a transboundary national park were voiced in the course of the two countries' plans to jointly run for an EXPO in 1995 that would be held in both capitals, Vienna and Budapest.27

The actual process of a transboundary national park had then been initiated in 1988 and 1989, when the political changes created a setting for a new attempt and both the Austrian and the Hungarian Parliaments articulated their wish for realizing these plans.

6.3.3 Co-operation in the establishment of the national parks

The planning process of the national park was started by a bilateral commission consisting of experts from both sides and involving all stakeholders on the local level. In Austria, this meant an integration of more than a thousand families in seven villages, who were – and still are – the landowners of about 100 km2 of national park area. An evaluation of all proposed sites was undertaken on the basis of the current agricultural value of the land. These negotiations lasted almost four years, and they were constructively supported by the agricultural chamber. In 1992, contracts regulating compensation payments for the landowners were finally signed.28

In Hungary, the first phase of the national park was established on State land and through State law in 1991. To demonstrate the transboundary character of this protected wetland area, a joint opening ceremony was held in April 1994. The Prime Ministers of both Hungary and Austria, Boross and Vranitzky, stated their will to intensify co-operation in nature conservation – the event took place on the state border near the joint core zone of the new national park.29

When the Austro-Hungarian Planning Commission had achieved its goals in the establishment of the national park, it was agreed by both sides to continue the close co-operation in further developing transboundary park and its management plans. The Commission exists to this day, and it is active in discussing essential next steps and in taking care of using synergies in research, management, and ecotourism. The two national park directors, Laszlo Kárpáti and Kurt Kirchberger, are the heads of this Commission.

Today, knowledge, experience, and even infrastructure are shared wherever possible. Elements of the visitors' and educational programme are jointly developed on and for both sides. The mutual support during international conferences, press trips, or study trips hosted by one of the national park centres (Illmitz, Sarród) clearly indicates that these two national parks are part of one and the same wetland area.

6.3.4 A long-term vision

Concrete plans for a transboundary national park were voiced in 1987 when – still under the socialist system in Hungary – both countries decided to jointly run for an EXPO in 1995 that would be held in Vienna and Budapest. In the planning phase of the EXPO, the idea of a national park covering an area in two States with different political systems was considered an attractive part of the concept. Although the EXPO itself was never realized, the idea of the transboundary park was one of the very few parts of the concept that survived to become reality (Laszlo Karpati, Soproner Universität). On August 23, 1989, Hungary removed its border restrictions with Austria, so the time was ripe for realizing the dream of the transboundary national park.

The vision of the joint national park contributed to the forming of expectations. The open border allows for guests from either side of the national park to visit the other. One important method to enhance visitor interest in the park was to jointly prepare a map (for hikers and bikers) showing the whole park and providing information in German, Hungarian, and English.

When the Neusiedler Lake was declared a World Heritage Site in 2001, the value of the cultural landscape around the steppe lake was strongly underlined. Since then, the conservation activities in both national parks have been communicated to an even wider audience. This contributed significantly to a better understanding of today's nature conservation tasks.

Due to the many natural and cultural assets of the region, the communities and businesses can attract tourism target groups outside the summer high season of July and August. This increases the sustainability of the small-scale tourism industry.

In general, it can be said that the influence of this long-term vision today is rather low, due to the short-term perspective used by decision makers – especially on the local and regional level – in terms of regional planning and nature conservation.

6.4 Treaties and institutional arrangements

6.4.1 The nineteenth century

Lake Neusiedl and all its surroundings were subject to the Hungarian monarchy until 1921. Until then, laws concerning nature had been mainly established out of agroeconomical interests, such as regulations for the conservation of birds relevant for agriculture.30 The first nature conservation law for the province of Burgenland on the Austrian side of the border was developed in 1926.31

6.4.2 Treaty on the regulation of water management

After World War II, the first cross-border management in the Neusiedler See region between Austria and Hungary began in 1955 with the first bilateral meetings on the management of water supply and distribution. These meetings led to joint signature of the ‘treaty on the regulation of water management in the border area’ and the establishment of a bilateral water management commission for Lake Neusiedl.

The treaty basically obliges both States to not negatively change, manipulate, or affect the water, the water quality, and the river channel or lakebed in any way. Changes need to be jointly agreed by the Commission in advance.

The Commission consists of four members for each country. Their tasks consist of solving problems in water supply and distribution, controlling the implementation of the joint resolutions, carrying out scientific research and hydrological monitoring programmes, and keeping the governments of both countries informed of their work.32

6.4.3 Establishment of a national park

Before the beginning of the planning phase for the national park, joint management through any other bilaterally agreed Codes of Conduct or agreements in nature conservation did not exist for either the Man and Biosphere Reserve or the Ramsar Site. Nevertheless, from the 1970s onwards the international nature conservation designations, such as Man and Biosphere Reserve and Ramsar Site for both sides of the Lake Neusiedl / Fertő tó, led to a certain need for homogenization of spatial plans in the area, based on an exchange of scientific data.

The regular exchange of scientific data had already been established in the 1960s. Bi-annual scientific conferences (Neusiedler See Tagungen) were the first agreed and official instruments for transboundary co-operation. This not only showed clear similarities in landscape changes on both sides of the border, it also allowed for exchange on the needs for active nature conservation and protection of the environment. This had the effect that even before the national parks were established, similar methods for preservation or restoration of valuable habitats were used.33

The start of the joint planning for the national park, 1988, saw the establishment of a bilateral planning commission, consisting of experts from the local as well as the national level.

Today, the logistical, legal, and structural settings in the two national parks are still very different, which is mainly a result of fundamental differences between the countries concerning landownership patterns, involvement of the public, institutional arrangements, and administrative traditions.34 On both sides of the border, habitat management was prominent on the parks' agenda during the first decade of its existence. Much attention was given to the step-wise enlargement of protected areas, the creation of buffer zones, contractual arrangements regarding fishery and hunting, and the establishment of visitor facilities and programmes.35 Although there is little direct co-operation and no specific contract between the two parks, they act co-operatively in a spirit of ‘good neighbourliness’, with mutual consultation, and all activities were, and are, largely run in parallel on both sides of the border.

In Austria, the national park is subject to the 1992 National Park Neusiedler See – Seewinkel Act (NPG 1992, LGBl. Nr. 28/1993), including the modifications of 2000 (LGBl. Nr. 82/1993) that followed the enlargement of the national park's area. Although the National Park Neusiedler See-Seewinkel/Lake Fertő tó is a transboundary national park, each country manages its protected area according to its relevant national legislation.36

The 1992 National Park Act includes the establishment of a joint Austro-Hungarian National Park Commission (Article 25) in order to harmonize the development of the parks. This Commission existed in the planning phase of the national park since 1988, and once it had achieved its function in the establishment of the national park, it could have been disbanded. However, it was agreed on both sides to continue the close co-operation and to keep the Commission for discussing essential steps and future synergies. The Commission operates under the National Park Act in Austria and the National Park's Directive of the Ministry of Environment in Hungary. It is led by both national park Directors and includes local representatives from both countries.37

The task of the Commission is the co-ordination of the planning, the creation, the establishment, and the maintenance of the national park in both States along with the handling of all affairs that are of a common interest and the information and public relations work for the transboundary national park.38

The Commission on the Austrian side consists of a representative of the Federal Minister for Environment, one representative of the Federal Environmental Agency, two representatives from the provincial government, the national park Director, and the Head of the Scientific Advisory Board of the national park association Neusiedler See-Seewinkel. The Hungarian side provides four representatives of the State nature conservation agency, the national park Director, and the Head of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Hungarian Fertő-Hanság Nemzeti Park.

The members of the Commission have to determine the rules of procedure unanimously. The rules of procedure must include the terms for the extent and manner of the joint counselling sessions. The constituent meeting has to be summoned by the provincial government. The Federal Minister of Environment must be heard in all meetings. The administrative work of the Commission is to be done by the responsible department in the environmenal agency of the provincial government (Article 25 NPG 1992).39

Instead of a joint management plan, it was established that there was to be close permanent co-operation of the national park's staff in all sectors that were of common interest, such as management of the cultural landscape in the conservation zone, visitor management, nature education, and public relations as well as data exchange in research studies and inventories.

6.4.4 Establishment of a World Heritage Site

For the World Heritage Site, a joint management plan was published in 2004. The Management Plan is implemented by the two World Heritage management organizations in Austria and in Hungary. The review is organized and directed by the Austrian and Hungarian World Heritage Fertő / Neusiedler See management organizations that constitute the Management Forum. Transparent, readily available indicators with a high informative value are used for the monitoring process. As a methodological tool, the Criteria Catalogue for Ecologically Particularly Sensitive Areas is recommended in the management plan and has already been successfully tested for the Neusiedler See region on both the Austrian and Hungarian sides of the border.

The implementation process is monitored according to an Action Plan (integrated into the management plan), which has short- and medium-term objectives for sustainable nature and landscape protection, protection of cultural assets, sustainable agriculture, regional development, and environmental protection. Successfully implemented measures and any shortcomings relating to the implementation of the Plan are to be brought to the attention of the General Assembly of the World Heritage management organizations (held annually). There is a close co-operation of the World Heritage Site officers of both countries.

The management plan must be subjected to a review every six years. Broadly based dissemination of information about the plan via schools and other educational establishments, public information events, publications, the media, and the Internet is thus a major task of the World Heritage management organizations. On the Hungarian side the research projects, studies, and monitoring are supported by ad hoc subsidies from the Hungarian National Committee of World Heritage.40

6.5 Lessons learned in transboundary co-operation

In the national park, joint decisions on key steps for planning on the local level have led to sound conservation management. In general, more emphasis had been put on the integration of local stakeholders and less on national legal framework, especially at the beginning of decision-making processes. Avoiding monosectoral activities – e.g., by nature conservation NGOs – during the planning period led to broader participation of stakeholders.

The planning of the transboundary World Heritage Site built on the previously established relationships and co-operation. Working groups including all relevant stakeholders were established for developing the joint management plan. A well-moderated series of conferences for the presentation on the agreed objectives communicated the results to the general public. To date, the stakeholders in the World Heritage area are organized in both countries separately in World Heritage associations.

The mutual support in media work and public relations on both sides of the border must not be underestimated in its role in facilitating transboundary co-operation. In the case of the Neusiedler Lake, interest in transboundary issues and media relations was facilitated by the foundation of an EUREGIO co-operation of the Austrian district of Burgenland and the Hungarian counties of Györ-Moson-Sopron, Vas, and Zala in 1998. Since then, the regional media has intensified its cross border co-operation, and expert working groups from both sides meet regularly within the joint EUREGIO. This has resulted in a much higher interest by the media in national park topics and transboundary co-operation projects.41

Very often, media reports on the region are written or produced by outsiders, who do not have the insight into the development process and the real obstacles in the region – which leads to the wrong messages being communicated. To avoid this, local public relations and media work are of high importance. Nevertheless, transboundary co-operation does not so much depend on joint or harmonized public relations, if the political and socioeconomic frameworks are too different. The national parks have made it their task to foster a new transboundary regional identity, based on natural assets, which can only be reached if all sectors of society are – at least partly – involved in the general process on the local level. In this context, the language barrier is still underestimated.

Both partners are proactive partners in the matter of fundraising for transboundary projects, such as the European Union co-funded project on traffic development in sensitive areas, which was driven by the respective Ministries in Vienna and Budapest. One output of this project was a solar boat for a maximum of 25 passengers that serves as an excursion boat on the lake for educational and public relations purposes.

Nature conservation proves to be a good mechanism for initiating and intensifying transboundary co-operation: compared with other sectors, there is almost no risk of misunderstanding, and the key actors are not suspected of being focused on personal economic advantages.

6.6 Effect on nature conservation

Intensification of transboundary co-operation in the 1980s mitigated the risks of unsustainable development in tourism, settlement extension, agriculture, and traffic infrastructure. Since then, remarkable progress has been made in environmental protection on the Hungarian side (e.g., in wastewater treatment), based on the experience of the Austrian side.

The removal of the core areas from economic use was carried out effectively on both sides of the border, with each national park following its own administrative process. On the Hungarian side, ecosystem restoration figured prominently among the management tasks.42 Keeping the so-called conservation zones intact is more challenging, as they are largely made up of ancient cultural landscapes, which means that they have to be maintained through the continuation of traditional forms of land use. The revival of these methods is a major task for the park authorities.

On the Hungarian side, national park staff are responsible for tending the land according to conservation management objectives. The national park on the Austrian side lets out land for use on a contractual basis but strictly enforces that such land use is beneficial for conservation.

In terms of economic development, the protective effect of the border persisted into the 1990s, since Austria joined the Schengen-countries within the European Union in 1995 and the borders were again more restrictively protected.43

Ongoing information exchange on the EUREGIO level, among the national park's authorities, and the World Heritage Site preclude problematic developments that could threaten the natural assets on one side of the border. Examples of this include information through the EUREGIO working group on a planned mining project in Hungary, which led to protests on the Austrian side in 2003; the demands for a crossborder cycle trail close to the national park's nature zone, which was jointly rejected by both directorates in 2004; and plans for a waste treatment plant in the southern part of the region on the Austrian side in 2006, which caused protests on both sides of the border.

6.7 Dispute resolution processes

The question of dispute resolution has to be treated separately for the Hungarian and the Austrian sides, since there has been virtually no public involvement or participation on the Hungarian side before or during the process of establishing the national park; the same is true for the World Heritage Site application. This is mainly due to the fact that no private landowners were involved on the Hungarian side. Whereas no human use had been tolerated within the military zone along the shore of the lake, the other land had been, and for the largest part still is, owned by the State. Only those local families who had stayed landowners until 1948 were in a position to claim back their former property.44

Quite to the contrary, the population surrounding the Lake Neusiedl on the Austrian side had been very much involved in the process of nature conservation and had actively articulated their opinions for or against a national park whenever challenged. Strong disputes arose on the Austrian side between 1988 and 1992, especially concerning the zoning system of the national park.45 The establishment of the national park, for example, meant the prohibition of converting meadows to fields. Due to the fact that livestock was a diminishing generator of income, the designation of land for a national park was considered a loss-making business.

This attitude changed in the 1980s, when farmers realized they were competing with the development of agro-industrial business.46 The dispute was finally solved by the co-operation of the planning authority with the chamber of agriculture. The planning authority began negotiations with the stakeholders about existing and future contracts concerning the property rights of the land that was designated for the national park. The Chamber of Agriculture agreed on financial compensation based on the outcome of these negotiations.

The authorities suggested establishing local stakeholder associations of landowners in the Austrian part of the Neusiedler Lake as a constructive counterpart in further disputes. Soon after, a local association of landowners was founded, and a Committee for further negotiations was nominated. The association of landowners and the planning authority could then agree on renting contracts offered to the landowners based on free will.

In addition, the park's administration successfully pointed out the economic advantages of preserving nature for ecotourists. The plans for building a Visitors Centre and for developing infrastructure along the cycling and hiking roads were presented at an early stage of the process.

The importance of independent and rigorous environmental impact assessment as well as scientific studies for dispute resolution has been found to be very high in general, especially on the management level. For the public discussion of sensitive issues, the scientific studies have to be carefully and soundly ’translated’ in order to avoid misunderstandings.

In Austria, the role of public participation on the local level is naturally very high in the national park area, since the park is established on the land of private landowners. This assures a strong interest in the happenings in the national park and the activities of its authority, and it triggers discussions and participative involvement in the whole surrounding area. The national park management fostered this participation in environmental education issues by including freelancers and inhabitants into the tour programmes, which are up to 90 per cent covered by non-national park staff. Moreover, all (tourist) services that are offered by local family enterprises are not in competition with the national park authority (e.g., bike rental, commercial boat trips, horse coach tours). This approach clearly supported the acceptance of the national park in the surrounding villages.

This strategy has proved successful in the last years, and step by step it is regarded as a good example in management planning on the Hungarian side as well.

6.8 Role of NGOs, international organizations, and funding bodies

Private initiatives as well as the efforts of nongovernmental organizations laid the foundations for the national park not only in the political sense. It can be said that without the efforts of many people who secured areas by keeping them from the intensification of land use, the national park area would not have been as extensive and valuable as it is today. Many meadow areas in the vicinity of the salt pans were protected by private funds. These areas form large parts of the national park area today.

This is especially true on the Austrian side, where the ÖNB played a major role in conservation in the Neusiedler Lake region. The ÖNB was founded in 1913, and the establishment of national parks was a central point on its agenda. Long before the foundation of national parks was on any political agenda, Dr. Lothar Machura, a zoologist, promoted the idea of a national park. The ÖNB took up this idea in 1936, when they rented 200 ha of land in the surroundings of the village of Illmitz for the duration of 10 years. This initiative was supported by another project, which included the establishment of a scientific centre close to the lake in 1938. The ÖNB provided not only the impetus for both these initiatives but also a significant amount of financial aid to realize the attempt.47 During World War II, many conservation efforts were interrupted, but they resumed in the late 1940s.

In the late 1970s, the ÖNB established contacts with Hungarian conservationists, mainly based in the University of Sopron. The idea of a transboundary national park was put on a political agenda in the course of planning an Austro-Hungarian EXPO for 1995.

In order to reduce irrational fears of a national park, the Austrian ÖNB had organized an information trip to already existing national parks in Luxembourg, France, and Germany in 1979. Authorities from the district and the village level went on the trip, which also included an official conference in Strasbourg on questions concerning a national park. The trip led to an understanding that nature conservation does not necessarily harm tourism interests.48 Other significant events included a symposium for nature conservation held in Apetlon 1979 and a day for nature conservation in the Burgenland district.49

In 1961, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was founded, with an Austrian branch established in 1963. The efforts to protect the Neusiedler Lake region were in the centre of the organization's efforts for nature protection. A foundation was established, and international funds were obtained in order to rent land for conservation. The Lange Lacke, a big salt pan, was the focus of a long-term project. A meadow area of 420 ha was leased for 20 years (1965–1985). When funding had to be raised on the national level over the years, this approach became more and more difficult to sustain. But WWF managed to join efforts with other conservation projects and organizations that were established in the region. The area of the national park today includes many of the areas that were formerly rented by WWF. Today WWF has found its role in the environmental education sector, which began by concentrating on tourists and site visitors, but has now become rooted in the education of local inhabitants, adults as well as youth and children. The strategy for the coming years includes strengthening the transboundary co-operation in environmental education.50

Both organizations were involved in the heated discussions that took place between farmers, landowners, nature conservationists, and the authorities, which may have sometimes been counterproductive for negotiations on the local level. But they also played a big role in mitigating threats to the Neusiedler Lake in the form of proposed infrastructure projects in the 1960s and 1970s, such as a concrete bridge across the middle of the lake, or the efforts of private landowners to extend the land used as agricultural fields. In addition, ÖNB and WWF have achieved a change in attitude through their long years of continuous awareness raising and public relations work.51

International organizations were important especially in the administrative process of establishing the national park with respect to their influence on the criteria for protected areas categories, which pressured the authorities to take zonation and management models as a basis for implementation.

6.9 Conclusion

It can be said that this transboundary national park was planned and established from the bottom up. The support of key stakeholders on the local level for the national park led to a visible and stable co-operation of the local politicians on both sides. This co-operation on the ground has turned out to be a precondition for successful lobbying on the national level.

The interplay between national interests and transboundary governance to date has not created difficulties, since both countries follow their own administration and legal framework for the implementation of the aims of the national park. The past 10 years of co-operation have shown that different legal frameworks can be overcome if both sides have a clear will for constructive teamwork in everyday working life.


1 Katharina Diehl (Assistant to European Green Belt Coordinator) and Alois Lang (European Green Belt Coordinator), World Conservation Union-IUCN (IUCN) Programme Office for South-Eastern Europe, Hungary.

2 Stadtland/AVL – Vienna and VATI KHT – Budapest (compilers), World Heritage Ferto / Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape Management Plan (Budapest and Vienna: Eisenstadt, Fertöd, 2003).

3 B. Kohler, The Development of a Joint Education Strategy for the Neusiedler See Seewinkel/Fertö-Hanság Region – Introduction and Background, in Proceedings of Management of Transboundary Ramsar Sites – Changes and Challenges Conference, Illmitz, Austria, 18–19 November 2004 (CD-Rom) (WWF Austria: 2004).

4 Natur & Land, Schritt für Schritt zum Nationalpark Neusiedler See – Seewinkel, Eine Festschrift des ÖNB zur Gründung des Nationalparkes Neusiedler See – Seewinkel; Natur & Land, 79. Jahrgang, Sonderheft zu 3-4/1993 (Salzburg: 1993).

5 A. Herzig and M. Dokulil, Neusiedler See – Ein Steppensee in Europa, in M. Dokulil, A. Hamm, and J-G. Kohl (Hg), Ökologie und Schutz von Seen (Facultas UTB: 2001).

6 A. Fersch and A. Lang, Between the Alps and the Puszta: A Trans-boundary National Park Shared by Hungary and Austria, in A. Terry, K. Ullrich, and U. Riecken (eds), The Green Belt of Europe: From Vision to Reality (Gland, Switzerland: IUCN, 2006), pp. 26–33.

7 Stadtland/AVL and VATI KHT, supra note 2.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Natur & Land, supra note 4.

12 G. Dick et al., Vogelparadies mit Zukunft? Ramsar-Gebiet Neusiedler See-Seewinkel (Vienna: Umweltbundesamt, 1994).

13 Natur & Land, supra note 4.

14 Ibid.

15 International Council on Monuments and Sites, Fertö-Neusiedler Lake (Austria/Hungary), No 772rev., 2001, at http://whc.unesco.org/archive/advisory_body_evaluation/772rev.pdf (13.11.2006).

16 K. Hubacek and W. Bauer, Der Einsatz ökonomischer Anreizmassnahmen bei der Errichtung des Nationalparks Neusiedler See-Seewinkel, Reports R-142 (Vienna: Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Jugend und Famili, 1997).

17 Natur & Land, supra note 4.

18 Fersch and Lang, supra note 6.

19 Herzig and Dokulil, supra note 5.

20 Fersch and Lang, supra note 6.

21 Ibid.

22 A brochure on the commissions work was published at the 40 year anniversary: Österreichisch-Ungarische Gewässerkommission, 40 Jahre Österreichisch-Ungarische Gewässerkommission zum Wohle der Wasserwirtschaftlichen Entwicklung des Grenzraums am Beispiel des Neusiedler Sees (Vienna and Budapest: Jubiläumsschrift, Bundesministerium für Land- und Forstwirtschaft, and Ministerium für Nachrichtenwesen, Verkehr-, und Wasserwirtschaft, 1996).

23 Stadtland/AVL and VATI KHT, supra note 2.

24 Namely, the Austrian Nature Conservation Association, WWF Austria, and BirdLife Austria (Österreichische Gesellschaft für Vogelkunde).

25 Natur & Land, supra note 4.

26 Ibid.

27 Kohler, supra note 3.

28 Natur & Land, supra note 4.

29 Ibid.

30 W. Hicke, Naturschutz im Burgenland. Teil II. Herausgegeben vom Amt der Burgenländischen Landesregierung Abteilung IV – Natur und Landschaftsschutz (Eisenstadt: 1996).

31 Hubacek and Bauer, supra note 16.

32 Österreichisch-Ungarische Gewässerkommission, supra note 22.

33 Fersch and Lang, supra note 6.

34 Kohler, supra note 3.

35 Ibid.

36 Hicke, supra note 30.

37 Fersch and Lang, supra note 6.

38 Hicke, supra note 30.

39 Ibid.

40 Stadtland/AVL and VATI KHT, supra note 2.

41 Fersch and Lang, supra note 6.

42 Kohler, supra note 3.

43 Ibid.

44 K. Kirchberger and L. Karpati, The Development of Cooperation and Land Use around Lake Neusiedl/Fertö, in Terry, Ullrich, and Riecken, supra note 6, pp. 101–109.

45 Hubacek and Bauer, supra note 16.

46 Kohler, supra note 3.

47 Natur & Land, supra note 4.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 Kohler, supra note 3.

51 Natur & Land, supra note 4.

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