The three largest national conservation organizations in Hungary – WWF Hungary, Birdlife Hungary and Friends of the Earth Hungary – called on Sandor Fazekas, the Minister of Agriculture also responsible for nature conservation, to stop the sale of state-owned land in Hungary’s sites from the European network of protected areas Natura 2000.
The sale would not only compromise Hungary’s EU obligations and the quality of conservation achieved so far, but also go against the unanimous opinion of civil society organizations and environmental experts.
Hungary has 4.3 million hectares of arable land, out of which 520,000 hectares belong to the Natura 2000 network. According to the European legislation and to serve the common well-being, these lands should be managed by harmonizing the agricultural and conservation goals, with special care for protected species using arable land as habitats.
Hungary’s Kiskunsag National Park, the Hevesi flatland and the Moson plain are the most important breeding sites of the globally endangered bird Great bustard (Otis tarda). But thousands of hectares of state-owned Natura 2000 land exactly within these areas could be privatized.
The Great bustard is a source of national pride. The Carpathian basin is one of its most important habitats. It can only be preserved if grasslands and arable lands are managed according to special rules that take into account the needs of the species.
The bustard is a so called umbrella species - that means that land management suitable for this species is serving the conservation of many natural values. Environmental friendly, sustainable land use practices not only affect the ecosystems of agricultural lands in a better way, but lead to healthier food supply, which is a fundamental value for the society, for people”, said Greg Halmos, Director of Birdlife Hungary.
State-owned Natura 2000 sites can only be leased with a government decree, which allows the government to control the management and ensure nature conservation. When the areas are privatized, the government will lose its right to control and intervene.
Nature-friendly farming sometimes requires the transformation of normal production operations. For this reason, nature conservation regulations are often -- including in the Natura 2000 network - in the spotlight. This is why the Minister of Agriculture who is also responsible for nature conservation, should be aware of the dangers that could come from privatizing the valuable Natura 2000 sites.
"Policy makers cannot ignore the protection of natural resources. Short-term economic and private interests have again been put before the fundamental right to a healthy environment. In the long run, the price will be paid by society as a whole", said Istvan Farkas, Executive President of Friends of the Earth Hungary.
"The conservation of natural resources is of international public interest, and it is expected to be respected by international agreements. The Natura 2000 network is part of our agreement with the European Union and the EU could also start infringement procedures against Hungary if natural value protection is being jeopardized ", said Katalin Sipos, WWF Hungary Director.
Read more: WWF Hungary