A joint natural heritage along natural and political borders
The area around Lake Neusiedl is a unique landscape in Eastern Austria and Western Hungary, situated between the Eastern Alps and the Hungarian Plain. Alpine, Pannonian, Asiatic, Mediterranean und Nordic flora and fauna contribute to a fascinating biological melting pot. The large number of species at Lake Neusiedl is based on the diversity of habitats: wetland areas with shallow sodic ponds, pastures, meadows, dry grassland, saline habitats and the lake with its vast reed belt form a fascinating mosaic. Moreover, the lake and its surroundings represent one of the most important stepping stones for birds migrating between Northern Europe and Africa.
Besides this natural, biogeographic border the region has been influenced for centuries as a buffer zone between Europe’s Great Powers. When the course of a new border was drawn in 1922, at the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this area partly became a new province of Austria, partly remained in Hungary – but the separation became inhuman only in 1946, when the Iron Curtain was built up across Europe. For more than four decades, any development in these dead end districts was blocked, and a policy of ethnic cleansing led to a loss of regional identity.
A long tradition of transboundary cooperation
It was already in 1956, when Hungary and Austria formed a bilateral commission for regulating the water level of Lake Neusiedl through the so-called Einserkanal / Föcsatorna that links the steppe lake with the rivers Raab and Danube. This first step in official transboundary cooperation was followed by periodic meetings of scientists working in the field of nature conservation. It was in the late 1970ies, when NGOs proposed to establish a transboundary National Park, and in 1988, both governments installed a bilateral planning commission with experts both from the governmental and non-governmental sector.
Austria and Hungary formally opened the bilateral National Park on April 24th, 1994. Starting a process of managing a transboundary National Park at the same time marked the successful end of decades of cooperation across the borders of political systems. But even with Hungary being an EU member state, the constitutional framework for nature conservation is still different to the one in Austria – with a central governance in Hungary vs. a provincial one on the Austrian side, and while the preserved ecosystems are in private hands in Austria, Hungary is managing exclusively state land.
Years of joint planning led to a new spirit in transboundary cooperation in general – not only in the conservation sector. The National Park became a valuable basis and nucleus for transboundary development steps. One outcome was the designation as a transboundary World Heritage Site in 2001, but many other bilateral projects have been implemented with both National Park authorities as leading partners, e.g. in environmental education, ecotourism, visitor programmes, monitoring and habitat management.
2003: First certfied National Park
Neusiedler See – Seewinkel and Fertö-Hanság were the first National Park to be certified by EUROPARC in 2003 within the programme „Transboundary Parks – Following Nature’s Design“, and in the meantime this certification has been renewed. The Austro-Hungarian National Park Commission, representing the respective governmental authorities and the Park’s management bodies, acts as a steering committee for the further development of the TBPA. Day-to-day cooperation is done in the frame of regular meetings, coordinated by the directors, and carried out in all relevant fields of work. As a longterm goal, the former state secretary Laszlo Haraszthy considers a joint National Park Authority for the 300 km2 site to be feasible.
With its diverse habitats, numerous rare species, its distinctive cultural landscape and characteristic settlements, this area has received many international awards since the 1970s – most of them for the transboundary area around Lake Neusiedl: UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve (1977), RAMSAR Site (1983), National Park (1993), NATURA 2000 Site (1996), UNESCO World Heritage Site (2001).
Text by Neusiedlersee-Seewinkl National Park