The Wonderful World of Our Floodplain Grasslands

As its name implies, Duna-Dráva National Park is located almost fully on a territory that once had been a floodplain along the Danube (in Hungarian Duna) and River Drava (in Hungarian Dráva).  Its crown jewels include the world famous, stunningly beautiful groves, the Gemenc and Béda-Karapancsa regions, all compellingly rich in wildlife.

For centuries Danube had been forcing its way windingly through the region, forming islands, floodplains, capes (in Hungarian “fok” which also meant a special husbandry and lifestyle) where men could live together with the sometimes constructive sometimes destructive water. Men living on wetlands developed traditional forms of life and husbanding methods which have either disappeared altogether or are gradually disappearing. Examples of these traditional forms of life are (with old Hungarian expressions) “pákászat”, “csikászat” and “rákászat”, i.e. the life of a man hunting-gathering in the water world, fishing for European weather loach, catching crab, matting and doing basketwork. Cape means a riverbed or canal through which at flooding the river inundates the floodplain, while at ebbing the water draws back. Men tried to regulate the capes artificially, and that is how fishing was done as far back as the Árpád Era. On the fertile meadows of the occasionally flooded territories people subsisted on grazing animal husbandry and fructiculture, while in the forests logging was done.

However, the building of flood protection dams, the cutting off of the curves of the river, the extinguishing of the capes, the usage of wood, the spreading of agriculture, the building of hydroelectric plants all resulted in the gradual disappearance of our floodplain forests in the 18th – 19th centuries. One of the most beautiful floodplain forests that still exist is Gemenc, which could survive because it once belonged to the estates of the Archdiocese of Kalocsa and since they did not join the so-called Danube Protection Dam Association, the flood protection dikes were built farther from the shore. Nowadays, environment protection and conservation, as well as water management pay special attention to Gemenc.  

The forests of the flood basin and floodplain are located on the territory of the co-called “Great Region” of the Great Hungarian Plain, more closely the territory of the Danube plain, in Tolna-Sárköz “Small Region”, on a total of 108 km2 and as such, they constitute one of the biggest floodplain forests of Europe. The living conditions of this wonderful flora and fauna were formed by the regular floods and the water levels that they leave behind.

The famous naturalist-scientist, A.E. Brehm gave an excellent description of the landscape in his work published in 1878: “The shores and the islands are overrun with lush forests and the inner parts of this riverside grove are protected from sight by a dense coastal band. Every stage of the life of a tree can be seen at a glance, from the budding of the willow to the decaying of a giant tree...” The rich natural world, the great variety of flora and fauna provide the ecological value of the landscape. The dominant forest type in this territory is the softwood and hardwood grove. The big game population of Gemenc is significant; its red deer population is world famous.

The groves are communities of plants dominated by trees the existence of which depends not only on precipitation, but also on water from other sources. They lie along rivers, during floods they are flooded for a shorter or longer period of time and thus their soil is rich in organic materials. The characteristic types of trees of the softwood grove forests are poplars and willows, while those of the higher elevation hardwood forests are oaks, ashes and elms.

Many attempt to act to preserve Gemenc for the future. Sustainable water management means a simultaneous attempt at ensuring the needs of society and preserving the self-renewing capacity of water, in order to safeguard its quantity and quality. Water management specialists work hard to provide the territory with enough water. Duna-Dráva National Park takes care of the protection of the flora and fauna, of restoring the habitat and maintaining species protection programs. Gemenc Zrt. is responsible for wildlife and forest management, obviously paying attention to only allowing native species in the forest while logging, tree planting and during forest renewal. In order to get acquainted with this incredible locale, several ecotourism opportunities present themselves; it is possible to visit it by canoe or boat, walking or biking, horse riding or even on a narrow gauge railway.

Source: National Environmental Institute, Hungarian Environment and Water Museum