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Recent landscape research in Hungary

Neue Entwicklungen der Landschaftskunde in Ungarn
La recherche actuelle sur le paysage en Hongrie
Péter Csorba, Dénes Lóczy et Gábor Mezosi
p. 289-300


En Hongrie, la géographie du paysage connaît des traditions également riches en ce qui concerne la recherche des types de paysage et l’étude des rapports entre les facteurs constitutionnels du paysage. L’une des synthèses les plus importantes des recherches du paysage était l’ouvrage intitulé Le livret cadastral des régions en Hongrie, publié en deux volumes. Les différentes écoles de la géographie du paysage faisaient des recherches minutieuses dans les domaines de la structure du paysage, de la sensibilité du paysage, de la cartographie géo-écologique et de l’écologie urbaine. Les recherches appliquées visaient essentiellement à l’exploitation optimale des ressources naturelles, à l’étude des dangers de l’exploitation du sol ainsi qu’à la réhabilitation des paysages. La recherche historique du développement des paysages constitue également un thème intéressant. Dans l’enseignement supérieur de la Hongrie, ce sont les universités de Debrecen et de Szeged dans les départements de géographie desquelles la recherche du paysage remonte à des traditions importantes, mais récemment la géographie du paysage devient de plus en plus importante dans les universités de Budapest et de Pécs aussi. Les liens nationaux et internationaux avec les sciences associées connaissent également un certain développement, et les résultats scientifiques sont de plus en plus utilisés dans la pratique même (protection des paysages, planification des paysages, évaluation des incidences sur l’environnement).

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Background and main fields of landscape research

1Hungary. Although projects in purely fundamental research also survive, market conditions are gradually extending to geography as well. In Hungary classical landscape geography heavily relied on geomorphology (Horváth, 1997; Pécsi & al. 1993; Marosi, 1980). In our opinion, recently new directions evolved in landscape research and they secure a respectable position for the discipline both among the natural sciences and in society. Unfortunately, geography is gradually being pushed back in primary and secondary public education. In higher education however, specialisation related to landscape study (training research geographers, landscape architects, experts in agricultural and rural policy or in environmental management etc.) is increasingly popular.

2In Hungary landscape hierarchy and pattern studies as well as the research of interactions between landscape factors have the longest tradition. This research trend also covers the delimitation of landscape units. A recent comprehensive work provides An inventory of microregions in Hungary (Marosi & Somogyi, S. 1990). A team of physical geographers, pedologists, and climatologists summarises the major features of the 230 microregions in Hungary in two bulky volumes. As formulated by the editors, the main requirements the inventory had to meet were hierarchical construction, precise location (a map of landscape units attached); commensurability (applying numerical parameters wherever possible), easily intelligible language (avoiding unnecessary scientific terms or technical formulation); expandability (through the inclusion of additional ecological factors); a comprehensive recording of actual conditions (enabling the use of the inventory as reference). This is a standard reference now also for workers in related disciplines (eg. landscape planning, environmental impact assessment etc.).

3In the study of landscape structure, landscape patterns have received more attention recently. The applicability of quantitative landscape pattern parameters is investigated in South-Transdanubia, where arable land, pastures and meadows, vineyards and orchards form a typical Central European landscape mosaics. New tools of research, particularly GIS application open up new opportunities. The EU accession of Hungary requires a reduction of intensive cultivation over and thus research also serves practical purposes (Csorba, 1996; 2000). The impacts of the recently completed land privatisation can also be judged from the analysis of landscape pattern (Lóczy et al., 1999). An interesting opportunity for comparison is provided with landscapes in EU countries (Lóczy, 1998).

4Geo-ecological mapping is a particular tool for the exploration of the structure of landscapes. The Hungarian adaptation of the German 1:25000 geo-ecological mapping was implemented in the nineties and this may provide a framework for these kinds of analysis (Mezosi & Rakonczai, 1997).

5Research in previous decades was characterised by functional landscape analyses, bound with regional planning and aiming at an optimal utilisation of land resources. The trend encouraged by regional planning and landscape management aimed at the optimal use of the landscape with its resources and various potentials (Schweitzer & Tiner, 2000; Marosi, 1980). As fundamental research issues of landscape sensitivity are studied (Kerényi & Csima, 1999). It was intended to determine to what extent physical potentials and actual land use in a landscape unit are in accordance; what environmental, ecological and landscape aesthetics conflicts are observed in the Tokaj wine-growing region, in selected areas of the North Hungarian Mountains and in the Hortobágy plain. Several smaller test areas were investigated for the environmental protection and landscape conservation implications of agricultural and infrastructural developments on the ecological landscape pattern (Kerényi & Szabó, 1997) and for heavy metal contamination of floodplains from industrial sources (Szalai, 1997).

6On the Lake Velence catchment an attempt was made to identify physical hazards and risks involved by the agricultural, recreational or conservational use of land (Fig. 1). Land privatisation, also affecting this area, raises the questions (Mezosi & Bódis, 2000): what are the risks of land use changes, how is the economic value of land modified, what are the limitations to land use, what hazards emerge in landscape factors and how and where do they intensify each other? Five environmental (physical) hazards were taken into consideration in the test area. They are typical of this region: soil erosion hazard by water, diversification of the plant associations, decreasing fertility of soils, changing scenic beauty of the landscape, alteration of the river system. After the classification of the hazard (serious, medium, slight), the cumulated serious hazards are presented in Fig. 1.

Figure 1. Cumulated hazards on the catchment area at the Lake Velence (based on sample field experiments).

Figure 1. Cumulated hazards on the catchment area at the Lake Velence (based on sample field experiments).

1: one or two environmental hazards; 2: three to five environmental hazards; 3: built-up area.

7Hungarian geography has ever devoted much attention to riparian landscapes (Schweitzer, F. 2001, Gábris, Gy. 1995, Somogyi, S. 1999). With increased flood hazard and reduced economic significance of flood-free lands, a new era begins in this field. Major projects of river restoration are outlined for the Danube and Tisza Rivers. Before the flow regulation measures, the medieval floodplain economy (named in Hungary the system of “foks” after the channels which drained water from floodplains) had supported large populations and had been an effective tool of flood control. Research to promote the restoration of this economy at least along certain sections is under way.

8Geographers contribute to land rehabilitation research projects with practical purposes (eg. in hardcoal and uranium mining areas in the Mecsek Mts. Foreland). A comparative survey of baseline environmental conditons is followed by the modelling of expected trends of landscape development.

9Another typical area of landscape research is urban ecology, where remarkable results have been achieved through the application of remote sensing and GIS (Géczy & Bódis, 2000; Mucsi, 1996; Tózsa, 1995). The research primarily focused on the assessment of the urban environment, the state of the green areas and the connections between the environmental state and health.

10Recently process-oriented microscale landscape analyses were made to approach the landscape from functioning (Szabó, 1997) and anthropogenic impacts on the landscape (Fig. 2.) (Csorba, 1996) were studied.

Figure 2. Level of the anthropogenic impact in Tokaj vineyard area (Csorba P. 1996).

Figure 2. Level of the anthropogenic impact in Tokaj vineyard area (Csorba P. 1996).

Oligohemerobic level: moderate impact; mesohemerobic level: medium impact; euhemerobic level: intensive antropogenic impact; polyhemerobic level: very intensive impact; metahemerobic level: the heaviest anthropogenic impact.

11Several projects are engaged in landscape budget surveys including nutrient flows (Kevei-Bárány, 1998; Papp & Sánta, 1997; Kertész, 1995; Szabó & Molnár, 1995).

12Finally, historical research has to be mentioned (Füleky, 2000; Frisnyák, 1996; Nemerkényi, 1994). A scoring system is elaborated for the assessment of landscape units in the Great Hungarian Plain for the major land uses in three time sections: 11th-14th century, early 19th century, and early 20th century (Lóczy, 2000).

13In Gödöllo (near Budapest), landscape ecological research is based on pedological, and agricultural background knowledge (Kiss, 1997). A special archeological, cultural-historical and morphological research here, the kurgans project, combines botanical, paleoecological, pedological interests of these mounds (Barczi & Joó, 2002).

Scientific and practical relations of landscape research, and its financial background in Hungary

14In the inevitably interdisciplinary landscape research it is extremely difficult to ensure the continuous collaboration of experts from all sciences (ecology, geography, forestry, agriculture etc.) involved, although in landscape conservation there are some good examples of co-operation (also prescribed by law: eg. EIS has to include a chapter on predictable landscape changes).

15Undoubtedly, landscape studies have gained ground recently in higher education. Landscape ecology teaching and research has been traditionally strong at departments of physical or applied geography in Debrecen, and Szeged Universities, and became more prominent also at Pécs and Budapest in recent years. There are also expressedly interdisciplinary specialisations; such as training teachers and researchers in environmental sciences, agricultural-environmental experts, etc. Lecturers often contribute to several undergraduate and PhD. programmes. Contributions are made by Hungarian lecturers to education in the institutions of Hungarian minority abroad, eg. in Komarno (Slovakia), Beregovo (Ukraine), Oradea and Cluj-Napoca (Romania). It is often personal contacts on which international collaboration is based but bilateral Academy and university frames are of increasing importance. Landscape topics are linked to environmental protection and sustainable land use projects, including EU programmes (Fifth Framework, INTERREG), bilateral contracts (such as the Bavarian-Hungarian Scientific Framework). It is regrettable that the ERASMUS education network only seldom develops into scientific collaboration.

16Co-operation is most evident with ecologists, pedologists and human geographers and usually with experts of environmental protection. Landscape planning, however, is mostly practised by landscape architects. Scientific collaboration is most common between universities and research institutes of the Academy of Sciences. Priority projects are concentrated in the institutes of the Academy but over the past 10 years more projects were launched at the universities too. The primary source of financing is the Ministry of Education. Recently, it is viewed as an advantage or even a precondition if a consortium including both research institutions and economic partners, i.e. private, or state companies in forestry, land management, mining, water supply, waste economy etc. is formed. It is increasingly common that local governments provide contracts for elaborating development concepts, surveying local natural resources or developing them for recreation purposes (Csorba & Novák, 2002). There are examples that planning companies (e.g. TOTAL Ltd. Pécs), undertaking planning for land reclamation, waste disposal etc., establish co-operation with landscape researchers (Schweitzer, 1996).

17The positions of landscape ecology tend to improve. A major issue today is how the spatial pattern of physical potentials can be harmonised with the spatial distribution of social demand.

The most widespread version of the landscape classification of Hungary

18Landscape mapping in Hungary presents ecologically homogeneous basic units. In addition to physical landscape factors, land use and vegetation cover are also emphasised. The broadest classes in the hierarchy are characterised by climate and topography, while minor distinctions are made according to soils, water availability and land use (see table 1). The attached map (Fig. 3) is a simplified version with only 14 instead of 40 types (Csorba, 1995; Pécsi & Somogyi, 1983; Pécsi, Somogyi & Jakucs, 1971), only macro- and mesoregions are shown.

Table 1. Main landscape types of Hungary (see also Fig. 3).

Table 1. Main landscape types of Hungary (see also Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Main landscape types of Hungary.

Figure 3. Main landscape types of Hungary.

Table 2. Stages of the land use development of the most characteristic landscape types of Hungary.

Table 2. Stages of the land use development of the most characteristic landscape types of Hungary.

Expected land use changes in Hungary

19In this very exciting period of landscape research land use changes are remarkable and, at the same time, methodology becomes more and more sophisticated through the application of remote sensing and computer processing. The changes are chiefly rooted in the land privatisation of the 1990s, when 56% of land came to be cultivated by individual farms, 26% by co-operatives (rented from owners) and the proportion of state-owned land fell below 18% (Csorba, 2000). Unfortunately, the major changes in ownership were not followed by the emergence of economically desirable property sizes. Cultivation on the present-day farms of 4,5 ha can only be profitable if vegetables or flowers are grown. Only 10% of private farms is above 100 ha, the lower limit of stable profit making.

20The aesthetic qualities of the landscape are increasingly appreciated. A contributing factor was the declaration of the Hortobágy and Lake Ferto cultural landscapes World Heritage sites (2000 and 1999, resp.). Environment-friendly land use, the formation of a landscape pattern meeting nature conservation and ecological requirements increasingly gains public approval. The National Ecological Network and the National Agricultural Environment Programme receive great publicity. The Environmental Protection Act and the Nature Conservation Act came into force in 1995 and 1996. Over ten years the area of nature reserves almost doubled. In Europe 11% of protected areas is considered a favourable proportion. In 2002 the tenth National Park was established in Hungary. This is especially important since three-quarters of the area of Hungary is used for agricultural purposes and there are practically no intact lands in the country. As opposed to the previous decades, the number of natural, cultural and landscape monuments declared protected to the effect of local initiation has grown spectacularly.

21In Hungary, areas are taken as the most important landscape values which are remarkable as geological-geomorphological sites (e.g. the volcanic cones and buttes of the Tapolca Basin), most beautiful in their formation (e.g. the puszta in the Hortobágy, the alkali lakes of the Great Plain), preserve the image of the natural landscape over a large area in a relatively intact state (e.g. Northern Tisza Region) or receive a distinctive role from the aspect of water management (e.g. karst regions - within these legal protection is ensured for all caves as sensitive environmental indicators, marshes, lakes). Even in European terms there are very valuable riverside floodplain, alkali, loess puszta and sand ecosystems in Hungary.

22The above processes are occasionally opposed to land use changes predictable for the time after the EU accession. While the physical potentials favour intensive farming in Hungary (low relief, 1 million hectares of chernozem soils, long duration of sunshine, dense infrastructure etc.), the European Union prefers the extension of recreation and nature conservation areas. It is calculated that in the forthcoming 5-10 years the conversion of pastures into forests, poor arable into pasture and intensive arable into extensive arable will affect 2 million hectares of land. These changes may involve major landscape transformations. There are efforts to protect the landscapes of Hungary from these drastic transformations and they are conceived as landscape protection. The typical landscape of Tokaj with its vineyard terraces as well as foothill orchards and hill ploughlands are part of the national identity. It would be a sin to convert chernozem areas into golf courses. It is the importance of such identity that is emphasised in the European Landscape Convention issued by the European Council on October 20, 2000 (​treaty/​EN).

23On the other hand, land evaluation, landscape conservation, management, and planning acquired great prestige through the regulation that for successful EU applications in matters of environmental protection and rural development short, medium, and long-term environmental development projects have to be elaborated by the local governments of settlements, settlement groups or microregions. This circumstance is perceived to add to the significance of landscape research and to increase the opportunities of geographers specialised in this field (Lóczy, 2002).

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Cumulated hazards on the catchment area at the Lake Velence (based on sample field experiments).
Légende 1: one or two environmental hazards; 2: three to five environmental hazards; 3: built-up area.
Fichier image/png, 19k
Titre Figure 2. Level of the anthropogenic impact in Tokaj vineyard area (Csorba P. 1996).
Légende Oligohemerobic level: moderate impact; mesohemerobic level: medium impact; euhemerobic level: intensive antropogenic impact; polyhemerobic level: very intensive impact; metahemerobic level: the heaviest anthropogenic impact.
Fichier image/png, 45k
Titre Table 1. Main landscape types of Hungary (see also Fig. 3).
Fichier image/jpeg, 548k
Titre Figure 3. Main landscape types of Hungary.
Fichier image/png, 127k
Titre Table 2. Stages of the land use development of the most characteristic landscape types of Hungary.
Fichier image/jpeg, 295k
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Péter Csorba

University of Debrecen, Dept. for Landscape Protection and Environmental Geography, (Hungary),

Dénes Lóczy

PhD., University of Pécs, Dept. of Physical Geograph (Hungary),

Gábor Mezosi

University of Szeged, Dept. of Physical Geography (Hungary),

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