OUT OF SIGHT BUT NOT OUT OF MIND
A PROACT SUPPORT INITIATIVE FOR SLOVAKIAN NATURE
The Greater Hrhov Fishpond is an integral part of an Important Bird Area IBA- in Eastern Slovakia. The Slovenský kras is an extensive area of hills and plateaux near the Hungarian border. The IBA area is part of the largest karst area in central Europe and is characterised by karst holes, caverns, canyons, deep valleys and gorges. (See IBA detailed reference below.)
Over the past 2 years 75% of the vegetation in the immediate shore area, 70 from 90 hectares of reed-beds, has been systematically destroyed by the use of the herbicide 'Roundup Biactive'. The reed-beds of the Greater Hrhov Fishpond were the second largest of their kind in Slovakia.
The Greater Hrhov Fishpond (180 hectares), part of a 250 ha complex of such ponds in the area, is used commercially for fish-farming. The companies involved wanted to reduce the expanse of the reed-beds on the grounds that they used up too much oxygen to the detriment of the fish production. A scientific impact report was commissioned by the fish-pond industry which concluded that there was no threat to other flora and fauna. On this basis of this report, assurances by the toxicologists and fish-farmers, and due partly to lack of data on modern pesticides, the local environmental authorities gave their approval to the use of the pesticide.
It has now clear that Roundup Biactive is a non-selective pesticide and has killed most plant life in the treated area thus destroying the habitat for many bird species and other organisms in the food chain. Unfortunately the site is not officially a nature reserve and lost the last vestige of protection when the buffer zones of the Slovak Karst protected area were revoked in 1994/95. A drastic decline in breeding birds, (see list below) is expected and will be carefully monitored. The area boasts 121 bird, 49 mollusc, 20 mammal, 14 dragon- and damselfly, 6 amphibian, and 3 reptile species.
Breeding Birds include: Black-necked Grebe Schwarzhalstaucher Grèbe à cou noir Zampullín Cuellinegro (Podiceps nigricollis) --- Bittern Rohrdommel Butor étoilé Avetoro Común (Botaurus stellaris) --- Little Bittern Zwergdommel Blongios nain Avetorillo Común (Ixobrychus minutus) --- Grey Heron Graureiher Héron cendré Garza Real (Ardea cinera) --- Ferruginous Duck Moorente Fuligule nyroca Porrón Pardo (Aythya nyroca) --- Common Pochard Tafelente Fuligule milouin Porrón Europeo (Aythya ferina) --- Marsh Harrier Rohrweihe Busard des roseaux Aguilucho Lagunero Occidental (Circus aeruginosus) --- Little Crake Kleines Sumpfhuhn Marouette poussin Polluela Bastarda (Porzana parva) --- Kingfisher Eisvogel Martin-pêcheur d'Europe Martín Pescador (Alcedo atthis) --- Bearded Tit Bartmeise Panure à moustaches Bigotudo (Panurus biarmicus) --- Great Reed Warbler Drosselrohrsänger Rousserolle turdoïde Carricero Tordal (Acrocephalus arundinaceus) --- Reed Warbler Teichrohrsänger Rousserolle effarvatte Carricero Común (Acrocephalus scirpaceus) --- Savi's Warbler Rohrschwirl Locustelle luscinioïde Buscarla Unicolor (Locustella luscinioides)
and an important staging area for the following migrants Bittern Rohrdommel Butor étoilé Avetoro Común (Botaurus stellaris) --- Great White Egret Silberreiher Grande Aigrette Garceta Grande (Casmerodius albus) --- Purple Heron Purpurreiher Héron pourpré Garza Imperial (Ardea purpurea) --- Osprey Fischadler Balbuzard pêcheur Águila Pescadora (Pandion haliaetus) --- Hen Harrier Kornweihe Busard Saint-Martin Aguilucho Pálido (Circus cyaneus) --- Common Crane Kranich Grue cendrée Grulla Común (Grus grus) --- Spotted Redshank Dunkler Wasserläufer Chevalier arlequin Archibebe Oscuro (Tringa erythropus) --- Black Tern Trauerseeschwalbe Guifette noire Fumarel Común (Chlidonias nigra).
As if this was not enough, planning permission was sought for the large scale extraction of limestone and other raw materials for cement in the region.
In an internationally funded operation, fronted by the local company BETOX in Kosice, a quarrying operation of huge proportions is projected in the area, locally known as the Lower Hill. The planned quarry with a length of 3 km would cause complete destruction of some 30 karst ravines, sinks and cave complexes and involve the elimination of natural beech and oak-beech forest; some of the oaks are 300 years old. Two natural karst springs and a naturally-flowing small river would be destroyed with irreparable consequences for the natural hydrology of the area. With the granting of National Park status, as is the case on the Hungarian side of the border, an important degree of protection would be achieved against any new damaging inroads.
Breeding species threatened by this operation are Lesser Spotted Eagle Schreiadler Aigle pomarin Águila Pomerana (Aquila pomarina), Honey Buzzard Wespenbussard Bondrée apivore Abejero Europeo (Pernis apivorus), Black Stork Schwarzstorch Cigogne noire Cigüeña Negra (Ciconia nigra), Grey-headed Woodpecker Grauspecht Pic cendré Pito Cano (Picus canus), Middle-spotted Woodpecker and Collared Flycatcher Halsbandschnäpper Gobemouche à collier Papamoscas Collarino (Ficedula albicollis).
In a further project for the extraction of raw material for cement production in the karst foothills was also submitted for official approval is. The planning foresaw the complete flattening of the 200m high Paklan hill, reducing it to river level. The result would be the complete destruction of an exceptional area of bio-diversity ranging from upland forest through scrub and drought-tolerant meadows to low-lying wetland. The springs and river drain eventually into the Hrhov fishponds.
Apart from Short-toed Eagle, this karst zone is home to all 3 European Locustella species and the Corncrake. Also affected are a total of 20 bird species, some of them on the Red List, plants requiring a warm and dry habitat and many butterfly and moth species.
In 1975 the Slovak Karst was categorised as a Protected Landscape Area and in 1998 as a World Heritage Site.
Although the planning permission for these 2 commercial ventures has been turned down in the first instance by the local environmental authorities, the conservationists see this only as a short breathing space. With few resources the local resistance is up against a battery of mining concerns, their contracted geologists and cement and concrete producing companies. The main hope now lies in the granting of National Park status and the prevention of the introduction of a new law which would permit new mining or quarrying ventures, outside the National Park (but in environmentally sensitive areas), without the approval of the environmental authorities.
Local environmentalists are planning international protest to give the problem a higher profile an enlist much need support and lobbying.
Their main demands are as follows:
· An end to the use of herbicides/pesticides in the Hrhov Fishponds and the Slovak Karst region.
· Better supervision of the fish-farms to ensure 'sustainable' management
· Inclusion of the fishponds in the protected (buffer) zone of the proposed cross-border National Park
· A ban on any new exploitation of natural resources in the Slovak Karst region (opposition to the introduction of a new mining law)
PROACT will assist in supporting this endeavour by informing Eurobirders and birders in other continents and countries of the issue, encouraging them to protest against this rape of nature in a remote - but not forgotten - corner of Eastern Europe.
The priorities in Slovakia are such that environmental issues are not always top of the agenda in the responsible government departments. To be fair however the environmental authorities have been active in increasing the protection for the Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) and are reported to be taking a robust stance in turning down the first application for limestone quarrying. Nevertheless environmental awareness is conspicuous by its absence in other areas and they should be encouraged to keep up the good work. As a contender for membership of the European Union in due course Slovakian politicians and civil servants will also be eager to keep their international image as well polished as possible.
Moderate pressure from a wide range of foreign countries may therefore have a telling impact on decision-makers. It will undoubtedly provide welcome support for the activities of the local environmentalists in a comparatively unspoilt European region which, although economically disadvantaged and under-developed, still offers residents and visitors a rich variety of natural treasures and great beauty.
Birdlife International publication, IMPORTANT BIRD AREAS IN EUROPE, Priority Areas for conservation, Volume 1: Northern Europe. Slovakia, page 667, Site 025 - Slovenský karst.
Peter Mandzak Slowakei und Hamburg David Conlin UK und Berlin
Birding in Europe/Proact
and with the friendly support of The Fat Birder Birdnet.de and Vogelruf.de
Send support mail/request for info to SOSNA below:
SOSNA - Local Conservation Coord.(gen. info. only in English)
Praská 2, 040 11 Kosice
tel: +421 (0)95-6446114
tel/fax: +421 (0)95-6445124
RELEVANT INTERNATIONAL TREATIES AND CONVENTIONS
The Republic of Slovakia is bound by, or has committed itself to, the following international conventions which are both relevant and applicable in this case:
· Convention on Biological Diversity (signatory 1994)
. Convention on Protection of European Bats, (Signatory 1998)
· Ramsar Convention (Convention on Wetlands), (signatory 1990)
· Bonn Convention (Convention on Migratory Species), 1992
· Bern Convention, 1994 (Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats)
· World Heritage Convention
The Republic of Slovakia has been (in the case of Hrhov Pond) or will be (mining and quarrying operations) in breach of one or more of these conventions.