The Upper Tisza region

Sad remark by the authors : Terrible cyanide pollution between 1st February and 14th February in 2000 along the 500 km long Hungarian section of the river Tisza killed 60-80 % of the flora and fauna in the river on the base of the preliminary data. The level of the cyanide pollution came from Romaniawas between 6-13.5mg/l in the upper section of the river Tisza which was 120-270 times higher than the maximum limit (0.05 mg/l) and . This pollution caused a mass death of the flora and fauna in the river. 16.02.2000.

The upper part of the river Tisza, called Upper Tisza , one of the last natural riverside ecosystem in Europe. Below, I present a papers, presented in 1997, which could give information about the values and problems of this region.


Dr. Tibor Szép Department of Environmental Sciences, College of Nyíregyháza, Nyíregyháza, Sóstói út 31/b, H-4400, HUNGARY E-mail:, Tel: 36 30 9655 836, Fax: 36 42 404 092

Citation: Szép T. (1997): NATURAL VALUES AND CONDITIONS FOR THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT ALONG THE UPPER TISZA. Proceedings of the II. International Regional Conference on Environmental and Economical Development, Nyíregyháza. page: 37-41.Scientific Body of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.


The Upper Tisza region in Eastern Hungary is one of the largest, natural riverside systems in Central Europe. In this region there is no tradition and practice of using the highly untouched natural environment for local development. At the present, because of the poor economic conditions, these natural areas are highly threat by uncontrolled and improper development such as mass tourism, intensive forestry and agriculture. These adverse developments seriously affect these natural areas. The increasing interest in eco-tourism or green-tourism could provide an important economic basis for the usage of these natural areas in the development in this region. Potentially, we could expect a large interest in eco-tourism. Unfortunately, the basic infrastructure (information about values, monitoring of the process, marketing policy and practice in this specific field, education system for local communities about the technique and practice, international relationships and introductions to this market) is largely or totally absent. Without this infrastructure, the usage of these sources remains at a low level. Also, the present negative process of unguided development will degrade these areas. What is needed is a large improvement of existing relevant ecological surveys of natural areas in this region which requires significant funding of the main research and higher education institute of this region and nature conservation NGO's of this region.

Natural values

The Upper Tisza region, the section of the river Tisza between Tiszabecs-Tokaj and surrounding areas in Eastern Hungary, is one of the largest, natural riverside systems in Central Europe. Although the river Tisza was subject to flood regulation beginning in the last century, extensive natural riverside habitats remain such as sand beaches, riverside forests, oxbows, and different kinds of wetlands. These habitats are much smaller and less numerous than before regulation but most of them remain in much larger, extended and more untouched condition than other similar riverside systems in Europe. At the present most habitats are fragmented but the size and distribution of the fragments along the river forms a near self-regulating, real and living green corridor. This landscape has not been influenced by intense industrial and agricultural activity during the last decades. This part of Hungary is the most underdeveloped and poor region but this lack of development has contribute positively in the preservation of natural areas. Natural riverside ecosystems show the most intense and largest production of biomass during the vegetation period in the temperate zone in the Northern Hemisphere. This fact is especially true for the Upper Tisza where the hot and sunny weather with the continuous water supply by the river Tisza supports dense and productive natural vegetation. The soft wood riverside forests (Salicetum albae-fragilis) and in same plots the hard wood riverside forests (Querqo-Ulmetum) are the most important typical natural vegetation. The soft wood riverside forests in many places form naturally, and this vegetation supports the largest biodiversity in this landscape. The size of the fragments of the forests vary from 5-100 ha, and presently some large aggregation of riverside exist. The dense vegetation beyond the production of a large biomass and biodiversity creates large, safe, and secluded habitats which are essential for many endangered and threatened species such as Black Stork (Ciconia nigra), Trush Nightingale (Luscinia luscinia) and species of birds of prey like Hobby (Falco subbuteo) and Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina). The numerous oxbows, seasonal lakes and wet meadows provide valuable habitats for many insects, amphibians and birds such as Ferruginous Duck (Aythya nyroca) and Corncrake (Crex crex). The river Tisza which has a low level of organic pollution supports a diverse and rich fauna of insects for example mayfly and several species of Europe wide protected dragonflies and fish. The naturally forming river banks along the Tisza sustain the largest Sand Martin population in Europe breeding in natural habitats and one of the most dense Kingfisher populations. The presentation of natural areas in detail is very difficult, because of the lack of adequate surveys of this region. The absence of the basic infrastructure and financial support for these kind of studies are the main reasons for this neglect. Ecologists and zoologists in Hungary and abroad expect important unknown populations of threatened species will be found in the upper Tisza region, and these expectations are supported by studies of bird and dragonfly species found in the region. We could expect similar results for further species by other investigations in the future.

Usage of the natural areas

In this region there is no tradition of using the highly untouched natural habitats for local development in the present market economy. Of course the traditional fishing, hunting, fructiculture and forestry have had a significant role in the local society in the past. The fishing by fishermen who rent 2-5km long sections of the river is highly dependent on the water quality. This usage could provide a job for a limited number of fishermen who are interested in using these resources sustainably but the fresh, naturally grown fish could be the basis for other businesses such as providing special fish meal. Recreational angling is a very popular activity in this region both along the river and at the oxbows. Comparing this activity to the European standard, this activity is only partly functioning as an recreation. In the most case angling is used by the poor people along the river to provide food both legally and illegally for their families. During this activity, most people do not pay attention to the special, natural habitats. By their mass presence in many areas along the river, they influence negatively the environment by destroying vegetation in making paths to fishing sites, by fires, by littering and by disturbing of breeding animal species. In the case of some oxbows, the angler societies introduce non-native fish species which damage the natural fauna and flora. The hunters are highly interested in protecting natural area so as to provide the framework for hunting by foreign and Hungarian hunters. Hunting with adherence to the regulation of nature conservation laws and practices with regular monitoring of this activity, could be an alternative usage of the landscape. The fructiculture of wild growing fruit trees (apple, plum, apricot, nut) was a large tradition in the past, but now this activity is really vanishing. The increasing interest in organic produce could help to transform the present agriculture fields with their intensive usage of chemicals into nonchemical, traditional fructiculture along the river. Forestry is largely concentrate on plantations of different introduced or native tree species which creates extended, uniform, monocultural "forests" without a significant understory of bushes. These practices greatly transformed the composition of the habitat structure along the river. These plantations do not act as forest and by replacing the native riverside forest partly or totally along the river, this process increases the fragmentation of the essential and native habitats. Using the natural forestation is little or only accidentally used at the present, but it is well-known that this natural process could work properly in a forest where no artificial plantation was made. Using natural areas for recreation by eco-tourism or greentourism is mostly unknown in the upper Tisza region. Present tourism focuses on mass tourism, and this kind of tourism is very dangerous for the fragile habitats of the region. At the present, because of the poor economic conditions, these natural areas are highly threatened by uncontrolled and improper development of mass tourism, intensive forestry, agriculture and other activities. The most widely growing economic development in this region is mass tourism, but the practice of this kind of tourism is a basic threat to the remained natural areas of the upper Tisza region. For example, many local authorities like to develop the large beaches along the Tisza for bathing and sunbathing like the ones at Gergelyugornya and Dombrád. Many of these beaches were places which formerly where safe, silent and undisturbed with diverse flora and fauna. These kinds of development with the additional infrastructure developments such as roads, restaurants, motels and numerous private holiday gardens split, and in many cases replace, the original riverside forest at these sites. By this process the formerly untouched areas along the river are disappearing. Because more and more villages turn to this kind of development for short-term economic benefits, the effects of it could be very dangerous.

Potential benefits from the natural values

Increasing interest in eco-tourism or green-tourism could provide an important economic basis for utilizing natural areas in the development in this region. Rural tourism (falusi túrizmus) is a developing activity but the current interest is less than the natural and cultural values promise. This tourism could be a more nature friendly way of tourism, but at the present there is no relevant resources and official interest from the county level government. This kind of business could produce more long-term benefits compared to the presently preferred "beach tourism". The existing untouched habitats with diverse fauna and flora could draw nature tourists from West Europe and North America who are interested in rare animal species and natural habitats. For the worldwide and rapidly developing birdwatching tourism, this region could provide a unique place to observe and to investigate both the diverse breeding community of birds and the mass migration of many internationally rare species. Additionally, the region holds rich ethnographical interest for visitors. The traditional life style in the villages, the cultural monuments of the region, traditional fishing culture, and regulated hunting could attract tourists and could have large economic benefits for local communities. Ecotourism with the related marketing activities and with messages carried by tourists back to their own countries, could induce more interest from the Western market toward special "bio" products of this land such as fish, game meat, honey, wine and biogardening products. The natural values by this way could help to introduce or reintroduce the kinds of businesses, based on sustainable usage of the natural areas of the Upper Tisza region.

Basic infrastructure for the sustainable usage

Potentially, we could expect large interest in the natural areas of the Upper Tisza. Unfortunately, the basic infrastructure for developing this interest is largely absent. However the necessary, basic intellectual resources in ecology, zoology, botany and ethnology needed for this development are present in the Bessenyei György College, the largest higher education centre of this region and in the NGOs in the region such as the Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society, the Upper Tisza Foundation and the Emisszio Society. Overall and regular surveys of the natural areas (animal and plant species and communities) are needed for planning, establishing, developing and controlling the usage of these very valuable natural resources. Although our region has the scientific expertise to do these surveys, we lack funds and infrastructure to carry them out. Thus, the region needs to create a permanent ecological scientific research team to plan, organize, and operate the basic surveys and monitoring, and to support environmental education and raise community awareness and participation. The scientific background is essential not only for the survey but because of the additional effects of sharing the results of this research with international ecological and zoological communities, journals, radio and TV programs. This exposure could increase recognition of the upper Tisza region as an internationally important natural region which could be the most effective way to introduce this land to the nature tourism market. Also, these surveys will provide the basis for the education of local communities about the sustainable usage of these habitats. The established NGO ecological infrastructure could help develop educational programs and could function as an ecotourism information clearinghouse for presentation of the region through newsletters, brochures, videos, CD-ROM and Internet materials. All of these components are important in order to develop effective marketing of ecotourism for this region.


The natural areas in the Upper Tisza region have a large international, national and regional importance. To preserve the unique natural riverside habitats is very important not only from the nature conservation point of view but because of the developmental point of view too. The increasing interest by the international public toward natural, untouched lands could give a chance for the local communities to get additional and significant income through ecotourism and selling "bio" products. This kind of development is based on natural areas and so it is in our economical interest to keep or to improve these areas. The present uses of the natural areas are basic threats to these resources and will ruin them in the near future. To establish a new kind of sustainable development in this region is a very urgent task. It is very important to start to develop the basic infrastructure for ecological survey work, and investigation and education in this region. These are the keys to the further actions needed for both naturally and economically more effective, long-term usage of this unique region. The sustainable usage of the natural areas in the upper Tisza region would be a model for other similar regions in Eastern Europe (in particular, the cross border regions of the upper Tisza river watershed) and could help to preserve the existing natural landscape through the economical interest of local people. This kind of model is a key element for success developing the underdeveloped regions in Eastern Europe.


I would like to thank to the staff of the Nyíregyháza Local Chapter of the Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society and the Upper Tisza Foundation for the help during the preparation, to Kevin Anderson (Texas University) for valuable comment and help on the manuscript and to the grant of MKM 564.

Please ask further information through my e-mail address,

April 20, 2005