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15 May 2019

The ‘MaGIar’ Way

[This research was presented during the TRANSGREEN International Conference on Natural Infrastructure Connectivity, held in Budapest, Hungary, on 4 April 2019]

In recent decades, land degradation, urban land use and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services are critical problems taking place at the global scale. Within that context, Hungary launched the Environmental and Energy Efficiency Operational Programme (KEHOP) in 2016, a multi-targeted, complex scheme to comply with the Target 2 commitments of the EU Biodiversity Strategy — which requires 15% of degraded ecosystems and their services to be restored by 2020 by establishing green infrastructure — and develop the scientifically sound basis of the targets of the biodiversity strategy.

KEHOP consists of 4 pillars: Natura, Landscape Character types, Ecosystem Services (ES) and Green Infrastructure (GI). Within the project, case studies of the application of the developed methodology at settlement and at groups of settlements levels will contribute to the testing of the feasibility of Green Infrastructure development. An important innovation of the project refers to participatory approach, involving different stakeholders — including sectors other than nature conservation — in the decision process. This comes to be critical for, during the development of the typology of GI and the analysis of the existing networks, special attention has to be directed towards reaching a consensus between nature conservation, landscape planning and interests in other functions.


GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT IN HUNGARY SUMMARY OF A PROJECT

Katalin Török1, Eszter Tanács1, Anikó Kovács-Hostyánszki1, László Kollányi2

1 MTA Centre for Ecological Research, Institute of Ecology and Botany; 2 Ormos Imre Foundation

Introduction

The Target 2 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy requires 15% of degraded ecosystems and their services to be restored by 2020, by establishing green infrastructure (EC 2013). This commitment with other targets has been adopted by the national biodiversity strategies. Among others, the evaluation and mapping of ecosystem services is a prerequisite for green infrastructure development in order to take ecosystem services into consideration in the process. Hungary has launched a multi-targeted, complex project (KEHOP) to comply with the commitments and develop the scientifically sound basis of the targets of the biodiversity strategy. The project has four pillars: the Natura pillar supports reporting about the species and habitats of community interest; the second pillar will develop the methodology to identify landscape character types; mapping and evaluating Ecosystem Services is the third pillar; and the fourth is the development of Green Infrastructure. The closest relationship is between ecosystem services and green infrastructure, the other two pillars are out of the scope of this paper.

Estimation of ecosystem services and their mapping

Ecosystem services (ES) are benefits people obtain from ecosystems, including their components (biodiversity) and functions. In order to help member states, the EU has founded the Working Group on Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services (MAES WG) that produced and is still producing expert documents, examples, best practices for ES assessment and mapping (Maes et al. 2013). The approach adopted the so-called cascade model of ES (Haines-Young & Potschin 2010) that is followed for the survey in the KEHOP project as well. The model links through steps from ecosystem condition to human wellbeing (Fig. 1). Cascade one represents the biophysical state (structure and processes) of the ecosystem (ecosystem condition), the second identifies the functions of the ecosystem that provide the services (the potential of the ecosystem to provide the services), the third describes the services actually used and the fourth estimates the human benefit of the given ES. It is apparent that degraded ecosystems cannot provide the same level of benefits to humans, so ecosystem condition is of high importance. Therefore, the first step is to map ecosystem types and then ecosystem conditions.

Figure 1. The cascade model of ecosystem service analysis (Haines-Young & Potschin 2010).

Presently, the national ecosystem map is completed at a resolution of 20 x 20 m pixels (Fig. 2) and the next step is the preparation of ecosystem condition maps that will be produced with the support of several indicators, based on existing and continuously updated national databases, like e.g. the Forest Inventory Database (see Fig. 3) or data related to the Water Framework Directive. As there are no such databases for grasslands, in their case the density of grassland patches and some measure of connectivity are planned to be used as indicators of condition.

Figure 2. The new ecosystem type map of Hungary created for the purpose of ecosystem service mapping and evaluation.

In parallel, groups of experts select indicators for the assessment of ES. Important innovation on the project is the participatory approach to involve different stakeholders in the decision process, including sectors other than nature conservation. Through the participatory process 13 ES have been selected to be evaluated, considered to be the most important for the future of human wellbeing in Hungary. The process is multidisciplinary and beside natural scientists, social scientists are involved as well. For a few ES monetary and non-monetary evaluation of economic benefits will be included in the analyses.

Figure 3. Number of invasive tree species in forests under management, based on data from the National Forest Inventory database – an example of a simple condition indicator for forests.

Green infrastructure development

Green infrastructure (GI) is a strategically planned network of natural and semi-natural areas (including water bodies, blue GI) with other environmental features designed and managed to deliver a wide range of ecosystem services in both rural and urban settings (EC 2013b). Its main element is a network of high nature value green habitats, complemented by lower natural state green (and blue) areas. Important feature of GI is its multifunctional benefit. The green infrastructure pillar of the KEHOP project started later than other parts to be able to found on results of other pillars, mainly the ES study. The tasks include the development of the methodology of GI evaluation and prioritization of the strategic development of GI within and outside settlements. Case studies of the application of the developed methodology at settlement and groups of settlement level will contribute to the testing of the feasibility of GI development.

Multifunctional benefits can only arise from well-functioning GI, the prerequisite for this is twofold. State of the elements and the level of connectivity both matter — and are also linked. The reason is that degradation of green areas narrows the functionality and lowers ES provision, therefore during the development of the typology of GI and the analysis of the existing network, special attention has to be directed towards reaching a consensus between nature conservation, landscape planning and interests in other functions. A stakeholder involvement is planned also in this pillar. The importance of connectivity, or the reduction of fragmentation regarding the territories and livelihoods of different species is demonstrated in Fig. 4. Not only the fragmentation but the pattern of GI elements is also a planning priority.

Figure 4. The effect of habitat fragmentation on the core and the buffer area of a habitat patch (EEA 2011).

Presently the project is at the development of the typology of GI elements. During the coming months, the existing GI network has to be identified, and zones presented were the different functions conflict. In the further development of the GI network priorities in habitat improvement, corridor and steppingstone design will be the most important tasks. Two approaches exist for increasing connectivity: either by eliminating barriers or by increasing permeability (McRae et al. 2012). The project will investigate both options at different spatial scales.

REFERENCES

EC – European Commission (2013a), ‘Decision No 1386/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’’ (http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex:32013D1386)

EC – European Commission (2013b), Green Infrastructure (GI) — Enhancing Europe’s Natural Capital – COM (2013) 149.

EEA (European Environment Agency) Landscape fragmentation in Europe (2011) report.

Haines-Young, R., Potschin, M, (2010): The links between biodiversity, ecosystem services and human well-being. In: Raffaelli, D.G. and Frid, C.L.J., eds., Ecosystem ecology: a new synthesis Cambridge University Press, p. 110-139.

Maes J., et al. (2013): Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystems and their Services. An analytical framework for ecosystem assessments under action 5 of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020. Publication office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

McRae BH, Hall SA, Beier P, Theobald DM (2012) Where to Restore Ecological Connectivity? Detecting Barriers and Quantifying Restoration Benefits. PLOS ONE 7(12): e52604. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0052604