Csallóköz Nature Park – a newly created chance for an exploited region

Aranykert (Golden Garden), or Tündérkert (Fairy Garden), were names of Csallóköz / Žitný ostrov / Rye island, the place where Hanna grew up. Csallóköz is a river island in southwestern Slovakia, extending from Bratislava to Komárno. It lies between the Danube, its tributary Little Danube and Váh, and is a major part of the Danubian Flat. A jewel and a lifeline for many, Csallóköz is not only the largest river island in Europe but also the largest drinking water reservoir in Central Europe. 

Unfortunately, Csallóköz has undergone radical changes in the last century. Originally a marshland, it has now become one of the most densely populated, most exploited and transformed areas in Slovakia, and possibly in Europe. To preserve the unique natural and cultural values of the region, determined action is needed. This is why in August 2020, Csallóköz Nature Park was founded.

During our visit to Hanna’s hometown, we were honoured to be invited to the Townhall of Somorja and met with the three founders of the park Rozália Hervay, President of Csallóköz Nature Park, Csaba Orosz, Mayor of Somorja, and Lajos Tuba, Director of the Somorja Regional Development Center , together with László Tóth from the Civic organisation DunaVit, a grassroots environmental protection organisation in the region – we will tell you all about them in a following article. We also sat down with Rozália Hervay, president of the Nature Park to talk about the founding, mission and current activities of the park.

How the tide can turn

The Danube provides a lifeline to people and nature through its course, and Csallóköz is no exception. In the past, people lived in close contact with nature here. They did not fight the water, it was a part of their life. The main occupation of locals was fishing, and they had more than twenty words and expressions for the wetlands. However, through the artificial draining of swamps, deforestation, diversion and embankment of rivers, the river island of Csallóköz has become a contiguous agricultural area. Some native animals were able to adapt to the changed conditions, while other species, such as the European roller and Great bustard disappeared completely. So how to preserve nature in such an agricultural and urbanised region? 

People living in Csallóköz didn’t have to look far to find a possible answer. A smaller river island on the other side of the Danube in Hungary, called Szigetköz has created a nature park to create a missing link in regional sustainable development. As cooperation between the two sides of the river is strong, it was often discussed in various forums that it would be good if the nature park, which has existed in Szigetköz for many years, continued in Csallóköz. 

How to create a nature park in Slovakia?

Nature parks have been known in Western Europe for a long time. Before we started cycling, we for example visited Naturpark Taunus that was established 60 years ago.

In Germany, there is even the Association of German Nature Parks. According to them,  “Nature parks are protected landscapes that support sustainable development in consensus with the population. In this way, nature parks not only promote sustainable rural development, but also support recreation and tourism based on natural and landscape values ​​and expand the tools of environmental education and awareness-raising. Successful cooperation with regional organisations and local authorities, nature conservation, tourism, agriculture and forestry is crucial for their work. ”

However, in Slovakia the concept of nature parks does not exist in legislation. There is no system in place within the Ministry of the Environment, which would be responsible for the management of nature parks. Without the necessary regulations and basic concepts, there is not even an application process in place for the establishment of nature parks in the country. Interestingly however, although there is no legislation in Slovakia that provides a legal framework for nature parks, there is also no obstacle to the idea being implemented. Therefore, the founders of Csallóköz Nature Park tackled this task heads on. As part of an online consultation, the Csallóköz Nature Park – Nature Park Žitný ostrov Civic Association was founded in December 2020. 

“We have been trying to establish a micro-regional cooperation with local governments for years and we already had joint cross-border activities with Szigetköz Nature Park and the Hungarian Association of Nature Parks. After a presentation on this topic, several mayors indicated that they considered this kind of collaboration a good idea and wanted to work together. This gave the impetus.” says Rozália Hervay.

With the establishment of the civic association, Csallóköz Nature Park became the first nature park registered outside Hungary in the Carpathian Basin. So far, the civic association has 32 members, 18 municipalities and 14 NGOs. 

The way forward

Nature parks contribute to preserving and developing natural and cultural heritage, shaping environmental protection, strengthening local identity and receptivity to the landscape, and improving the quality of life for both humans and nature through coordinated sustainable regional development. On this basis, the founders of the Csallóköz Nature Park are aiming to realize ideas and projects that can develop the region and also create job opportunities for locals. Projects that cannot be implemented alone, but together, under the umbrella of a nature park. Last but not least, as a civic association, there are more opportunities to obtain funding from various European sources in the framework of cross-border cooperation.

One of the most recent activities of the nature park was a joint waste cleaning in the member municipalities, organised on the 9th of April 2022. The campaign was called “Let the Danube be clean, as it is ours!”, gathering volunteers in various locations on this day to clean up the areas along the Danube in Csallóköz.

Short videos of the volunteer day can be viewed on the Nature Park’s YouTube channel:

We believe that with the Csallóköz Nature Park we will be able to achieve good results in the future to grow the environmental awareness among the people of Csallóköz. We want to continue the waste collection, because unfortunately this one time was not enough. We consider it important for people to be aware that activities like this are not only for the people who live here, but for all of us, for Csallóköz and the Danube!

Hervay Rozália, President of Csallóköz Nature Park

Borderless protection

Csallóköz Nature Park is also currently part of a cross-border project called “Insula Magna – Complex Water Management and Sustainable Development Program”. Together with multiple partners from Hungary, the consortium aims to contribute to the rehabilitation of the river’s floodplain area. The project partners will develop a long-term program for each territorial unit that can bring them closer to solving certain problems in the region, such as the regulation of water levels. But project outcomes aim to go beyond environmental responses, and will seek measures to mitigate various economic and social challenges as well.

Both river islands Szigetköz and Csallóköz are unique natural treasures and inland river deltas in Europe. Cooperations like this once again showcase that nature knows no geographic borders. What happens on one side of the Danube will affect the other side as well. Therefore, cooperation and knowledge exchange are the only way forward, finding common development and partnership directions, multiplying strengths and uniting to tackle common challenges. 

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop” one of Mother Teresa’s quotes was chosen as the motto of the Csallóköz Nature Park – Nature Park Žitný ostrov Civic Association. 

A lot of dedication and determination – this is what it took to establish Csallóköz Natúrpark. But the journey only starts. And Csallóköz still remains a golden garden for discoveries.