Field visit and Living Lab Open Day

After three fruitful Midterm Conference days from which two were filled with presentations, workshops, discussions and meetings, it was time to go outdoors again!

Please also read: ALFAwetlands conference day 1: Excursion to the Hungarian side of the lake

Excursion to National Park Neusiedler See-Seewinkel

Day 4 of the ALFAwetlands Midterm Conference began at the visitor center of the  National Park Neusiedler See-Seewinkel, Austrian side of the ALFAwetlands Austrian-Hungarian Living Lab. Our guide, Arno Cimadom, provided us with fascinating insights about the wetlands and lake, reed belt and various conservation projects, running there.

The National Park Neusiedler See-Seewinkel leases the private lands, unlike Hungary, where the area is government-owned. This creates a mosaic of fragmented lands, which can make management challenging as there are many different stakeholders involved.

Arno explaining the water movements of the lake and consequent shore dynamics

The drainage of the area began with the transition from cattle grazing to crop farming, leading to a decrease in lake water and lower groundwater levels. Water levels in the park are managed through channels. Capillary forces bring the salts (sodium carbonate (soda)) in the ground to the surface. When a soda lake dries out, it leaves behind a salt crust. This region’s warmth and shallow waters create an extremely productive ecosystem.

Unique Biodiversity 

The wetlands support a diverse range of bird species that rely on water to find food and an open landscape. Human intervention is necessary to maintain this landscape, because it was originally created by grazing.

The soda lakes, with their high variability in pH (up to 10) and salinity, host special zooplankton and two unique Branchinecta species found only in Asia and here. Despite the harsh conditions, the soda lakes are filled with life. After several dry years, this year was more wet and water levels recovered nearly 100%. 

One of the soda lakes

Conservation and Management Practices 

The National Park Neusiedler See area uses old species for grazing, which are well-adapted to the salty soils and help manage the reed belt, keeping the area open and thereby suitable for birds. For example, they use Hungarian grey cattle but also nearly 100 water buffaloes. Rare white donkeys and Przewalski horses are also part of the park’s biodiversity efforts. These animals help maintain the habitat through their grazing habits, which support insect life and prevent overgrowth.

Grazing Hungarian grey cattle

Fire Management 

Fire plays a crucial role in maintaining the reed belts. Although fires have been legally restricted for 20 years, there are discussions about reintroducing controlled burns. It is now allowed to use fire for training of fire brigades. This provides the opportunity to conduct studies on fire impacts, with a focus on CO2 emissions, bird populations, and soil conditions.

Once the Fire Management test project is finalised, local partners will share results with ALFAwetlands consortium.

Local stakeholders involvement

In addition, there was a possibility to meet and discuss further cooperation with local stakeholders, learn more about their activities and interests.

For example, Philipp Reiner from the office of the Burgenland State Government was interested to learn more about project activities and discuss further possible cooperation, particularly on ground water modelling.

Living Lab Open Day & Lange Nacht der Forschung 

The final day of the Conference coincided with the Living Lab Open Day and the Austrian Lange Nacht der Forschung (Long Night of Research). We explored the research conducted by the Biological Station in the National Park, including water experiments, bird ringing and migration studies as well greenhouse gasses measurements research project introduction.

Interaction on the Living Lab Open Day

The ALFAwetlands project was promoted with information booths at the Biological Station and a Photo Exhibition at the visitor center. Visitors were engaged with wetland and ALFAwetlands information through quizzes and received magnifying glasses to conduct their research further on.

This was also an inspiration for other ALFAwetlands partners in planning further ALFAwetlands Living Labs Open Days.

ALFAwetlands represented at the Biological Station

Overall, the last day of the Conference was a success, combining field excursions with public engagement in scientific research.

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