Tourism and Biodiversity in the Aggtelek National Park

A valuable karstic phenomena

The salamandra is the emblem animal of the national park. Photo: Sándor Vadász

Aggtelek Biosphere Reserve and National Park is situated on the Hungarian part of a vast karst area which belongs to the southern limestone foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. This area, which is divided by the border between Hungary and Slovakia, is a geographically homogenous region extending over 60,000 ha and containing more than 800 caves.

The Aggtelek Karst area first became protected in 1978 when the Aggtelek Protected Landscape Area (PLA) was declared. The following year the board of the UNESCO MAB Programme declared the whole territory (19 247 ha) of the PLA a Biosphere Reserve and most of the strictly protected area was designated as core zone. The national park Aggtelek was established in 1985 with two villages inside its boundaries. The underground natural treasures, namely the caves of the Aggtelek Karst and the Slovak Karst were inscribed on the World Heritage List by the UNESCO in 1995. Their morphological diversity, characteristic fauna as well as archaeological and historical value make this cave system one of the most complex examples of karstic phenomena occurring at medium altitude in the temperate zone.

The underground water system of the Baradla Cave and its catchment area was declared a Ramsar site (also in Slovakia) in 2000.

Many rare and endemic species live in the caves

The karst landscape is dominated by extensive karst plateaus with dolines and valleys with permanent or temporary watercourses, which disappear in sinkholes. The climatic conditions favours oak-hornbeam and Sessile oak- Turkey oak forests, but the microclimatic and base rock variations influence vegetation to a great extent. On northern slopes, and in cold dolines beech forests are predominant, also fragmented gorge forests can be found in the short, but cold gorges. On southern slopes thermophilous shrub-oak forests and rock steppes and calcareous open rock grasslands are typical.

Lynx. Photo: Zoltán Réti

The transitional climatic influences are also reflected in the fauna. Some species characteristic to the higher Carpathians, such as the Ural owl (Strix uralensis), the Hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia), the Lynx (Lynx lynx) and several butterfly species migrate to lower areas in colder periods. The caves are a unique habitat where many rare and endemic species live. More than 500 species have been identified, most of them of microscopic size. The Aggtelek cave shrimp (Niphargus aggtelekiensis), the Cave bug (Duvalius hungaricus) and the Allolobophora mozsaryum worm species are all endemic species in the karst region. The caves are also important roosting and hybernation places for various bat species.

Tourism in the National Park is an old tradition

The two villages within the biosphere reserve have a population of about 1,000 people who are engaged in forestry, agriculture and livestock raising and recently more engaged in tourism business. But the main employer in the region is the national park itself. One reason for that are the tourism activities of the national park, who is acting in fact like a tour operator managing the caves, hotel, camp ground and restaurant and providing also tours for visitors.

The main entrance to the Baradla cave is a landmark. Photo: Sándor Rózsa

The tradition of visiting the main attraction – the Baradla cave – is over 100 years old. In the mid 1980 150,000 visitors were counted annually. After the political break the character of the tourism, its organisation, activities and structure has changed. Today there are mainly daily visitors or visitors who stay no longer than two days. The main attractions are the caves.

The primary task of the National Park is to explore, protect and preserve the natural and cultural assets. The best known and the most popular of them is the Baradla Cave, which is the biggest and the most magnificent cave in Hungary. Besides the cave tours to the Baradla from Aggtelek and Jósvafo, the park have made accessible other unique caves of the area, such as the Vass Imre and Béke Caves near Jósvafo or the Rákóczi Cave near Bódvarákó.

The rich flora and fauna of the Aggtelek Karst and the enchanting landscape are worth visiting in all seasons. The National Park organises general and special guided walks to acquaint visitors with the superficial natural assets.

 

The Concert Hall of the Baradla cave.
Photo: Péter Borzsák
The marketplace of the Gömör-Torna Festival displays local products. Photo: Zsuzsa Tolnay

 

 

 

 

 

Contact: Michael Meyer at Ecological Tourism in Europe (ETE) | tel: +49-228-359008 | fax: +49-228-359096 | e-mail: m.meyer@oete.de