The Duna-Dráva National Park was established along the Danube and Dráva rivers, covering an area of some 50.000 hectares. Water played the main role in the formation of its natural landscape. The two rivers and their water resulted in the development of a great variety of habitats, where a colourful ecosystem can be found. Almost the whole of the national park is located in an area, which was formerly a flood-plain.
The Danube region
The protected area is located along the Danube, from the mouth of the Sió canal to the Southern border of the country. Gemenc and Béda-Karapancsa can be found here, which belong to the Great Plain. At this stage, the steepness of its bed is reduced, resulting in a slower speed, so the river becomes here of a middle stage character. It used to meander, building bars of sand and silt, changing its bed all the time. The over-developed curves were naturally crossed, so dead channels or lakes at deeper locations were formed. The management of the river changed profoundly this situation. During the regulation of the river, bends were crossed to achieve an easier abatement of icy floods and to improve ship traffic, embanking the river. The water, flowing faster, deepened the bed, so its level was reduced, resulting in a significant lowering of the ground water level. In the Sárköz region, where dead channels make the landscape more exciting, the embankments were built relatively farther from the river, at the border of the Kalocsa Arcbishop’s domain. So remained Gemenc, one of the largest continuous flood-plains of Europe. Until the end of the 18th century, the inhabitants of the region did not attempt to prevent floods. To the contrary, they tried to connect larger and larger areas to this natural ‘breathing’ system. The tremendous amounts of water that arrived annually through the Danube were lead to lakes suitable for fishing, holes, hayfields, and orchards, via artificial canals, ‘foks’, as they called them. As the flood was slowly rising, the people were saving their values and animals. This method was called the ‘fok culture’ and it reduced the damage of the flood to a minimum, while providing a living to the people, first of all, giving them a bountiful harvest of fish. Beside fishing, the most important form of farming in the flood plain was grazing animal husbandry, especially that of horse and grey cattle (Bos primigenius taurus hungaricus). The foks assured the operation of the system. Certain foks carried water to a number of lakes. Maintenance of the foks required high level expertise and significant amounts of working force.
When the embankments were built, the dead channels were separated from the Danube and as the water level got lower, the foks were disconnected as well. At the protected side, no floods occurred any more so they started to dry up and an aggradiation process started. The National Park preserves the remains of this natural living system of the flood-plain and is of particular value in the protection of nature since hardly any other flood-plain habitats in such a large area have remained in Europe.
The sand-bars of the Danube are constructed of rough sand, so when the level of the water is low, the habitat gets rather dry. At such places, purple willow or almond willow bush bosks can be found. Along the dead channels, at the banks covered by silty sand, bosks of willow trees occur. They can be recognized easily as white willow has a silver coloured foliage. They are usually flooded in the spring. Summer snowflake is our typical plant. We can see a picturesque landscape when they bloom in masses.
White and fringed water lilies paint the dead channels of Gemenc white or yellow in May. Both are protected. The only representative of the mare’s tail’s family that lives today blooms also in May, in the sandy bed of the dead channels of Béda. The common bladderwort, which is well-known for catching insects, is also spectacular when blooming. Water chestnut is a species that remained from the Warm Age. Its rhomboid shaped leaves cover the surface of the water like a mosaic. People used to harvest and eat its chestnuts. It is protected today. Two species of water ferns, water clover and salvinia natans, are also common. They reproduce by sporulation and both are also protected. At the riverside, the water vegetation is surrounded by swamp plants. Reed beds are followed by high land plant communities.
Park forests of oak, ash, and elm can be found in the high flood plain, which is only flooded when the flood itself is a major one. Such species of trees can be found both in the flood plain and the protected area. Oak, broad-leaved elm, and Hungarian ash constitute the forest. Under the trees, rich undergrowth developed, including the protected woodbine and wild grape. At the level of herbs, we can find the checkered lily, of which flower has pinkish-brownish spots, arranged like a chessboard. The remains of these forests, which are rich in species, can be found in the Béda-Karapancsa area. Hungarian thorn is a protected and native shrub of the lower valley of the Danube.
Research has proved the occurrence of 51 fish species in the Danube region. Of the Danube fish, sterlet and burbot still occur quite often. Pike is the predator fish of the dead channels.
Many species of amphibians live in this region. Of the reptiles, grass-snakes and European pond turtles can be seen most frequently. Concerning the avifauna of Gemenc and Béda-Karapancsa, the black stork and white tailed eagle populations of the region are of European importance. The protection of the largest black stork population of Hungary is one of the most important tasks of the National Park. The white tailed eagle is among the rarest birds of prey in Europe and uses its huge nest for decades, built high above ground level. Untroubled nesting must be assured to both bird species because they are very sensitive to disturbance. Black kite is common in the Béda-Karapancsa area, which, being sensitive to environmental changes, can be considered as an indicator species. Of the crane species, little egrets, great egrets, night herons, purple herons, and some couples of Eurasian bitterns nest in the reed-beds. The common grey heron nests in willow hursts. In the Southern part of the area, the greylag goose occurs in isolated groups. In the migration period, thousands of guest birds are seeking for food and places to have a rest, in the flood plain. Ducks, geese, and cormorants overwinter often. The endangered bat species, pond bats and barbastelles, find shelter in the holes of old trees for giving birth, or to spend the day. Otters, accommodated to water, eat fish. The European beaver was reintroduced in Gemenc, as it died out in the 19th century. So it reproduces here again and makes the Nature even more colourful. Wild cats are active during the night. They only like the undisturbed forests, surrounded by seed-beds. Deer antlers brought down in Gemenc are world-famous. The population living here has an outstanding genetic composition, with a powerful, yet proportional body with gentle lines.