Körös-ér Landscape Protection Area
Area: 2198 ha
Legal declaration by Decree No. 146/2012 VM
Biogeographic region: Sand Ridge
The southern edge of the Danube-Tisza Interfluve lies along the border of Hungary. It includes the sand and loess region around Kelebia, Öttömös, Ásotthalom and Mórahalom, and is used to be a fine mosaic of wet meadows, salinization-prone dune slacks, and sand and loess steppes. By now, only fragments of the original landscape have remained. Thirteen of these fragments have been lumped together into our youngest landscape protection area. Most of these areas had already been local or national protected areas. The main water course of the area is the Kőrös, which flows along the Hungarian-Serbian border for tens of kilometres. Natural areas next to it in Serbia are mostly larger and have been under protection since the turn of the Millennium.
The northern subunits of the landscape protection area are typical sandy habitats, characterized by sand steppes on short sand dunes, planted and natural forests interspersed with glades, low-lying reed beds and saline habitats. Extensive grazing in the grasslands allow for the survival of its diverse flora, including occasionally abundant stands of Colchicum arenarium, Crocus reticulatus, Stipa borysthnica, Dianthus diutinus, D. serotinus and Sand Iris. The Memorial Forest of Ásotthalom deserves our special attention among forested sites as it was established by Ferenc Kiss, the “Father of the Forests of Szeged” as Ferenc Móra called him, to protect its intact natural condition. As a memorial forest, it is dedicated to Ferenc Kiss. He initiated that some parts of the Szeged-Királyhalom sand steppe should not be afforested by pine or black locust but natural forest development of poplar groves should be allowed. As a result, there has been no forestry activity in this aridifying area for over a century.
Distinct protected units of the northern part of the landscape protection area are as follows:
- Bácsborista Pasture,
- Memorial Forest of Ásotthalom,
The southern units of the landscape protection area used to be in the strictly restricted border zone during the Communist Era. As a result, they were spared from human influence. Their common feature was the abundance of water in dune slack wetlands. The reason for this feature is that the sand deposit gets thin in this area and the underlying loess, which was deposited in the Late Pleistocene, is more water tight. A few kilometres to the south, at Lake Palic and Lake Ludas of Vojvodina, the sand ridge of the Danube-Tisza Interfluve ends and is continued by the Upper Backa loess plain.
The formerly good water supply of the areas surrounding the Körös-ér is indicated by peat deposits formed in its curves. Although the deposits have only a moderate depth, they were suitable for mining. There are also some depressions and fen meadows in the area, which had good water supply, too, but did not accumulate peat. The largest one is the Fen Meadow of Ásotthalom, which is also known among local people as the Meadow of Királyhalom. (These changes in names are typically related to political changes. When King Franz Joseph I visited Szeged in 1883 to assess reconstruction after a major flood, he also inaugurated the Forestry School of Szeged-Alsótanya. The region received the Királyhalom (’King’s Hill’) name because of this event and the name had been in use for seven decades afterwards. However, during the early communist era, in 1950, the newly established village was named Ásotthalom. This name was used before 1883 and was related to the military captaincy of Ásotthalom.) The Fen Meadow of Ásotthalom is also known among botanists as the “Magic Meadow” due to its unique flora and the high abundance of threatened species, such as the ten thousand strong Marsh Gladiolus stand and populations of Spring Meadow Saffron, Military Orchid, Siberian and Blue Iris, Large Pink, Grass-of-Parnassus and Marsh Gentian. Over 100 leafhopper and 1500 beetle species have been recorded in the meadow-steppe habitats of the area. Abundance relations of species are slightly different in the other moist depressions but their species composition is similar. Visitors can encounter e.g. Spider Orchid, or, in moister sites, large stands of Large Pink. Notable members of the vertebrate fauna include Fire-bellied Toad, Common Newt, European Pond Turtle and Grass Snake.
Deflational depressions contain lakes with seasonally fluctuating water supply. Such lakes are Lake Madarász and the alkaline Lake Nagyszéksós, both of which also functioned as fishponds. Half a century ago, Körös-ér had a higher and more predictable water yield, allowing for the maintenance of the Kelebia Fishponds, which had an area over 100 ha. However, now we can only find water in the deepest parts of the pools. Reedy lakeshores with some sedge and bulrush are suitable nesting grounds for Purple Heron, European Bittern, Little Bittern and Egret species. The littoral zone of Lake Nagyszéksós is a reliable habitat for Black-winged Stilt.
The large forests of the southern border zone are mostly plantations. Natural values could survive in Silver Poplar groves and in some grassland covering slightly undulating sand dunes. The latter habitat is used for hay making and is inhabited by the largest Hungarian populations of Crocus reticulatus and Spring Meadow Saffron. These grasslands are home to the largest population of the strictly protected Mole-Rat.
The border-side units of the landscape protection area are as follows:
- Fishponds and Forests of Kelebia,
- Magyari Forest and the Átokháza Peat Mine,
- Rívó Forest,
- Kissori Swamp,
- Csipak Swamp,
- Tanaszi Swamp,
- Fen Meadow of Ásotthalom,
- Lake Madarász and
- Lake Nagyszéksós of Mórahalom.