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Environmentalists' anger after Hungary cuts down EU-protected forest

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Hungary's National Water Directorate cut down parts of a floodplain forest near Tiszaug in January 2020.
Hungary's National Water Directorate cut down parts of a floodplain forest near Tiszaug in January 2020.   -   Copyright  Gálhidy László/WWF
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Environmental group WWF has accused Hungarian authorities of illegally cutting down a forest protected by the European Union.

Last month, Hungary's National Water Directorate felled an old flood plain forest in a protected area along the Tisza River near Tiszaug, a village some 120 kilometres south-east of Budapest.

Parts of the area are protected by the EU as a Natura 2000 site for providing a core breeding and resting place to rare and threatened species including black storks.

According to the WWF, flood plain forests — an area of land near the banks of a river prone to flooding — are among the most endangered habitat in Hungary with their surface having shrunk to less than 1% of what it was before river regulations came into force.

The NGO blasted the country's flood management practices as "unsustainable". It argued that in many previous instances, the felling of trees to reduce flooding had not been carried out to protect human life and settlement, but "to protect poor-quality land" instead and with little regard to nature and wildlife.

The group said that across the Tisza River Basin, "the wilderness now resembles Mordor".

"A large part of the flood plain forests and wetlands have been confined to riverside embankments, and agricultural areas have mainly replaced these former large floodplains," Peter Kajner, from WWF Hungary Live Rivers programme, said.

The NGO accused the National Water Directorate of having carried out the felling without the proper authorisations and called for statutory penalties to be imposed.

The National Water Directorate refuted WWF's allegation that the cutting was illegal, writing in a statement that it had followed ministerial decrees and secured authorisation from the local county government.

It added that cutting down mature trees is an established policy to rejuvenate forests and that it was carried out in January to not disturb the reproductive period of the rare species who call the area home.

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