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The ACA audited the Lake Neusiedl – Seewinkel National Park

18.09.2020 – The province of Burgenland remained virtually inactive in its capacity as the supervisory authority 

The lack of supervision of the province of Burgenland is a key focus of criticism in the report "Lake Neusiedl – Seewinkel National Park", which was published today: no management plan is in place for the National Park. The ACA furthermore notes that the increasing desertification is putting the saline ponds of the Seewinkel in danger. The recommendation therefore is as follows: the province of Burgenland should, jointly with the Federal Ministry Federal Ministry of Climate Action and the National Park Company (Nationalparkgesellschaft), prepare a groundwater management plan for the Seewinkel. 

The audit spanned the years from 2014 through 2018.

Increasing desertification – no control over the abstraction of groundwater

Saline ponds are an excellent habitat for waterfowl. Interventions in the ecosystem – such as drainage, agricultural exploitation or construction works – cause the groundwater level in the Seewinkel to sink, which leads to a desertification of the saline ponds. Furthermore, climate change and the related decrease in precipitation exacerbate this development. In the report, the auditors point to the negative implications that the increasing desertification could have on tourism and thereby the economic development of the region. Furthermore, the ACA criticizes that the province of Burgenland has failed to prepare a groundwater management plan for the Seewinkel.

The growing cultivation of irrigation-intensive crops in the National Park region resulted in an increase of the irrigated area from 22,240 hectares to 23,720 hectares in 2018. This equals an increase of 6.65 per cent. In order to irrigate the field crops, wells were constructed or more water was extracted from already existing field wells. Thousand wells in the Seewinkel were subsequently approved by the district administration of Neusiedl am See until the end of the 1990s. The ACA critically notes that the authorizations under the Water Rights Act (Wasserrechtsgesetz) failed to stipulate the obligatory use of measuring instruments to determine the actual abstraction of groundwater from wells. Consequently, it could not be ascertained whether the approved amounts had been observed or exceeded. The individual users, too, could not say whether the overall quota had already been exhausted. As regards the authorizations under the Water Rights Act, the ACA recommends to the province of Burgenland to make the use of measuring instruments, e.g. in particular water meters, compulsory in order to ascertain the actual abstraction of groundwater.

The auditors furthermore recommend to adopt measures for the preservation and renaturation of the saline ponds in order to preserve the protected areas over the long term. On a positive note it is to be highlighted that the province of Burgenland established a task force for the Lake Neusiedl natural area in end-May 2020. The task force’s objective is to prepare a concept for the long-term preservation of the natural environment. A key aspect in that is the provision of water supply to the Lake Neusiedl. It is planned to raise the groundwater level in order to preserve the saline ponds and to protect the lake from shrinking.

Lacking oversight by the province of Burgenland

The ACA criticizes that the National Park Company has not devised a management plan for the national park since its establishment in 1993, although this was one of its statutory tasks. A comprehensive strategic basis for the annual work programmes was therefore lacking for the audited period. The province of Burgenland, in its capacity as the supervisory authority, remained virtually inactive for years. The ACA recommends to the National Park Company to prepare and approve a management plan. In doing so, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (2030 Agenda) should be taken into account.

Criticism for the shooting of waterfowl

As a general rule, national parks must not be used for hunting purposes. However, in the Lake Neusiedl – Seewinkel National Park, in the nature zone – notably in the zone with the strictest protection – an area of 100 hectares was leased by the owner to third parties for the hunting of waterfowl. Consequently, the ACA’s auditors recommend to the province of Burgenland and the National Park Company to adopt measures to end the hunting of waterfowl in the nature and preservation zone of the national park as soon as possible.

No meetings were held by the bodies

The Lake Neusiedl – Seewinkel National Park has five bodies: the National Park Region Committee, the National Park Commission, the National Park Forum, the Scientific Advisory Board and the Austrian-Hungarian National Park Commission Lake Neusiedl. The ACA notes that the committee never assembled. The last meeting of the Austrian-Hungarian National Park Commission Lake Neusiedl – in charge of the coordination and consultation between the two states – was held in March 2009, namely more than ten years ago, although the commission’s rules of procedure set out that meetings shall be held at least once a year. Furthermore, the ACA criticized that the National Park Forum had met only once in 1995 after its establishment.

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Report: Lake Neusiedl – Seewinkel National Park (in German)

In April and May 2019, the ACA audited the Lake Neusiedl – Seewinkel National Park. The audit aimed at assessing to what extent the National Park Company assumed its statutory tasks and to what extent the province of Burgenland, in its capacity as the supervisory authority, fulfilled its duties. Furthermore, the ACA presented the staffing and the financing of the National Park Company. The audited period spanned the years from 2014 through 2018.

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