Swimmers and water buffalos unite in Hungary



Posted on 15 July 2008  | 
At exactly 15:00 on Sunday, July 6, thousands of Europeans across the continent jumped into rivers near to where they lived. Their “BIG JUMP”, held annually every July 6, was a symbol of concern and hope for their rivers and wetlands. “In a nutshell, BIG JUMP is a European river swimming day, where people reclaim their environment and demonstrate their wish to have clean and living rivers again,” says the European Rivers Network, the BIG JUMP’s initiators.

At exactly the same time, about 400 people, including local mayors taking the plunge hand-in-hand, jumped into the Tisza River next to the villages of Tiszatarjan and Nagykoru in Hungary. It was the first Big Jump ever in Hungary, organized by WWF and the local municipalities and supported by sponsors such as the local Borsodi Brewery.

Overall, some 2,000 people were on hand to take part in the festivities. In Tiszatarjan, there were competitions in barrel rolling, rafting and the bundling of newly chopped wild bushes called Amorpha, as well as sailing and boating. The entire event was broadcast live by one of Hungary’s most popular radio stations, Slager Radio, who led the JUMP announcement at 15:00 and played some super tunes (including Vangelis!) to accompany the late-night swimmers bearing torches in hand. Plenty of other media were also there to capture the moments including Egri Szent Korona Rádió, Lánchíd Rádió and Rádió Q, and the event featured on the main evening news of MTV1 – Hungary’s national public TV broadcaster.

Buffalos that like water
Besides the Tisza swimmers, another group of (new) locals received enormous attention – a pack of five water buffalos – seen by visitors mainly via horse and carriage. They, like the swimmers, were also expressing their concern for local wetlands, but in their own personalized way – by eating.

The massive animals (strong one year-olds) had arrived four days earlier, purchased by WWF from the nearby Hortobagy National Park and loaned to local people as a “revolving herd”. On the 6th, they were getting used to their comfortable new quarters of only a few square meters. Soon, they would be released into a larger 12 hectare area to progress admirably in their new jobs as professional grass eaters.

WWF’s `One Europe, More Nature (OEMN)´ project bought the water buffalos because of their keen appreciation for clean water, quality wetlands and good grass -- and the area around Tiszatarjan has just that. Through their grazing, the buffalos actually act as “wetland and grassland managers”, making sure that invasive Amorpha fructicosa bushes don’t grow everywhere and replace local plant species (as they have been doing). The land to which the buffalo will be released was earlier cleared of Amorpha by the WWF project, and the buffalo will make sure it doesn’t come back. As a result, these grasslands will also now attract more water birds such as Grey heron, Great egret, Little egret, Black stork, Squacco heron and Eurasian bittern whose numbers had declined a fair bit in recent decades because of the loss in local floodplains – one of their key habitats.

To manage the water buffalos, and for other restoration activities, some funds come from payments from the local energy giant, AES Hungary, which purchases and burns local `biomass´ – willow trees as well as the invasive Amorpha bushes – to produce electricity at its nearby power stations.

“We wanted to present how OEMN works and show everyone what’s been happening here,” says Mr. Csaba Vaszko, OEMN’s Hungarian Project Manager. "There are still some excellent wetlands along the Tisza where buffalo can roam and people can swim, but we need more wetlands and more nature, and that’s what our project is about.”
Taking the BIG JUMP into the Tisza River
© Laszlo Galhidy Enlarge
Loving the river, loving the competition
© Jean-Philippe Denruyter Enlarge
"OK, we arrived. Where's the water?"
© Csaba Vaszko Enlarge

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