Collaboration on forest genetic resources in Europe and national implementation in Hungary

Jozef Turok1, Csaba Matyas2

1: director and EUFORGEN coordinator, IPGRI Regional Office for Europe,

Via delle Sette Chiese 142, 00145 Rome, Italy

2: professor and head, Institute of Environmental Sciences, University of West Hungary, 9401 Sopron, P.o.b. 132, Hungary


  1. Summary (Összefoglalás magyarul)
  2. The Pan-European Process on Forests
  3. Establishment of the European Forest Genetic Resources Programme
  4. Networks
    4.1. Genetic resources of 'Noble Hardwoods'
    4.2. Conservation of European poplars in the riparian ecosystem
    4.3. Social Broadleaves
    4.4. Conifers
  5. Implementation of gene conservation principles in Hungary, with special regard to rare tree species
    5.1. Legal bases for forest gene conservation
    5.2. Institutions and organisations of forest gene conservation in Hungary
    5.3. Propagation and financing of commercial and rare species
  6. References

1. Summary

Based on the resolutions of the first Ministerial Conference on the protection of Forests in Europe, EUFORGEN was initiated in 1994 as an international program for promoting and coordinating the conservation of genetic resources of forest tree species.

EUFORGEN maintains at present five networks for conserving certain species groups. Hungary participates in four networks. Ongoing conservation activities are coordinated by the Forestry Commission of the Council of Plant Genetic Resources (NGT). The legal bases of gene conservation are provided by the recently introduced Forest Act and Nature Conservation Act. While the conservation of commercial tree species is supported primarily by forestry funds, propagation and conservation of rare species is also progressing due to increasing demand for commercial and protective planting.

Key words: gene conservation, gene bank, nature protection

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Az Európai Erdők Védelmére szervezett első miniszteri konferencia (1990, Strasbourg) határozatai alapján került megszervezésre az EUFORGEN program, amely erdei fák génmegőrzésének elősegítését és koordinálását tűzte ki célul.

Az EUFORGEN jelenleg 5 programot tart fenn egyes fafaj-csoportok génmegőrzésére; Magyarország ezek közül négyben vesz részt. A program megvalósítását a Növényi Génbank Tanács (NGT) Erdészeti Munkabizottsága koordinálja. Az erdészeti génmegőrzés jogi kereteit az új Erdőtörvény és a Természetvédelmi Törvény teremtette meg. A gazdaságilag fontos fajok génmegőrzését elsősorban erdészeti forrásokból támogatják. Érdekes fejlemény, hogy a ritka fafajok szaporítása és génmegőrzése iránt az utóbbi időben nőtt az érdeklődés, a szaporítóanyag-kereslet ugyanis természetvédelmi megfontolásokból fokozatosan nő.

Kulcsszavak: génmegőrzés, génbank, természetvédelem

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2. The Pan-European Process on Forests

The ”Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Forests in Europe” (MCPFE) is an ongoing initiative for cooperation at the highest level among around 40 European countries for the purpose of addressing common threats and opportunities related to forests and forestry. Founded as a regional initiative in 1990, it is the political platform for dialogue on European forests.

The MCPFE is a dynamic process that continuously deals with the most vital common concerns about forests and forestry in Europe and addresses the challenges ahead. It constitutes a chain of conferences and collaborative mechanisms. The ministers responsible for forests deal with aspects of highest political interest and concern at Ministerial Conferences. Since 1990, three Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe have taken place and are regarded as milestones of European forest policies:

— 1990 – First Ministerial Conference in Strasbourg

— 1993 – Second Ministerial Conference in Helsinki

— 1998 – Third Ministerial Conference in Lisbon

The follow-up and preparatory process of the Ministerial Conferences is called the Pan-European Process on Forests. The signatory states and the European Community are responsible for national and regional implementation of the resolutions passed at the Conferences. Using the commitments as a common framework, governments all over Europe have taken initiatives to improve sustainable forest management.

Since its beginnings in 1990, the strong dialogue within the MCPFE has succeeded in intensifying political and scientific communication in Europe and establishing close cooperation on a wide range of issues related to forests and forestry. This dialogue not only involves government representatives of the participating countries, but also a variety of stakeholders including environmental NGOs, forest owners’ associations, the forest industry, as well as intergovernmental organizations.

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3. Establishment of the European Forest Genetic Resources Programme

The European Forest Genetic Resources Programme, EUFORGEN, was established in October 1994 as the implementation mechanism of Strasbourg Resolution S2 adopted at the First Ministerial Conference. The Resolution addressed the need to increase awareness and action in the conservation of forest genetic resources in Europe. The EUFORGEN Programme, endorsed at the Second Ministerial Conference in 1993, aims at promoting and coordinating the in situ and ex situ conservation of genetic diversity, development and implementation of country-driven, long-term gene conservation strategies and monitoring of progress. Within its five Networks, EUFORGEN operates through species representing different biological characteristics and eco-geographic regions in Europe. Network members from participating countries carry out an agreed workplan, with their own resources, as inputs in kind to the Programme. The collaborative tasks typically include regular exchange of data and information, development of technical guidelines, common descriptors and databases, preparation of joint project proposals, exchange of genetic materials, literature overviews and public awareness activities. A large number of practical outputs have been provided by the Networks to date.

Mode of operation

The Programme is coordinated by the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, IPGRI in close collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). EUFORGEN is operated as a multilateral trust fund, with participating countries contributing to the cost of regular meetings, publications and overall coordination. The Programme is overseen by a Steering Committee of National Coordinators nominated by the participating countries. The Steering Committee meets once in three years to evaluate the progress made and to decide upon future activities.

The first Steering Committee meeting was held in Sopron, Hungary, in November 1995. The number of countries, institutes and individuals actively involved in the technical activities of the five Networks has rapidly increased since then. The progress made during the first four years of EUFORGEN (1994-1998) was reviewed by National Coordinators from 35 countries that attended the second Steering Committee meeting held in Vienna, Austria, in November 1998.

The proposal for the extension of EUFORGEN into its second phase of five years (2000-2004) was discussed and endorsed. The Programme will be further developed in support of implementing the objectives outlined in Strasbourg Resolution S2. It was agreed to further broaden their species scope, as suggested and initiated by the individual Networks. The five Networks operational during Phase II are:

— Conifers (started as Picea abies Network)

— Mediterranean oaks (started as Quercus suber Network)

— Populus nigra (and P. alba)

— Noble Hardwoods

— Social Broadleaves

National programmes on forest genetic resources

As a coordinated European effort, EUFORGEN promotes the establishment and implementation of national programmes on forest genetic resources. A survey conducted prior to the second Steering Committee meeting in November 1998 documented the progress made in this area since the first meeting. Thirty-eight countries responded to the questionnaire. The survey provided baseline data for the further monitoring of activities and developments in this area in Europe.

One of the main recommendations adopted at the first Steering Committee meeting in Sopron, 1995, and at the consecutively held European Forest Genetic Resources Workshop, was specifically related to national programmes: "It was recognized that national strategies for the conservation of forest genetic resources should be elaborated in accordance with perceived national needs, institutional possibilities and financial and resource related realities. These strategies should be established within a regional framework to ensure complementarity and overall coverage. It was recommended that:

— each country establishes and develops a national strategy for the conservation of forest genetic resources, and

— national strategies include a core set of common, key elements (such as lists of target species, methods to be applied and organizations involved) (Anon. 1995)."

The activities of national programmes typically, but not exclusively, include information management (monitoring of progress, documentation, dissemination of new knowledge, information overviews and syntheses), inventorying, in situ and ex situ conservation, tree breeding, research, fund raising, development of legislation, training, education and capacity building, and public awareness activities.

Besides the questions regarding coordination at the national level (see Figure 1), international collaboration as well as conservation of genetic resources in the forestry practice were covered by the survey.

Figure 1. Establishment of a formal national programme in countries (November 1998):

a - A coherent national programme with stated objectives, prioritized species, defined methods or concepts, relevant partners, costs and budget and other elements has been formally established,
b - A national programme has been initiated but currently the individual activities are not coordinated,
- A national programme exists informally with a fairly good level of coordination of the individual activities,
- A national programme has not yet been initiated.

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4. Networks

4.1 Genetic resources of 'Noble Hardwoods'

The EUFORGEN Noble Hardwoods Network includes species of the genera Acer, Alnus, Castanea, Fraxinus, Juglans, Tilia, Sorbus, Ulmus and wild fruit trees of the Rosaceae family (Malus, Prunus, Pyrus spp.). Discussions during the four Network meetings held so far focussed on the development of strategies and methodologies for the genetic conservation of these species. Some of the Noble Hardwood species are rare and even endemic (many wild fruit trees), others always occur in small, scattered populations (Alnus, Sorbus), and still others are represented by a few individuals at the margin of their distribution while they are common in central parts of the distribution range. Because a species may be rare in one geographic area but common in others, the approach and the methods of gene conservation will vary.

The technical guidelines produced by the Network for forest officers and agencies responsible for gene conservation in European countries, therefore, consist of several chapters: minimum requirements for situations where Noble Hardwoods occur as common species, and where they are rare, complemented by two case studies on elms and multipurpose trees. The core of any conservation strategy for Noble Hardwoods (and for most forest tree species), is their silvicultural management and sustainable use, carried out with due attention to genetic principles.

A major constraint in developing the common technical recommendations is the absence of genetic information and lack of knowledge in general, about most Noble Hardwoods. The Network, therefore, pays due attention to exchanging experience and research results. A number of research projects, ongoing or under preparation, were developed and/or coordinated by the Network.

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4.2 Conservation of European poplars in the riparian ecosystem

Black poplar (P. nigra) and white poplar (P. alba) represent different stages in the development of the riparian ecosystem and have similar biological features including interspecific hybridization. The increasing involvement of the EUFORGEN Populus nigra Network in the area of in situ conservation was endorsed by the second Steering Committee meeting and further discussed during the fifth Network meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, in May 1999. In addition to the country updates on the progress made in the conservation of black poplar genetic resources, participants for the first time presented an overview of the situation for white poplar. The importance of white poplar varies significantly among European countries. For instance, the species is important for forestry practice in countries along the Danube and in Spain. The genetic resources of P. alba are not threatened but its use in breeding programmes and for reforestation require the attention of the Network.

Results of an inventory of P. nigra resources in nature reserves were presented at the last Network meeting held in Avignon, France, in February 2000. This was the first inventory to use the list of stand descriptors previously proposed by the Network. Although the study revealed that P. nigra was only represented in a small number of reserves, the list was found useful for field surveys by reserve managers often not specialized in forestry. Network members agreed upon several modifications in the list.

Significant progress has been made during the last two years with regard to field inventories and collecting of material for ex situ conservation in the more than 20 countries represented in the Network. Seventeen countries have so far sent material to the EUFORGEN core collection of clones maintained in Casale Monferrato (Italy). The European database of clones contains 2200 entries and is available on-line from the Internet.

A number of countries contributed slides to the Network’s collection among which 150 were chosen to best represent the conservation of its genetic diversity in Europe. This set was scanned and electronically stored on a Photo CD, which helps Network members to prepare and illustrate public presentations on the conservation of European poplars.

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4.3 Social Broadleaves

A questionnaire on the status of the genetic conservation and management of Social Broadleaves in European countries was prepared and circulated in 1999. The results indicated the need for action at the international level to be much stronger for oak than beech. The Social Broadleaves Network presently covers European beech and white oak species. Common priorities for tasks to be shared by the Network members were also assessed.

It was decided to develop technical guidelines on the conservation and management of genetic resources in European white oaks. The Network members will review first version of the guidelines at their forthcoming meeting (in Bulgaria, in June 2000).

Intensive research has been carried out in a number of countries during recent years, particularly those involved in the EU-funded project entitled “Synthetic maps of gene diversity and provenance performance for utilization and conservation of oak genetic resources“ (FAIROAK). This project brought together 12 research teams from 8 countries. Range wide maps of chloroplast DNA polymorphism revealed clear patterns of postglacial recolonization routes across Europe. This and other main results were presented at the last Network meetings. Opportunities for “twinning arrangements” between research teams from east and west and for submission of joint proposals for funding within the Fifth Framework Programme of the European Union (EU) were also discussed.

A brief synthesis of the status of legislation and other regulations on genetic resources of oak and beech was presented and completed by countries during the last Network meeting in Switzerland, in June 1999. The participants were informed about latest developments concerning new legislation of the European Union.

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4.4 Conifers

Following the decisions of the EUFORGEN Steering Committee, the first meeting on Conifers was organized in Brdo, Slovenia, from 5 to 7 March 2000. Participants from 25 countries attended the meeting. They identified main constraints (see Table 1), needs and priorities with regard to gene conservation of conifers in Europe and established a common workplan with shared responsibilities.

Table 1. List of main constraints for gene conservation of European conifers identified by the participants of the first EUFORGEN Network on conifers (March 2000). The constraints are ranked by their relative importance.



Lack of incentives in support of gene conservation as part of the routine silvicultural practice


Insufficient information/ awareness about importance of genetic resources among decision makers


Very high risks to genetic resources due to abiotic and biotic factors (decline of species or declining population sizes, industrial emmissions, repeated drought, pests and diseases etc.)


Use of reproductive material from inadequate or unknown sources


Lack of basic knowledge on species reproductive biology and overall genetic variation patterns


Lack of a national strategy or programme for the conservation of forest genetic resources


Problems with natural regeneration


Insufficient human resources


Insufficient communication or coordination between different players (state forest service, forest owners, research, etc.) at the national level


Inadequate legal and economic policy instruments to design and implement gene conservation measures


Lack of economic interest in using certain species for timber and other forest products


Methodologies and techniques not available


Insufficient international cooperation in this area


Lack of knowledge on species' geographic range and distribution patterns


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5. Implementation of gene conservation principles in Hungary, with special regard to rare tree species


In spite of a relatively low percentage of forests (18%) and of a fairly intense anthropogenic influence, Hungary’s forests are still relatively diverse: there are more than 150 tree and shrub species represented. Close to the half of the forest area is still managed in a seminatural manner.

Some admixed tree species are still relatively frequent in the beech, hornbeam-oak and oak forests of the hills (Table 1.). Due to a centrally regulated management after the second World War, their number has been seriously decimated and a program of gene conservation had to be initiated.

Table 2. List of forest tree species considered as rare or threatened to some extent (Mátyás-Bach, 1998)


Present area (ha)*


Castanea sativa

Malus sylvestris

Populus nigra

Pyrus sp.

Sorbus sp.

Quercus pubescens, Qu. Virgiliana

Ulmus sp.






15 605



Small populations, introgres-sion of cultivars

Introgression of Euramerican hybrids

Very small populations, intro-


Small populations

Fragmented habitats

Decimatd by elm disease

* Forest inventory data, 1990

** Total area of marked species: 872 ha

Gene conservation has been considered as an integral part of sustainable forestry for the last decades, however active measures have been carried out only for commercial species, mostly as part of tree breeding research and by selecting seed stands. In case of minor or threatened species, gene conservation was restricted to passive protection. Therefore the conservation of the genetic resources of the latter group has a high priority.

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5.1 Legal bases for forest gene conservation

Following the abolition of totalitarianism, primary task of forestry administration was the regulation of ownership (privatization) in most Eastern European countries, therefore legislation on gene conservation is relatively recent.

Although mentioned already in the new Forest Act (LIII/1996), conservation of forest gene resources is described in detail in the ministerial decree 91/1997 on forest propagation material. Guiding principles of conservation measures are:

  1. Long-term conservation should be solved first of all through in situ conservation and regeneration of suitable populations;
  2. Forest gene reserves have to be established for commercial species. Their area should fall between 2 and 100 hectars. In total a maximum of 2 percent of the area of the species may be selected;
  3. Registration and supervision of gene reserves is carried out by the State Forest Service;
  4. Guidelines have to be elaborated by the Council of Plant Gene Resources.

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5.2 Institutions and organisations of forest gene conservation in Hungary

The Council of Plant Gene Resources has been organised by the Ministry of Agriculture, its tasks were redefined and broadened in the decree 92/1997. The Council serves as a controlling and supervising body, first of all in the field of gene conservation of agricultural plants. An important task of the council is the professional guidance and coordination of ongoing activities. A Forestry Commission has been established in 1996 with the aim of defining and implementing a national strategy of forest gene resource conservation. Since then the commission has produced two publications, one on general principles and one on conservation of minor and threatened forest tree, species and developed field programs of active conservation.

The Forest Research Institute (ERTI) is the basis institution of tree breeding and at the Experiment Station in Sárvár extensive gene banks of poplar, willow and pine are maintained. Additional base collections are found in the arboreta of the Institute at Szombathely-Kámon, Gödöllő and Püspökladány.

The National Institute for Agricultural Quality Control (OMMI) in Budapest is the authority responsible for the whole agricultural sector, dealing with the qualification, control and registration of plant and animal varieties. The department for horticulture and forestry supervises the production and commerce of forest reproductive material and the maintenance of improved stock of various types.

A Centre for Forest Propagation Material (SZTK) has been founded in Kecskemét in 1996 with the aim to carry out certain practical tasks of gene conservation, propagation and long-term storage. The centre is equipped with refrigerated storage facilities which can be utilized for gene bank purposes.

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5.3 Propagation and financing of commercial and rare species

A direct support and funding for gene conservation of commercial species is available from the Forest Maintenance Fund which is administered by the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture. The Department is currently financing the selection of gene reserves as part of the national strategy. Registration of selected reserves and supervision of their maintenance will be carried out by the State Forest Service (ÁESZ) in cooperation with OMMI. Expenses of ex situ collections (stool beds, grafted clone collections) are covered from the Gene Resources Fund of the Ministry.

While conservation measures of commercial forest tree species may often form part of the silvicultural activities, the rare and threatened species demand solutions which are costly and sometimes beyond the expertise of field foresters. High costs demand a coordinated action in the framework of a national strategy which has been proposed by the Forestry Commission of the Gene Resources Council.

A strong stimulus to conserve and propagate rare and threatened species is provided by the new Nature Protection Act (LIV/1966) which secures the necessity of consultation with nature protection agencies in forestry, prohibits the use of non autochthonous propagation material in national parks and other protected areas (at present more than one quarter of the forest area falls into this category). The use of admixed species in commercial afforestations is financially supported as well, which generates also commercial interest to propagate this species group. As conservation measures and species protection are often difficult to separate, it is only logical that the Board of Nature Conservation in the Ministry of Environment is financing the Forestry Commission’s project on rare and endangered tree species. In addition to concrete measures, a publication was compiled for field managers of protected areas, how to maintain and regenerate populations of this species group.

Propagation material of rare species is produced in increasing quantities by a wide variety of mostly small private growers (see table 3). The annual production reached in


Table 3. Propagation material of rare tree species produced by private and state nurseries

(Bach in: Mátyás 1999)


Number of nurseries

Average quantity per annum (1996-99) (thousands)

Quercus pubescens and virgiliana



Hippophae rhamnoides



Malus sylvestris



Pyrus pyraster



Sorbus sp (except for S. aucuparia)



Ulmus scabra



Ulmus laevis



Ulmus minor



Populus nigra, seedlings



Populus nigra, vegetative



the season 1998/99 more than 3 million plants. This indicates a very promising tendency of growing commercial interest as a result of a developing market niche for these species. An especially large increase of demand is observed for black poplar seedlings. The production has grown from 200 thousand in 1996 to over 900 thousand in 1999.

Ongoing projects in Hungary with rare tree species

  1. Black poplar conservation: in the recent years more than 200 clones have been genetically tested for identity. At present there are 470 registered genotypes, out of which 375 are already archived. 85 clones are used for regeneration. In addition to the central collection in Sárvár there are two regional gene banks under development in Southern and Eastern Hungary (Gemenc, Derecske).
    The use of a vegetatively propagated “synthetic population” is currently introduced in protected areas. In the National Park Duna-Dráva an area has been selected where the combination of in situ measures and vegetative regeneration is tried to secure the long-term survival of black popular populations. (Bach et al, 2000)
  2. Sorbus and Pyrus species: both genera have a number of species in Hungary which are partly of obscure taxonomic status. Populations are in many cases dangerously small. It is also known that bastardization of wild fruit trees with cultivated varieties is frequent which causes an additional threat. A further argument for ex situ measures is the Erwinia-epidemy which threatens all Rosaceae species. A ministerial decree prescribes the complete elimination of wild relatives in the vicinity of fruit orchards. Some populations have to be evacuated accordingly. In addition to the central collection in Sárvár, 3 regional archives are planned.
  3. Downy oak species: Quercus pubescens and virgiliana are found on extremely dry sites, where populations are small and often threatened by human impact, including afforestations. At present an inventory of viable populations is carried out, combined with a taxonomic and molecular genetic identification.

As a first measure of ex situ conservation, progenies of at least 10 stands will be outplanted in a reserve area NW from Budapest (Pilis Mts). A collection of genetically checked plus trees is foreseen in Sárvár.

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6. References

Anon. 1995: Proceedings of the European Forest Genetic Resources Workshop, 21 November 1995, Sopron, Hungary. IPGRI, Rome, Italy. 60p.

Bach, I. et al. 2000: The present status of active gene preservation program in Hungary. Final report, 6th EUFORGEN Populus nigra Network Meeting, Avignon, France, 6-8 February 2000 (manuscript)

Mátyás, Cs. – Bach, I. 1998: Erhaltungsprogramm forstgenetischer Ressourcen in Ungarn mit besonderer Berücksichtigung von seltenen und bedrohten Mischlaubholzarten. In: Geburek, Th – B. Heinze (Ed.): Erhaltung genetischer Ressourcen im Wald. Ecomed, Landsberg, 170-177 p.

Mátyás, Cs. (ed.) 1999: Genetikailag veszélyeztetett, ritka fafajok génmegőrzésének gyakorlati teendői (Practical guidelines for the gene conservation of rare species). OMMI, Budapest, 83 p.

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