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The Good Life in Aggtelek National Park Part 84: Bike Ride to Rudabánya and the Award Winning Pannon Seed Bank

rudabanya lakeWe still not have made good on our commitment to slim down. We have been on a few bike rides, but not as regularly as we could or should. Kata decided on the route this time, which brought us through Szendrő to Rudabánya. Our former colleague Norbi had mentioned there is a beautiful lake near Rudabánya for swimming, so we thought we would take a look. We left our neighbour Attila to pack the 5 m3 of fire wood into the woodshed and left at around 8 am on a chilly and overcast morning. When the sun peaked out, it was still fresh like an autumn day. It only took us hour to reach Rudabánya.

An earlier visit to the town had involved a visit to the Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County Mining History Museum. The exhibition takes visitors through the earliest history of domestic mining to the present practices and situation. The building features one of the largest exhibitions of minerals in the country, as well as a replica of the remains of an ancient Rudapithecus hungaricus ape found nearby.

The route included only a couple steep climbs, but they were manageable. We cycled through town and bought some fresh rolls, cheese, horseradish mayo, and tomatoes for lunch, washed down with a can of raspberry beer. There is a newish market area that no one seems to use. Sellers for some reason prefer the sidewalk opposite. The tables here were too high to comfortably eat on, so we also retired to seats by the bus stop just in front of it. We asked a passerby for directions to the lake, and we had indeed seen the access road as Norbi had described at the top of the hill before entering town. Road workers by the access road confirmed we were going in the right direction. We pedalled and pedalled and pedalled but did not come across a lake. It slowly became obvious that we should have taken a turnoff somewhere. We called Norbi and he confirmed that we had left the turnoff far behind. Rather than retrace our steps, we went forward and downhill towards Alsótelekes and Szuhogy. From Szuhogy we made it back to Szendrő and Szalonna.pannon seed bank

Later in the week, we received a visit from a journalist documenting LIFE+ Programme winners of the Best of the Best award. Aggtelek National Park's Pannon Seed Bank received the Best of the Best award from the European Commission at the end of May, 2016. LIFE+ is the EU's financial instrument supporting environmental, nature conservation and climate action projects throughout the EU. Since 1992, LIFE has co-financed some 4306 projects. For the 2014-2020 funding period, LIFE will contribute approximately €3.4 billion to the protection of the environment and climate.

pannon seed bankThe Hungarian Ministry of Agriculture-supported Pannon Seed Bank was one of six Life+ financed projects to receive the award. Twenty-seven nature conservation, biodiversity and communication projects won the "Best Life Project" award during the first round. Among them, the Pannon Seed Bank was among the top six. The Best of the Best prizes were awarded on May 31, 2016 in Brussels during the opening of Green Week. The Centre for Plant Diversity (NöDiK) coordinates the programme, which is implemented by the Hungarian Academy of Science's Centre for Ecological Research's Ecology and Botany Institute, together with the Directorate of Aggtelek National Park. The first step in this unprecedented endeavour created the Pannon Seed Bank. This 5-year phase collected samples of 800 species, approximately 50% of the country's wild flora. Within 5 years, this goal was not only successfully reached, but also exceeded its aim. By 2014, 1853 seed pannon seed banksamples had been preserved from 910 species, including 364 seed samples from 204 protected species and 76 from 45 strictly protected species. NöDiK took charge of constructing the lab building where seeds are cleaned, tested and germinated by expert NöDiK staff. Data is recorded in the proprietary database for later evaluation and use. The Hungarian Academy of Science's Centre for Ecological Research's Ecology and Botany Institute successfully experimentally reintroduced 10 sandy grassland species and proved that the stored seeds are viable and may be used for suitable habitat restoration.

Deep under Esztramos Hill and housed in 2 chambers left behind from the former iron ore mine lie 2 large freezers behind lock and key. The former mine and Rákóczi Caves under the same hill are a constant 10C, but that is not cold enough to preserve seeds for decades. The freezers keep the seeds at -20C. I expected glass bottles of seeds in racks, but instead sealed plastic packages of seeds are kept in flat, plastic vegetable crates. I asked why the packages are labelled with bar codes but not names. I was informed that this practice was to inhibit biopiracy and bioprospecting. While pannon seed bankunderstandable, I suspect that if there was a world emergency and the seeds were needed, unless one still had access to electricity and a barcode reader no one would know if they were replanting an orchid or a tomato. We also took the journalist on a tour of the Rákóczi Cave and MagtArt Arts Granary where there is an interactive exhibition for children also organised by the Pannon Seed Bank.