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European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency
News article | 3 March 2021 | Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

LIFE helps Hungary’s forests rise from the ashes

99% of Hungary’s forest fires are caused by humans. FIRELIFE carried out a nationwide campaign to change attitudes and douse the flames

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Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

99% of Hungary’s forest fires are caused by humans. FIRELIFE carried out a nationwide campaign to change attitudes and douse the flames.

As part of its 2030 Biodiversity strategy, the EU aims to improve how we cope with forest fires. Also, the European Commission has set up an Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC), while the EU’s Copernicus Emergency Management Service uses satellite imaging to help countries monitor forest fire emergencies. Meanwhile, the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) puts together European data on the impact these blazes have across all Member States.

The FIRELIFE team enhanced forest fire awareness and prevention across Hungary. The numbers of fires are sharply down as a result. They also won a LIFE Award for Climate for their efforts. Dr Daniel Nagy from the team told us more.

How bad are forest fires in Hungary?

Due to extreme weather conditions, the size of Hungary’s forest fires has risen tenfold over the last decade. We regularly see 1 000 hectares being burnt – an area roughly the size of 1 900 football fields.

Climate change also means fire danger periods have become longer - forest fires are now happening in February and even in October. And the number of fire danger days during the summer has also increased.

These fires endanger trees and the forest’s entire ecosystem. Animals and their habitats can be destroyed forever.

What did you set out to achieve?

We knew that 99% of these fires are caused by humans. People throwing away cigarette butts, burning materials in their gardens or having barbecues are the most common ways forest fires start. We wanted to try and change people’s behaviour, and this was the idea behind FIRELIFE.

What activities did you undertake?

Our project combined communications and training.

We developed promotional material like posters, billboards, brochures, and flyers tailored to our various target audiences. For children, the information showed the dangers that forest fires pose to wild animals. The causes and how to prevent forest fires were presented to adults, and for smokers, we showed the dangers of dropping a cigarette butt on the ground. These materials also informed landowners of local fire regulations.

We didn’t have a lot of money, so we worked together with ministries, fire services and schools who acted as multipliers and spread our materials to their audiences at events and through their networks. This was a cost-effective way of getting our messages across. Overall, five million brochures and flyers were produced and sent across the country.

We worked with a chainsaw and a sportswear retailer who displayed our materials in their shops.

We also held more than 60 public events and were regularly featured on television, radio, print and online.

What was the impact?

We reached 80% of the population, which I’m proud of. But the most important result is that our approach worked. Many residents now know that forest fires come from human actions and that they don’t just happen on television.

This heightened awareness among all our target groups has seen the number of forest fires decreasing by nearly a third. And the size of the area burnt has fallen by nearly 90%.

How did you feel about winning the LIFE Award for Climate?

We were very really happy to be shortlisted. There were so many quality LIFE projects in our category, so it was a surprise and a big deal for us to actually win it.

What’s next for the project?

Forest fires are still happening so our work continues! We have recently developed a new three-year communications plan and will continue using our promotional material. We will also go beyond forests and spread the message to rural and peri-urban areas.

Image: LIFE13 INF/HU/000827