We look upon the benefits that nature brings to society as free of charge and take them for granted, but the existence of a green environment is no longer a given. It can help recognise natural capital if we try to put a monetary value on it. This was the attempt of Anna Széchy and Zsuzsanna Szerényi from Corvinus, who estimated the recreational value of one of the most popular Hungarian excursion sites, the Pilis Biosphere Reserve, as a case study. This is one of the Hungarian nature reserves in the Pilis and Visegrád Mountains, created at the initiative of UNESCO. The choice was also influenced by the fact that, of all the landscape patterns, native forests are the most valued by hikers. The related study was published in the February 2023 special issue of the scientific journal Sustainability.
“Our research is also significant because we were the first in Hungary to measure a recreational activity as an ecosystem service and determine its economic value,” notes Anna Széchy, first author of the paper. Shee stressed: “Quantifying non-market benefits can help public authorities to better understand the importance of recreational considerations and take them into account in their forest management decisions.”
Corvinus researchers used the so-called travel cost method to estimate the recreational value of 38.6 thousand hectares of mountain forest. This determines the value of an area based on how much money and time visitors spend visiting it. The calculations were based on data collected during the visitor surveys carried out earlier in 2017 and 2018 on behalf of Pilisi Parkerdő Zrt., taking into account travel costs and the opportunity cost of the time spent visiting (based on a fraction of the average net hourly income).
According to the results, the monetary value of hikers’ forest recreation in the Pilis Biosphere Reserve was around HUF 3.8 billion per year in 2020, which, taking inflation into account, currently amounts to HUF 4.6 billion. An average half-day visit to the Pilis costs 2900 forints, a full-day hike costs about 5000 forints.
An average visit to a forest in Hungary costs HUF 870. (The value is influenced by the fact that most of the visits are short walks in the woods near the residence, as opposed to longer hikes in the Pilis.) The total annual value of forest recreation in Hungary is around HUF 39 billion. This is one fifth of the market value of the timber harvested annually in the country’s forests.
By comparison, a 2010 study estimated the value of a one-day visit to British forests at £3.34 (about 1,500 forints), Polish forests at almost €7 (about 2,700 forints) in 2005, and Germans in 2011 would have paid €27 (about 10,400 forints) for a year-long visit to forests, the Corvinus study recalls.
Nature walks are a popular form of recreation, and the number of hikes and walks in the Hungarian forests is estimated at 40-50 million per year. According to a survey by the Hungarian Tourism Agency, 48.7% of Hungary’s working-age population go hiking at least occasionally (in Poland and Germany the figure is 85% and 76.4% respectively!). According to data from 2018, on average, hikers come to Pilis from 40-50 kilometres away, with up to 15-17 thousand people visiting the Prédikálószék lookout tower on a weekend, which increased by a further 25-30 percent during Covid.