This is where it all began…
The struggle to save the Hula marsh began in the 1950s and led to the establishment of the first nature reserve in Israel.
Since then the reserve has undergone extensive rehabilitation processes.
Observation tower - a three-storey tower that is one of the principal attractions along the walking trail in the reserve. The tower overlooks the marsh and the lake, enabling bird watchers to observe the activities of the migrating birds who winter in the region.
Bird-watching hide on the floating bridge - to observe the birds on the lake.
Hula Valley lookout point - this lookout is at the entrance to the reserve, enabling a view of the reserve and its immediate vicinity - the Hula Valley, the Hills of Naftali and the slopes of the Golan and Mount Hermon.
The first rehabilitation of the reserveThe project began in 1971, and lasted seven years, in the course of which the reserve was closed to visitors. In this project, new banks were built around the reserve, and a system of channels and dams was established to regulate the water levels in the reserve. The movement of visitors was regularized by a walking trail, which exists to this day, including the "floating trail" section, and some of the water plants were restored to the reserve.
Increasing the quantity of water in the reserve and improving its qualityThe sources of the water in the Hula Nature Reserve are outside its boundaries, so that the water entering the reserve was exposed to pollution from neighboring agricultural fields. In recent years, a fixed allocation of water was arranged from the Enan spring, the water of which is of good quality, which means that a fixed quantity of good quality water enters the reserve even in drier years. The capacity and quality of the water reaching the reserve is constantly monitored.
Regulating the quantity of water in the reserveIn 2004, rehabilitation was begun of the banks surrounding the reserve and maintenance of the hydraulic facilities responsible for regulating the water levels in it. At the same time, good-quality water is supplied to the reserve in accordance with its seasonal requirements. Water levels are regulated and fluctuate between summer and winter. Regions of impermanent water levels are suited for water fowl nesting, and the growth of water plants is encouraged after the area that had been exposed during the summer is re-immersed in water.Preserving habitat diversity in the reserve The Hula region is a varied mosaic of habitats, distinguished from each other by the quantity of water and the character of the vegetation. Since the original lake was drained, the preservation of the habitats is a deliberate and artificial activity. This work ensures the existence of a diversity of water scenery - open lake; shallow-water channels on the western side of the lake; wet meadow, kept open by the buffalo's grazing activities; a shallow wet region (marsh), rich in water plants and birds; spring-water pools, and a flowing water habitat in the channel of the Enan stream. Accessibility for visitors A very limited part of the reserve has been made accessible for visitors, including pedestrian paths, some of them in the form of floating bridges. Bird watching stations have been integrated into the pedestrian path.Grazing interface between buffaloes and "Baladi" cattleWithin the reserves there are three herds of large grazing mammals, consisting of species that typified the landscape in the past, which help to keep down plant growth, as was always the case in the marsh area over the centuries. The Buffalo herd (Jammus)The buffalo was domesticated in India about 5,000 years ago, and was brought to the Near East about 600 years ago. Buffalos were typical of the marsh landscape in this country up to the War of Independence. After the 6-Day War a herd of buffalos was found in the Bet Tsayda Valley (HaBeteha), north of the Sea of Galilee, and it was moved to the Hula reserve. The buffalos' love of wallowing in the water has a negative impact, as it disturbs the land-nesting birds and churns up the lake bottom, making the water turbid. The "Baladi" cattle herdThis species was typical of the region up to the 20th century, and it is very well adapted to local climate conditions. In the south, Israeli farmers replaced the original species with European cows which give a higher milk yield. Preserving this species is of genetic importance - it has the potential for future improvement of the agricultural cows. In the future, grazing in the reserve will be based on this Baladi herd, which is the only one of its kind in the world. The herd's grazing activities also serves to regulate the vegetation in the dry parts of the reserve. The Persian fallow deer herdIn the wild, Persian fallow deer live in woods and forests. It became extinct in this country in the 19th century, but after the establishment of a breeding nucleus in the Hai-Bar Carmel reserve, a small breeding group was also established in the Hula region (about 15 years ago). This herd serves as back-up for the Hai-Bar group and is designated to be released into the wild in the northern part of the country.Restoration of the white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla)The white-tailed eagle is the largest diurnal raptor that had been living in the Hula marshes before they were drained. Since 1992 efforts are being made to restore this species to the wild, in both the Hula and the Bet She'an areas. A breeding nucleus has been established in the reserve, and over the years more than 20 young birds have been released into the wild.Food enrichment for pelicansDuring the autumn migration season, for about two months, the north-west pool in the reserve is populated by about 60 tons of fish. Migrant pelicans land for a "refueling" and resting stop at this pool before continuing on their journey southward. The pool is separated from the rest of the reserve to prevent the fish (some of them cultivated breeds) from passing into the other bodies of water in the reserve. The existence of a sheltered resting stop containing rich food within the boundaries of the Hula reserve is vital for the migrant pelicans, because other traditional rest stops in the Middle East (Turkey and Syria) have been dried up. The supply of fish also helps to reduce the "conflict" between the water fowl and the farmers who grow fish in ponds. In 2013, 46,500 pelicans passed through the reserve, and 38 tons of fish were supplied. The reserve is the preferred stopover for a broad range of waterfowl in winter, among them thousands of cranes who stay over in the shallow waters of the reserve, thousands of large cormorants, and dozens of raptors of various species: four species of harrier (Circus), merlin (Falco columbarius) and the common buzzard (Buteo buteo).Rediscovery of the Hula painted frog (Latonia nigriventer)This amphibian was discovered even before the Hula was drained. However, for decades after the lake was drained the frog was not observed, and was declared an extinct species all over the world. At the end of 2011 the painted frog was again found in the reserve, and since then a few more individuals were found, evidencing the existence of a residual population. Apparently, the reappearance of the Hula painted frog is connected with the improvement of the water quality in the reserve. A comparative genetic study showed that this is a "living fossil", belonging to a group of amphibians documented to date only in fossils tens of millions of years old. Catfish (Clarias)The catfish is an indigenous species, but its population in the reserve is growing at a significant rate, which affects other species in the reserve. The fish is predatory, and therefore its proliferation threatens other fish species as well as invertebrates in the reserve. Up to about a decade ago, the reserve suffered from poor water quality, which helped the catfish to flourish. The improvement in water quality helped to rehabilitate the populations of other fish species. Specific culling of the large catfish (which have no natural enemies) has been required in order to reduce their numbers so as to enable the other species to multiply. Soft-shelled turtle (Trionyx triunguis)In the 1970s a soft-shelled turtle was introduced into the Hula, due to concern by scientists that this turtle would become extinct in the coastal streams (and subsequently in the whole country). In the meantime, there has been an improvement in the situation of the coastal turtles. The soft-shelled turtle does not belong to the ecological system of the Hula, and it preys on fish and other animals. Currently, there is ongoing activity to catch adult turtles, to collect turtle nests and to transfer individuals back to the coastal streams. Nutria (Myocastor coypus)A large rodent originating in South America, it was brought to this country for the fur industry. However a few individuals were released (or escaped) into the wild and spread all over the country. The Nutria is a herbivore, and especially detrimental to the population of water plants, such as the yellow pond-lily (Nuphar lutea) and the water-lily (lotus) (Nymphaea). Furthermore, the dens dug by the nutria damage the infrastructure of the banks and the paths in the reserve, because they collapse into the dens. The nutria population is currently thinned a few times a year. Annual counting of water fowlA count of water fowl has been regularly conducted for a few decades in the reserve. In recent years, the count is made each month. The results of the count serve to monitor trends and changes in the number of individuals and species of the birds in the various habitats in the reserve, and affect interface activities. For instance, monitoring the population of pelicans, and various rare nesting birds, among them the common tern (Sterna hirundo), marbled teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris) and the pratincole (Glareola).Otters (Lutra)Otters are fish-eating mammals, living only in wet habitats with clean water, mainly in the Hula Valley. Otters are critically endangered in Israel, and the Hula reserve is one of the most important activity sites of the species in this country. In recent years, ongoing monitoring activity of the otter population has been conducted, both by collecting dung at their territory marking stations, and by means of heat-operated monitoring cameras (the efficiency of these cameras for documenting otters is limited, because the animals spend most of their time in water, and do not emit much heat). Bats (Chiroptera)Bats are monitored twice a year, including acoustic monitoring. In 2012, twelve species of insect-eating bats were documented, among them five that are considered endangered. The common noctule (Nyctalus noctula), which is a critically endangered species, nests in cracks in the trees in the reserve. Program for dealing with invasive plants In recent years a detailed survey of the reserve was conducted, and a number of species of invasive plants was identified, such as the blue-leafed wattle (Acacia saligna), Cape gum (Vachellia horrida) and thorn-apple (Datura). Periodic action is taken to eradicate these invaders within the boundaries of the reserve. International recognition of the importance of the Hula ReserveThe Hula Reserve has been included in the RAMSAR Convention for the preservation of wetlands worldwide that was signed in 1971. It is one of the only two Israeli sites included in this Convention (the other is the Ein Afek Nature Reserve). Allocation of water for the Nahal Enan Nature ReserveNahal Enan is located north-west of the Hula reserve, and it was originally planned to be the main source of water for the reserve. Development of pumping facilities from the springs of Nahal Enan caused the stream to dry up with consequent serious damage to natural values in the vicinity. In 2010 a limited quantity of water was allocated to flow in the stream. The stream currently consists of a combination of water flowing from a natural spring, and additional water allocated by Mekorot in a scope of about four million cu.m. per annum. The water is of good quality with a constant temperature of 21 degrees Centigrade, thus the stream has resumed its function as a thermal shelter for species sensitive to low winter temperatures. Before adding the water it is monitored, and comparative monitoring of vegetation, invertebrates, fish and mammals is conducted each year.
The Hula Nature Reserve is located on the worldwide bird migration route, making it an important site for water birds. Even in years when the Hula suffered from poor water quality, it remained a major attraction for both migratory and wintering birds - particularly in view of the drainage and drying out of wetlands in Turkey, Syria and Lebanon. The reserve is identified especially with both migratory and wintering birds, the most prominent among them being pelicans and cranes, who spend the winter months here. Water fowl nests have been documented within the boundaries of the reserve, including nesting colonies of five species of egrets and herons (little egret (Egretta garzetta), cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis), night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax), purple heron (Ardea purpurea) and Squacco heron (Ardeola ralloides)), and other bird species (pygmy cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus), glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), and the common tern (Sterna hirundo)). Some of these are endangered species, both in Israel and all over the world (in this context it is worthwhile mentioning the marbled teal - a worldwide endangered species, which maintains an important nesting colony in the reserve). Other species in the reserve are regular nesters, such as the little bittern and the western yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava).Besides the water fowl, a broad diversity of mammals live in the reserve, such as the wild boar (Sus scrofa), otters and the swamp lynx (Felis chaus), and the invasive rodent Nutria. It is worthwhile noting that there is a variety of insect-eating bats in the reserve, two of which nest in the trunks of the eucalyptus trees in the Founders' Grove - Kuhl's pipistrelle (Pipistrellus kuhlii) (a widespread species), and the common noctule (Nyctalus noctula), which is critically endangered.The drainage of the lake and the marshes caused serious damage to the diversity of the animals in the reserve. Some of the birds ceased to nest here, but the most serious damage was caused to fish species, and the painted frog (Latonia nigriventer), the rare amphibian that was discovered by scientists only in 1940, which was not seen after the region was drained, and was considered to have become extinct until it was re-discovered in 2011. Before the drainage, there were 16 species of fish in the reserve, but the combination of the drying of the lake and the decline in the quality of the water led to serious damage to the local bio-diversity. In studies conducted in the 1990s, only five species were documented, of which only three were local. Prior to the drainage, three other indigenous species were also documented: the Levantine minnow (Pseudophoxinus kervillei), the cichlid Tristramella intermedia and the ray-finned fish Acanthobrama hulensis. The first two became extinct due to the drainage, and the third became extinct during the 1970s. Furthermore, a few invertebrates that had been living in the reserve also became extinct. In recent years there has been a significant improvement in the water in the reserve, which enabled the rehabilitation of a variety of species, and deliberate action is being taken to help the recovery of animal populations by restoring extinct species (e.g. the white-tailed eagle), and by diluting the populations of invasive and intrusive species (cat-fish, nutria and soft-shelled turtles) which threaten the local inhabitants.
There was a great variety of plant biomes in the Hula, at different distances from the center of the lake. In the course of rehabilitating the reserve, an effort was made to maintain the complexity of plant biomes in the region. 340 species of wild plants were documented in the reserve, 57 of which are rare, and 8 of the 57 are critically endangered in Israel. The vegetation is organized in ten biomes, at different distances from the center of the lake. In the lake itself there are rafts of the yellow pond-lily, while the papyrus reed grows at the edge of the lake, which is its northernmost boundary worldwide. On the banks of the lake the common reed is dominant, and in alternately-flooded (wet meadow) areas the dominant plants are couch grass (Cynodon dactylon) and strawberry clover (Trifolium fragiferum), which is accompanied by the invasive kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum). Other biomes are quite rare, and include a variety of water plants, such as the sharp rush (Juncus acutus), holy bramble (Rubus ulmifolius sanctus), southern cattail (Typha domingensis) and yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus).Studies conducted over the years indicate dynamism and instability in the habitats, probably deriving from the drying-out of the reserve. Exploitation of the water from the springs caused severe damage, especially to the Enan stream.Among the unique plants in the reserve can be found the sting nettle (Urtica kioviensis) (in the past considered indigenous to the Hula, however it also exists in Eastern Europe, and was probably brought to the reserve by migratory birds), the eagle fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and the yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus).In order to preserve the rich diversity of species, controlled grazing is conducted in some months of the year, as well as deliberate reduction in water level during the summer months, in order to encourage re-growth in the area. The white water-lily (Nympahaea alba) that had become extinct in Israel has been restored to the reserve, and efforts are being made to rehabilitate the population of the papyrus reed, which has been declining over the past 20 years. At the entrance to the reserve there is a shelter garden for water plants, with emphasis on species unique to the Jordan River and the Hula Valley.
The Hula Lake and its marshes were one of the major sources of malaria, and therefore human settlement in the valley throughout history was limited. In the 19th century, the Ghawarina tribe settled in the region, and they made a living from breeding buffalo (Jammus), weaving papyrus mats, etc. In 1883, the Moshava Yesud Ha'Ma'ala was founded on the banks of the lake, and Kibbutz Hulata was established in 1936 a little further away from the reserve. The members of Hulata engaged in commercial fishing in the lake. Malaria was eradicated during the British Mandate, however upon the establishment of the State of Israel the decision was made to drain the lake and the marshes and to utilize the exposed fertile land for agriculture - since the drainage programs that had been planned at the end of the Ottoman period and during the British Mandate had not been put into effect. The drainage works commenced in January 1951, and they aroused the objections of nature activists, who were concerned for the fate of the wonderful fauna and flora of the Hula. These objections led to the establishment of the Nature Protection Society in 1953, as well as the decision to allocate 4,500 dunams for a nature reserve, the first of its kind in Israel. Subsequently, the area of the reserve was decreased to 3,180 dunams. In 1957 the water was drained from the lake and the marshes (excluding the region of the reserve, which was surrounded by an earthen embankment), and most of the land in the valley was prepared for agriculture. At first the reserve was managed by the JNF. In 1964 the Nature Reserves Authority was established, and on November 26, 1964, the first nature reserve in Israel was declared.
Before it was drained, the Hula Lake covered an area of 14 thousand dunams, with an additional 30 thousand dunams (mainly north of the Lake) of extensive peat marshes created by organic material that had sunk into the water over the centuries and rotted. As soon as the Hula was drained, serious environmental issues arose, among other things - increased erosion of polluting materials from the Hula Valley into the Sea of Galilee (the importance of the Sea of Galilee was enhanced when it became the principal source of water after the construction of the National Water Carrier), accelerated subsidence and spontaneous combustion of the peat.In addition, there was a severe decline in the quality of the water in the Hula reserve itself, due to exploitation of the water of the springs (especially those of Nahal Enan), and penetration of polluted water from the fish ponds of the Hula Valley. A variety of invertebrate species and fish in the reserve was severely impacted, so much so that some ecologists called the reserve the "Hula Desert", although the diversity of water fowl in the region remained significant. In 1995, the Small Hula Lake (Agamon HaHula) was excavated - an environmental rehabilitation project of the damaged areas in the heart of the Hula Valley. The reserve and the Small Lake constitute a sink that absorbs large quantities of nitrates and phosphates and prevents them from reaching the Sea of Galilee. The principal difference between the Hula Reserve and the Small Hula Lake is that the reserve is based on chalky soil in its lake, while the Small Lake is based on peat.In 2004, the earthen banks surrounding the reserve were rehabilitated, and this operation led to a significant improvement in the hydrological functioning of the reserve.
A stereoscopic multi-sensual experience, a journey between continents and birds, stories of the Hula Reserve and animals, tours, vantage points, games, nature, environment and humans - all in one place.
The "Euphoria" is an innovative Visitors' Center
In the Hula Nature Reserve, which immerses visitors in the experience of the birds' migration from cold Europe to our warm country. Previously we heard of the migration only verbally, but now the whole family can experience the migration physically, including moving seats, smells, wind, splashing water and many more sensual surprises in "Euphoria", the Center that is innovative and unique both in Israel and worldwide.
Here is a collection of virtual technological elements, which take viewers out of the human world and turn them into birds migrating through the heavens. The aim is to teach visitors about bird migration by means of physical experience, to enrich them as well as to bring them closer emotionally to the birds themselves. When we learn of the hardships and dangers faced by the migrating birds, there is no doubt that our attitude towards them will change, and our desire to protect them from dangers will increase.
"Euphoria" consists of a series of halls by which visitors "enter" the experience. The visit begins with a tour of 4 display halls, that tell the story of the Hula reserve and its denizens - its fauna, flora and history, a trivia game, display panels, etc.
It is also the story of the Syrian-African geological rift and the creation of the Hula basin, now constituting a migration route connecting Europe and Africa. The story is told by means of an audio-visual display on a backdrop of photographs of the reserve. The display also presents story of the birds and of the mammals living in the reserve.
The Best Part
And the best part of it all - the one-of-a-kind 3-D stereoscopic movie "Euphoria" about the birds' migration. The movie was shot over many months of following the migrating birds. Technology enables viewers to become a part of the flocks and their experiences, and to feel everything they feel.
To complete the experience, take a walk around the reserve, over the wooden bridge, through the thick papyrus reeds, and view the animals of the reserve and its authentic vegetation.
How to get there:On the Rosh Pina-Kiryat Shmona road (no. 90), turn east 3 km after the Yesud Hama‘ala junction
Length of tour: 1-1.5 hours
Best season: year-round, each season with its special attractions
Don't miss: Oforia
Other attractions: Souvenir and book store, picnic area, wheelchair access.
Last entry one hours before above closing hour
Sunday-Thursday And saturday- 8 A.M.-5 P.MFridays and holiday eves: 8 A.M.-4 P.M.
On the eves of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Pesach: 8:00 - 13:00
Phone: 04-693-706904-686-0114 (reservations for Oforia)Fax: 04-695-9602
Adult: NIS 35; child: NIS 21
Group rate (over 30 people): Adult: NIS 30; child: NIS 18
No entrance to dogs
In the Hula Nature Reserve adaptations to make the site accessible to people with disabilities are being made. Adaptations currently in place include: