Why are habitats important?
The ecosystems and biodiversity within habitats form the basis of all natural processes. Without them atmospheric, climatic, hydrological and biochemical phenomena would be impossible. Oxygen, the most important component of air and a key element for vital processes is a product of the photosynthesis of more than 300 thousand species of organisms, containing chlorophyll. The most crucial habitat type for the purification and provision of fresh air to living organisms are forests. They “neutralise” around 10% of the carbon emissions, produced by human activity in Europe. This way, they reduce greenhouse gasses and contribute to the regulation of the climate.
Soil is a natural structure, created with the help of soil-forming organisms. Its fertility is due to them.
Microorganisms, fungi, plants, invertebrate and vertebrate animals play an important role in the breakdown and cycle of nutrients, in biological pest control and the control of disease-causing organisms, pollination, natural water conservation and purification, flood control and the processing of industrial and organic waste.
The biological resources in the habitats are a source of food for humans. They play an important role in maintaining human health. Habitats and biodiversity within them give people opportunities to lead a healthy lifestyle as well as for recreation and tourism. They are important for people’s quality of life. Natural diversity is a universal aesthetic and spiritual value of human culture. Nature is valuable in itself, regardless of any tangible benefits it delivers.
Experts call all these benefits “ecosystem services” and divide them into the following groups:
- Material (victual) – food, water, timber, fodder, medicinal plants.
- Regulating and maintaining – carbon absorption, prevention of natural disasters, water purification, plant pollination, maintenance of plant and animal diversity.
- Cultural, non-material – rest and restoration, training and scientific research, aesthetic enjoyment and creative inspiration.
Some ecosystem services like food, timber and fodder can easily be assigned monetary values, while others are harder to valuate. A significant part of the important habitats in Europe fall within the Natura 2000 ecological network. According to recent evaluations by the European Commission, ecosystem services provided by the Natura 2000 network are worth around 200-300 billion euro per year.
How Lowland Hay Meadows (Habitat 6510) and Semi-natural Dry Grasslands and Scrubland Facies (Habitat 6210) Benefit People
Many plants, including rare and threatened orchids can be found in lowland hay meadows and grasslands. They are inhabited by many birds and small mammals and a great number of insects, including rare butterflies. The two grassland habitats preserve biodiversity, valuable for Bulgaria and Europe. They are protected, according to national and European legislature.
The condition of the meadows and pastures has always depended on animal rearing. They provide valuable ecosystem services:
- Material Services – For hundreds of years the habitats have been used as a valuable source of protein, vitamin and mineral rich food for farmland animals – hay, during the winter and grass, durring the spring and autumn. Grass communities provide around 200 000 tons of raw protein per year.
The meadows in Bulgaria occupy around 19 000 hectares. They are mown once, and, in rare cases, twice per year. The hay yield is normally between 190 and 320 kg./decare (1000 m2). It is higher when there are more legume plants, especially clover. Grazing is allowed after mowing.
The plant biomass, obtained from the meadows and pastures can be used for the production of energy.
Grass communities give food to honeybees.
Mushrooms and herbs are collected on their territory.
- Regulating and maintenance services – Meadows protect the soil from water and wind erosion through the strong turf of the grass. They use carbon dioxide, thereby contributing to air purification and the reduction of the greenhouse effect. They protect groundwater from contamination and maintain the water balance.
- Cultural services – Meadows are valuable places for recreation and tourism. They are of interest to explorers, botany and entomology aficionados, artists, writers and photographers.
How Tilio-Acerion Forests of Slopes, Screes and Ravines (Habitat 9180*) and Endemic Forests with Juniperus spp. (Habitat 9560*) Benefit People
The forests in habitats 9180* and 9560* preserve valuable biodiversity. A large number of the wild animals and plants living in them are rare and threatened and are of particular importance to Bulgaria and Europe.
Habitats 9180* and 9560* also offer important ecosystem services:
- Material services – Timber and firewood. In the past, before Greek juniper became so rare and protected, the species was considered a very good material for the manufacture of pencils and chairs. Just as with common juniper, young branches and fruit contain essential oil of medicinal and nutritional value. Today, these benefits are lost to us. Greek juniper is very suitable for decorative purposes. Well-developed trees have a beautiful bluish green cone-shaped crown, which resembles a cypress tree in build and beauty. It is suitable for parks and gardens, especially in dry places and when a slow-growing species is required.Herbs and forest fruit are gathered in habitat 9560* – Bulgarian geranium, cowslip, lungwort, Jerusalem thorn, thyme, yarrow, St John’s wort, blackberry, black elder, raspberry, hazel. The abundance of open spaces and the large diversity of grass species provide good feeding conditions for honey bees. In the past, livestock grazed in their more accessible areas.
- Regulating and maintenance services – The forests in habitat 9180* and 9560* contribute to air purification and the reduction of the greenhouse effect. They have a very valuable soil-stabilising role and protect steep, sandy and rocky slopes from erosion and landslides. This is especially true of habitat 9180*, which is on very steep and eroded terrain. Greek juniper is well suited to sunny, rocky slopes in the south parts of Bulgaria. The forests in habitats 9180* and 9560* aid in snow and water retention and in the regulation of river runoff.
- Cultural services – Greek juniper forests, as well as linden and maple, offer opportunities for recreation and tourism, educational activities and scientific research. They are important for specialised ecotourism, particularly for the observation of rare bird species.