About the Habitat
Lowland hay meadows are communities with tall grass vegetation, usually on rich and fresh soil with limestone or silicate bedrock. The plant cover is dense, often up to 100%.
There are many plant species from three groups in habitat 6510:
- Grasses from the Poaceae family – ryegrass, meadow fescue, field meadow foxtail, couch grass, etc.
- Legume grasses (legume family – Fabaceae) – different species of clover, common bird’s-foot trefoil, Оnobrychis = sainfoin, meadow pea, etc.
- Grasses from other families – Crepis – hawksbeard, ox-eye daisy, field scabious, carnations, bellflowers, lady’s bedstraw, etc.
Among the various grass species there are weeds and poisonous plants, as well as ones, which prefer soils, rich in nitrogen (nitrophilous) – wild carrot, denseflower mullein, common chicory, starthistles, Scotch thistle, Ranunculus, Autumn crocus, Rhinanthus, danewort, nettle, etc.
Many important bird species nest and find food in this habitat. They include the corn crake, listed as “vulnerable” in The Red Data Book of the Republic of Bulgaria, white stork, Montagu’s harrier, great grey shrike.
A great number of insects live in the meadows, including butterflies – scarce swallowtail, red admiral, peacock and the legally protected mountain Apollo, clouded Apollo, large copper, erebia, giant peacock moth, etc. The large diversity of insects is a good food base for protected bat species, such as the long fingered bat, common noctule, common pipistrelle, etc.
The rare and endangered green-winged, bug and loose flowered orchid also grow here.
Lowland hay meadows are widely distributed in Central and Northern Europe and, more rarely, in the Mediterranean.
The habitat’s area in Bulgaria is small and very fragmented. It is distributed throughout the country, up to an altitude of 1100-1200 m a.s.l. and is most present in the high fields of Western Bulgaria in the Sofia, Dragoman, Ihtiman, Samokov and Kyustendil regions and, more rarely, in the Thracian Plane and the fields in the skirts of the Balkan mountain range (Karlovo, Kazanlak, Nova Zagora), in North and Northwest Bulgaria (Vidin, Belogradchik, Nikopol) and Ludogorie (Razgrad, Targovishte, Kubrat, Popovo).
The overall conservation status of Lowland hay meadows in the larger part of Europe is unfavourable. This is why the habitat is protected as part of ANNEX I of the Habitat Directive and the Bern Convention. In Bulgaria it is protected by the Biological Diversity Act. It is included in the “Threatened” category of the Red Data Book of the Republic of Bulgaria.
In the past, Lowland hay meadows were more widespread in Bulgaria. Today, many of them have been destroyed: ploughed, built on or turned into pastures. The conservation status of Lowland hay meadows in the Natura 2000 site “Central Balkan – buffer” is unfavourable.
The distribution of the habitat within the borders of the “Central Balkan – buffer” site can be seen on the map below. Lowland hay meadows are marked with a dark colour.
The formation and development of plant communities in meadows depends on the soil and climatic conditions, the terrain, exposure, sea level and the interaction among the plant species, microorganisms and animals. Lowland hay meadows are maintained by people and the threats to their wellbeing come primarily from human activity or a lack thereof. Their condition is directly dependent on haymaking.
Grass biomass should only be harvested through mowing, however, this is rarely the case. The meadows are usually used in both ways and, after the first mowing, animals are released for grazing. Mowing stops the spread of forest vegetation and determines the species composition of the meadows.
The project is being executed in habitat 6510 in Natura 2000 area “Central Balkan – buffer” in the Karlovo and Sopot municipalities in order to support the habitat’s maintenance and conservation and limit the following threats:
- Introduction of invasive species, such as false acacia and desert false indigo
- Distribution of weed and nitrophilic plant species (field eryngo, cirsium, Scotch thistle, wild carrot, mullein, nettle)
- Land owners’ lack of knowledge and experience for the conservation and maintenance of the habitat
People can change the vegetation of the meadows by using them correctly and regulating their nutrient, light and water regime. The condition of this habitat can improve.
This is why we are testing and demonstrating the following measures for the conservation and maintenance of Lowland hay meadows during the project:
- Regulation of grazing
- Maintenance of mowing practices
- Clearing of invasive alien trees and shrubs
- Combating weeds
- Sowing of meadow grass species
- Clearing of rocks
- Landscape feature maintenance
- Improving the conservation knowledge and skills of land owners
See presentation about the activities in 2018 and 2019 for improvement of the status of habitat 6510 (in Bulgarian).
See presentation with many pictures about the measures for improvement of pastures and meadows taken until October 2020 and their results (in Bulgarian).
Good practices in the maintenance of habitat 6510 exist in Poland and Slovakia. You can read about them here.
Monitoring is being executed as part of the project
The features under observation are: a change in the plant species, plant biomass quantity, the ratio between grass and legume species and species of other botanical families; the presence, entry and spread of tree and shrub, IAS and weed species; how grazing is affecting the meadows and whether it is necessary to change its frequency. Monitoring can also include observation of rare and threatened animal and plant species.
The effect of activities for the improvement of the conservation status of the habitat and their influence on the wellbeing of people and nature is being observed.
We assess the effect of the project on the enrichment of stakeholders’ knowledge and the change of their attitudes and behaviours toward IAS.