About the Habitat
In Bulgaria, habitat 9560* includes forests of Greek juniper (Juniperus excelsa). They are drought-loving, drought-tolerant, communities of evergreen and deciduous shrubs and low trees with a thick grass cover. Greek juniper forests are distributed exclusively in regions with a Mediterranean climate, at an altitude of 100 – 400 m a.s.l. They occupy mostly east and south-facing slopes. The soils are shallow, highly eroded with many rock blocks showing through, uncovered by soil.
Greek juniper is an evergreen tree, which reaches a height of maximum 15 m. It grows very slowly and is present in the habitat with 2 to 4-5 individuals out of every 10 trees. The species is protected by the Biological Diversity Act. It is included in the Red List of Bulgarian Vascular plants (2009) under the “Vulnerable” category. It has blue-green, scale-leaves and are arranged opposite each-other. The cones are round and berry-like 7-12 mm in diameter. Initially they are green, upon ripening – dark blue, with a gray-blue, waxy covering. The tree “blooms” in March-April. The fruit ripen in the second year.
Other tree species in the habitat are Oriental hornbeam, manna ash, downy oak, terebinth and almond-leaved pear. The main shrub species are paliurus and Cade. The grass vegetation is very well-developed and diverse – mainly of southern and eastern origin.
Greek juniper forests are home to many rare, threatened and protected plants, animals and fungi. Invertebrates like the Anatolian Predatory Bush-cricket, Nemoptera sinuata; the vertebrates – European ratsnake, Hermann’s tortoise, and the birds – olive-tree warbler, subalpine warbler, western Orphean warbler live in this habitat. Many of them are globally threatened.
Plants, found only on the Balkan Peninsula and nowhere else in the world, are distributed in the Greek juniper forests. These include moonshine yarrow, Crucianella graeca, Dianthus gracilis, Minuartia rhodopaea and Trachelium rumelianum.
Endemic forests with Juniperus spp. are very rare in the countries of the European Union. Apart from Bulgaria, they are distributed in Greece, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Portugal and France. The habitat has 5 subtypes and unites forests with different juniper species. The subtype with Greek Juniper is only distributed in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, and the Republic of Macedonia. Bulgaria is its most northern area of distribution.
Greek juniper forests are limited to only two places in Bulgaria – the Struma Valley and Western Rhodopes, on an area of 1160 ha. The biggest locality is in the Kresna Gorge. The most representative communities are in Tisata nature reserve.
In the Rhodope mountains the habitat is distributed in the valley of the Vacha river, south of the town of Krichim, in Managed Nature Reserve “Izgoryaloto Gyune”. Southeast of the reserve, in the area of Skobelevo village, is the “Koznitsa” protected area, created in order to conserve the largest Greek juniper habitat in the Rhodope Mountains. The habitat also has very limited distribution, along the Chepelare river, south of Asenovgrad, in the protected site “Nahodishte na darvovidna hvoina” (Locality of Greek Juniper).
It is no coincidence that most of the Greek juniper forests in Bulgaria are in protected areas: “Tisata” nature reserve, Managed Nature Reserve “Izgoryaloto Gyune”, protected sites “Moravska”, “Nahodishte na darvovidna hvoina” and “Koznitsa”.
The condition of the habitat in the European Union is unfavourable-unsatisfactory or unfavourable-bad. This is why it is of conservational priority in the European Ecological Network Natura 2000, according to the Habitat Directive and the Bern Convention, as well as according to the Biological Diversity Act. In Bulgaria, 99% of the habitat is in the Kresna – Ilindentsi and Zapadni Rodopi protected areas in Natura 2000. The habitat is listed under the “Critically Endangered” category in the Red Data Book of the of The Republic of Bulgaria.
The project actions are being executed in managed nature reserve “Izgoryaloto gyune” and are in accordance with its management plan.
The measures for the improvement of the habitat’s conservation status, which will be executed and demonstrated during the project are:
- Clearing of competing broadleaf tree and shrub species, thereby helping the sprouting and growth of new Greek juniper individuals
- Removal of invasive alien plant species
- Terracing for the retention of seeds and moisture
- Sowing of seeds and production and planting of saplings
- Maintenance and cleaning of terraces and caring for young plants
- Execution of anti-erosion measures
- Improving stakeholders’ knowledge and skills for habitat conservation and maintenance
Monitoring is being executed as part of the project
Changes in the plant species, their quantity, the condition of the Greek juniper population; the presence, entry and dissemination of invasive alien species; the impact of human activities – grazing, building, tourism are being monitored.
Monitoring can also include the observation of other rare and threatened animal and plant species, dweling in the habitat.
We observe the effect of activities for the improvement of the conservation status of Greek juniper forests in the managed reserve and the effect on the habitats’ benefits to people and nature’s wellbeing.