Invasive alien species (IAS) threaten the natural composition and structure of three targeted habitats of this project listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive in Bulgaria. Competitive vegetation, for instance, constrains the growth of Greek juniper, characteristic of endemic forests with juniper species (9560*), and prevents it from establishing seedlings. The main threats to juniper populations come from invasive oriental hornbeam, downy oak, manna ash, European hop-hornbeam, and Jerusalem thorn. Studies conducted in 2015 showed an intensive distribution of invasive black locust and indigo bush in all the target habitats. The priority Tilio-Acerion forest habitat (9180*) has a naturally open structure, which makes it particularly vulnerable to invasion by competitive vegetation and IAS. The lowland hay meadows habitat (6510) is threatened by the introduction and spread of IAS, including black locust overgrowing the natural grassland community, and also the spread of ruderal and nitrophilous species.
The overall objective of the LIFE IAS Free Habitats project is to improve and maintain the conservation status of three of the rarest and most vulnerable natural forest and grassland habitat types in Bulgaria. The project aims to improve the institutional capacity for addressing invasive alien species (IAS), contributing to the implementation of EU environmental policy, including the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020, the Habitats Directive and the Regulation on Invasive Alien Species.
Specific objectives: Improve the conservation status of priority forest habitat, endemic forests with Juniperus spp (9560*), via a dedicated set of conservation measures; Remove IAS and maintain the conservation status of priority forest habitat, Tilio-Acerion forests of slopes, screes and ravines (9180*); Improve the conservation status of mesophile grasslands (6510); Enhance knowledge and experience of stakeholders and land managers for the management and control of IAS in Natura 2000 network sites; Expand institutional and stakeholder capacity for managing targeted habitats within Natura 2000 network sites (e.g. national and regional authorities, site managers, landowners); and Promote inter-institutional collaboration between stakeholders and authorities at regional and national levels.
Expected results: Measures to improve the conservation status of targeted forest and grassland habitats implemented on 86.9 ha; A GIS database of IAS in targeted habitats developed; Three collaborative management platforms created to help replicate project results, especially in forest and grassland habitats affected by IAS; Three conservation plans developed, for 7.82 ha of Endemic forests with Juniperus spp (9560*) habitat, 1 316.54 ha of Tilio-Acerion forests of slopes, screes and ravines (9180*) habitat, and 1 012.5 ha of lowland hay meadows (6510) habitat; Development of technological plans for restoring targeted habitats; Removal of competitive plant species and IAS (black locust and indigo bush) from five ha of habitat 9560*, 7.9 ha of 9180* and 5.9 ha of 6510; Removal of nitrophilous (preferring soils rich in nitrogen) and ruderal (growing on waste ground or among rubbish) plant species from 30.6 ha of the 6510 habitat; Reduced threat from invasive plant species on 7.82 ha of 9560* habitat type, 1 316.54 ha of 9180* and 1 012.5 ha of 6510; Improved conditions for natural seed regeneration of Juniper species on 3.5 ha of habitat 9560*; Enhanced natural seed regeneration of Juniperus excelsa, by collecting 3 000 seeds and sowing 300 terraces; Improved species composition and spatial structure on five ha of habitat 9560*; Enlarged area of habitat 9180* of 7.63 ha, by planting 57 000 tree seedlings, 794 lianas and 1 588 grass sheaves, and improved species composition of additional 0.27 ha; Improved species composition and habitat structure in 36.9 ha of habitat 6510, by collecting 740 kg seeds and seeding meadow species of local origin; Established small scale anti-erosion infrastructure on 2.02 ha in habitat 9180* and 3.5 ha in 9560*; Building 10 metal barriers and 1 100 m of metal fences to protect the young trees in habitat 9180*; In situ preservation of habitat keystone species for conserving 7.9 ha of habitat 9180* and five ha of 9560*; and Raised awareness of stakeholders and the general public about the threat of IAS, with support gained to prevent their spread.