Forest habitats in the southwest of Bulgaria, designated as priority for conservation in the Habitats Directive, are facing the common problem of reduced natural regeneration. This is threatening their habitat conservation status. Field data and working experience in the region, including those from previous LIFE projects such as BGNATURAGENEFUND (LIFE10 NAT/BG/000146), has shown that natural regeneration is either weak or does not exist in the target area of the LIFEFORHAB project. Therefore, in cases of habitat destruction or damage (e.g. by forest fires, and pest or disease outbreaks), forest habitats are not able to regenerate successfully, which leads to further reduction of habitat coverage and deterioration of habitat conservation status. The main factors causing poor regeneration are the human pressures, including overgrazing, improper forestry practices, land use change, infrastructure development, and uncontrolled forest fires; the spread of invasive species; the lack of natural reproductive material; and the insufficient capacity within the forestry sector in Bulgaria for the sustainable management and restoration of priority forest habitats within the NATURA 2000 network.
The overall objective of LIFEFORHAB was to improve the conservation status and to increase the habitat coverage of seven priority forest habitats listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive, within six target Bulgarian NATURA 2000 network sites.
Specific project objectives were to:
- Support the conservation of the gene pool of priority forest species and habitats;
- Secure the basis for future conservation and restoration efforts targeting priority forest habitats by developing infrastructure, ensuring necessary equipment, and building expert capacity;
- Demonstrate best practices for habitat restoration on a regional level over a total area of 104 ha, and foster the replication of results on a national level; and
- Increase the level of support from stakeholders and target groups for sustainable management of forest NATURA 2000 network sites in Bulgaria.
LIFEFORHAB resulted in improvements in the conservation status and the extent of seven priority forest habitats of the Habitats Directive, in six Bulgarian NATURA 2000 network sites. The project team constructed new tree nursery installations at the Lokorsko facility, which are the first of their kind in Bulgaria and therefore of interest to forestry experts from all across the country. The project also raised the institutional capacity for replication of the project results, as well as the awareness regarding the conservation and restoration of woodland and forest habitats.
The project beneficiaries demonstrated good practices for restoring forest habitats in all targeted areas under the control of the Bulgarian Executive Forest Agency (EFA) and the Regional Forest Directorates (RFDs). The involvement of key public institutions guarantees the ongoing sustainability of project actions, and the replicability/transferability potential. New forests planted from seedlings produced in the Lokorsko nursery, near Sofia, will be allowed to develop and increase in area, mostly in a natural way but also with the support of forest managers.
The project team:
- Identified 332 sources of forest reproductive material within 53 NATURA 2000 sites, which were visited and mapped by experts of the associated beneficiary FSCS. A total of 169 075 kg of seeds (160 batches of 43 priority tree species) was stored in the Bulgarian forest gene bank. Material for the production of saplings was also collected (5 tons of seeds delivered to project tree nursery).
- Installed and operated all foreseen infrastructure and equipment for producing containerised seedlings (seed processing machines, automated filling and seeding line, nursery irrigation booms, etc.) at the Lokorsko nursery.
- Produced more than 1.6 million containerised seedlings of 12 tree species, and 5 000 saplings with naked roots of 3 tree species. As of the spring 2021, a total of 660 000 saplings were sown, including saplings of Mediterranean oaks in experimental plots looking at adaption to climate change (within the CLIMAFORCEELIFE project, for which the LIFEFORHAB project team is a partner).
- Restored and improved forest habitats within the target NATURA 2000 sites, on a total of 109.5 ha (thus exceeding the target value) in the State Forestry Units of Kresna, Dupnitsa, Osogovo, Nevestino, Parvomay, and Rila Monastery.
The project team produced maps, technical reports, guidelines, protocols, a Restoration & Conservation Programme, monitoring and survey reports, and training materials. The long-term benefits and sustainability of the project helps to achieve the objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see the "Read more" section).