The forest steppe habitat complex has different types, depending on soil and climatic conditions. The forest steppe linked with calcareous sandy soils is a unique, sigma-level ecosystem, which has suffered more than 98% loss (in terms of surface cover) due to different human activities during the last centuries. Many specialist plant and invertebrate species occur, some exclusively, in this type of the forest steppe habitat complex, highlighting its importance for biodiversity and nature conservation. In addition, the calcareous sand forest steppe complex provides several ecosystem services of socio-economic importance. The sustainable use of ecosystem services is vital, to prevent depletion of irreplaceable or conditionally renewable resources.
The main threats to the habitats and species in the project area are the expansion of invasive plants; isolation of priority habitats and populations; unbalanced age structure of forests; inadequate management of habitats; and the lack of relevant knowledge among authorities, managers, professionals and the public about the importance of forest steppe habitats and the ecosystem services they provide.
The OAKEYLIFE project aims to enhance conservation status and to extend the cover of priority habitats within the calcareous sand forest steppe habitat complex.
Specific objectives include: Eliminating local threats that present obstacles to habitat restoration and achieving favourable conservation status for priority forest steppe habitats in accordance with the Habitats Directive; Increasing the population size of plant and invertebrate species of Community interest, via habitat management and the planting of ex situ cultivated seedlings; Restoring key ecosystem services provided by the calcareous sand forest steppe habitat complex; Raising public awareness about the importance of the ecosystem functions provided by this habitat complex; and Formulating technological recommendations for land managers and authorities for promoting the sustainable management of the habitats of forest steppe and the use of ecosystem services.
Expected results: The conservation status of 180 ha of priority calcareous forest steppe habitat types will be improved to favourable; The extent of priority habitats types will increase by 59.1 ha; Suitable habitats for the scarce fritillary (Hypodryas maturna) butterfly will increase by six ha; Suitable habitats for the earth-boring dung beetle (Bolbelasmus unicornis) will increase by 51.5 ha; The population sizes of the sand iris (Iris humilis ssp. Arenaria) and the marsh gladiolus (Gladiolus palustris) will increase by 80% and 1 000% respectively; 12 full-time jobs will be created; Forest ecosystem functions will be improved on 963 ha of native forests; 11 best practices’ studies will be prepared; and Some 16 000 people representing different stakeholders will be reached by communication activities.