According to data revealed by the Executive Forest Agency, over the past few years some 6000 hectares of forests have been badly affected by various natural disasters, arsons, deceases, etc. More than 50 percent of all Bulgarian forests fall under protected zones. That’s why it is quite possible to find among these damaged woods species, whose preservation is of European priority. In regard to the state-owned forests, 65 percent of them are listed in the European ecological network “Natura 2000”. In the opinion of many specialists, the recovery of woods with high preservation value differs from the one of regular forests. Forests in protected zones, where many extinct animals and plants are found, should be regenerated by forestation of greenery, which have already existed in this area before the damage. And here comes a problem. In the past our woods were forested mainly with species of high economic value. That is why in our forest seedbeds only such species are seen. Nobody is interested to plant woods of low added value, which are quite valuable from an ecological point of view as this is the habitat of many rare animals and plants.
In order to solve this problem the European Commission has launched a project last autumn. This project is part of the “Life Plus” program. It was named “Preservation of the genetic fund and recovery of important forest habitats within Nature 2000”. The project is executed by two state structures- The Executive Forest Agency and the Sofia Seed-control Station, as well as by the non-governmental association “Vitosha initiative Group”, which has significant experience in that sphere. Its first pilot project was carried out in Vitosha Mountain. In the foot of this mountain lies the capital of Bulgaria.
“In 2001 a wind-spout has destroyed part of the juniper forests there and later on the infestation of Bark Beatles has also affected huge areas”, recalls Teodor Todorov, who is a member of the non-governmental organization. “We began to recover the affected zones by foresting juniper trees. However we had to look for saplings across many seedbeds and soon we found out that we do not have the quantities we need. That is why we began to collect juniper cones and seeds from Vitosha Mountain and plant them into saplings. Initially such saplings should be used for the recovery of the local juniper forest. We have managed to regenerate 60 hectares of affected woods in Vitosha Mountain as well as in many different parts of Bulgaria and we have built rich experience since then.”
The Dawny oak is among the first species in the first gene bank of rare forest species
The new project of the “Life Plus” program aims at the creation of something very precious in view of the future regeneration of woods within “Natura 2000”. We talk about genetic bank, which should preserve seeds and genetic material of species with low economic and high ecological value, whose preservation is of a high priority for Europe. Along with the genetic bank there will be also a seedbed that will produce seeds and saplings of forest species of European significance.
“Bulgaria is the only country in EU that still does not have such genetic bank”, Mr. Todorov points out. It will consist of various trees and bushes as well as of species, which are very important for the preservation and the diversity of our forests. For that reason we explore and choose areas where we collect seeds from various species. The project stipulates the purchase of special laboratory equipment, which will examine the seeds and their germination rate. The genetic bank will be equipped with chambers for medium term and long term preservation of genetic material.”
During the first 7 months of the project we have made substantial preparations, says Theodor Todorov. “We found over 30 forest species as source of our genetic material. We have already collected over 800 kilograms of seeds from various forest types. We have used them to plant the first saplings in our seed breed in the village of Lukorsko. Thus we entered the real phase of the project and next year we will start to forest and regenerate the damaged woods. The project encloses two pilot areas around Sofia. One of them is the area around the town of Dragoman, which is listed in” Natura 2000”. The other one is an area in Plana Mountain. At present we collect information for affected parts of those areas that will be regenerated first. The project aims at the recovery of some 40 hectares of forests. We will be collecting information for the rest of the forests within “Natura 2000” that need regeneration. When the project is over we hope that we will continue to multiply its results. That is why we are gathering seeds in order to plant saplings, which will be used for regeneration of many forests in this country.”
One of the first wooden species we have used for collecting seeds for saplings was the Downy Oak. The problem with this tree is that it does not produce seeds every year and their germination is very low. According to some experts, this is a rare type that inhabits vast areas of some specific habitats which preservation is in the priority list of Europe. The Downy Oak is very undemanding. It grows at places where there is a thin layer of soil. We learn more about this rare species form engineer Svetlana Bozhinova, chairman of the Sofia Station for seed control, where saplings were grown.
“The Downy oak covers around 35 000 hectares in Bulgaria. Within our protected zone it is spread mainly over areas, which are covered with lime-scale rocks as well as over thin layers of soil. It is extremely drought-resistant. In view of the climate changes more and more attention will be paid to these species in future. It is very important from an ecological point of view, because it is able to grow alongside other trees, for example with trees as the Hungarian Oak, the Turkey oak, the European pear, the Elm tree, the Cornel tree and the Mountain Ash. The latter are good source of food for birds and many wild animals. Downy Oak is not that tall- it reaches a maximum height of 15-20 meters. But you can find it at places where no other wooden species can grow. That is why it is very important for the detainment of the soil in the rocky areas as well as for the process of formation of soil in the mountains.”
It would be impossible to complete such a project only through funds from the National budget or the profit of the forestry enterprises, gladly says engineer Liubcho Trichkov, chairman of the “Projects and international activities” Directorate at the Executive Forest Agency. The contribution of the European ecological program to the project is some 440 000 Euros, or 75 percent of the whole budget. You can see more on the project website www. Forestgenefund.eu
Translated by: Kostadin Atanasov