WWF Press Release – November 8, 2016
Sofia – A significant step was taken toward protecting the old-growth forests in Bulgaria as the Ministry of Agriculture and Food officially designated 109,000 ha of state-owned woodland as old-growth forests. They are all within Natura 2000, the EU’s network of specially protected sites. For years, environmentalists have sought a way to protect the last remaining virgin forests in Bulgaria and the solution was found in an effective collaboration between the country policy and the Natura 2000 regulations.
According to the national guidelines for sustainable management of forests in Natura 2000 sites, 10 per cent of forest habitats there should be strictly protected with any human interventions prohibited. The new ministerial order legitimates all territories recognized as old-growth forests in Bulgaria which allows for efficient forest management and competent protection.
This achievement is a result of field research and activities of the Bulgarian environmental organizations including WWF aiming to identify and map old-growth forests and to conserve their biodiversity values.
“We studied more than 150,000 ha forest areas in priority regions with virgin forests such as Western Rhodoppes, Stara Planina and Sredna Gora. In field expeditions, we identified and mapped 25,000 hectares of the best preserved old-growth forests using modern scientific methods. More than half of these forests are now included in the ministerial order,” said Alexander Dountchev, Forest Expert, WWF-Bulgaria.
This success in the Bulgarian legislation is a sign that with strong and conscious actions governments in Eastern Europe can achieve a balance between economic, social and environmental interests, and can save the last remaining virgin forests in Europe.
In Romania, about 200,000 hectares of old-growth forests are currently mapped, but only 18 % are situated in protected areas. New evaluations estimated over 100,000 ha of potential virgin forests and parts of them are proposed to be designated as UNESCO’s World Heritage.
Old-growth forests face major threats as unsustainable resources use, poor forests management and illegal logging are common practices. A significant part of the remaining European pristine forests is situated in the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains, which WWF calls the Green Heart of Europe, and needs better protection.
The virgin forests are the last forest ecosystems where nature survives in its purest form, without being affected by human intervention. They are home to eight out of ten terrestrial species of plants and animals, many of which endangered or very rare in cultivated forests. One of the major activities WWF does in the Danube-Carpathian Region is identification and mapping of the virgin forests, urging for special and priority recognition of the old-growth forest in the national legislations as this is essential for their effective protection.