, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 1805-1819

Virgin forests in Romania and Bulgaria: results of two national inventory projects and their implications for protection

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Abstract

Despite extensive forest destruction in the Middle Ages and later intensive commercial forest management, remnants of virgin forests remained spared in some Central, Eastern and South-Eastern European countries. These virgin forests are the last examples of original forests in this part of Europe. That is why their protection becomes an important issue of current European forestry and nature protection policy. But the knowledge about the location and the area of virgin forests in these countries is incomplete up till now. This article has the prime goal to present a conceptual framework what virgin forests might be (“A conceptual framework for defining of virgin forests” section). Based on this framework, a working methodology has been tested in Bulgaria and Romania (“Results of the two national projects in Romania and in Bulgaria” section and further). For this reason two projects have been carried out by the Royal Dutch Society of Nature Conservation (KNNV) in close co-operation with the Forestry Institutes in Romania and in Bulgaria. The results of these projects are described in general terms and further analysis in the future is necessary to describe specific features like forest structure and spatial heterogeneity of these forests. Based on the results of the inventory, principles of sustainable protection and management of the mapped virgin forests were defined and described in the research reports. The usefulness of the inventory became evident already during the EU pre-accession period of both countries while preparing the NATURA 2000 network. The remaining virgin forests of temperate Europe are an inexhaustible source of ecological information about biodiversity, structure, natural processes and overall functioning of undisturbed forest ecosystems. Their research will reveal information which can be used for ecological restoration of man-made forests which are degraded through intensive forestry practices over the last centuries. The last virgin forests of temperate Europe represent an irreplaceable part of the natural capital of Europe and are worth to be protected by law. Their last remnants in South-Eastern and Eastern Europe are endangered by commercial activities. A full inventory of remaining virgin forests in all countries of temperate Europe is a matter of highest urgency. A representative selection of virgin forest sites should be declared by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.