Mediterranean forests are under considerable pressure from a range of negative environmental trends. In the case of Grecian Juniper Woods (GJW), priority habitat type *9562 and a unique habitat within the Greek Prespa National park (also expanding in the neighbouring countries, Albania and North Macedonia), the major threat is the abandonment of traditional, low intensity human intervention. In the past, human activities like livestock grazing, pruning and cutting for fodder and firewood, helped both the preservation of the GJWs and their slow but steady regeneration.
Over time, however the decline in livestock farming, altered the balance of trees in these forests. The number of broad-leaved tree species increased at the expense of Grecian junipers Juniperus excelsa. This encroachment of broad-leaved species, such as oak, hornbeam and hop-hornbeam, gradually limited the presence and regeneration of Grecian juniper and degraded these forests. At the start of the LIFE JunEx project, 48% of the juniper forests were recorded as mixed forests with deciduous broad-leaved trees. No regeneration of the juniper woods could be observed at that time mainly because the shade from the dense deciduous trees was prohibiting the germination and development of young junipers.
These broad-leaved species were no longer being logged and this led to the accumulation of biomass in the forests which increased the risk of wildfires spreading in the dry environment of the juniper woods. In addition, illegal waste dumping sites were identified in juniper woods, which both increased the danger of wildfires spreading, and degraded the aesthetic values and the functions of the juniper woods. The aforementioned threats and results were a result of a lack of understanding and recognition of the value of juniper woods at local and regional level, as well as the result of a gradual loss of knowledge by managing authorities on how to manage GJWs.
The objective of the LIFE JunEx project was to restore and conserve the *9562 “Grecian Juniper woods (Juniperetum excelsae)” priority habitat type in the Prespa National Park by promoting the organised, controlled and sustainable use of animal husbandry and in particular grazing by sheep/goat herds, as a forest management and conservation measure. In particular the project aimed to improve the structure of Grecian Juniper Woods (GJWs) by restricting deciduous broadleaved species. The removal of broadleaved species would also ensure that the numbers of the habitat’s typical plant species would increase, some of which are rare at national, European and global levels, thus enhancing floristic diversity to reference values. The project also sought to improve the forest functions through the improvement of the GJWs’ conservation status and the reduction of identified threats, such as fires, waste accumulation and low regeneration potential of Grecian junipers.
The LIFE JunEx project planned to restore the silvo-pastoral value of the GJWs, through the selective removal of broadleaved species and the reintroduction of grazing, through the construction of related infrastructure. All these actions combined with waste removal would result also in the reduction of the risk of spreading wildfires, which have threatened GJWs in the past. In parallel, the planting of Grecian juniper seedlings was foreseen, as a means to restore the species’ regeneration potential. Finally, another objective of the project was to promote the importance of the habitat and its conservation at local, national and European levels, as well as promote the socio-economic benefits of the conservation of silvo-pastoral systems, such as GJWs.
The clearing of broadleaved vegetation which was encroaching on the *9562 habitat has shown environmental benefits as oak and hornbeam previously degraded the forest. The younger junipers now have a better chance to grow and survive. The removal of waste and biomass also provide better growing conditions for the species and reduce fire risk.
The project achieved its six main aims: 1. Conservation of junipers found in good condition with high floristic diversity. 2. Restoration of areas where GJWs had been degraded due to the encroachment of broad-leaved species through selective logging and the reintroduction of grazing, as well as the removal of biomass and debris. 3. Improvement of low regeneration of J. excelsa by planting seedlings and sowing seeds. 4. Reduction of threats, such as wildfire risk. 5. Increase in the scientific knowledge regarding the conservation of the habitat type *9562 and the sharing of practices with relevant audiences, such as management authorities. 6. Promotion of the values of *9562 habitat through communication activities.
The LIFE JunEx project successfully improved the conservation status of the priority habitat *9562 Grecian Juniper Woods through the reintroduction of traditional practices, such as the selective removal of broadleaved vegetation, controlled grazing and waste removal. It was also successful in building the capacity of forestry authorities in terms of combining logging and grazing in forests as means to conserve habitats within protected areas. Such practices were incorporated in the next ten-year Forest Management Plan of Western Prespa and in the Grazing Management Plan of the Municipality of Prespa.
Karapatzak E., Varsamis G., Koutseri I., Takos I. & T. Merou. 2019. The effect of pollen performance on low seed fertility in a Greek population of Juniperus excelsa. Journal of Forest Science, Vol.: 65, pp. 356 – 367.