A pilot network of small protected sites for plant species in Bulgaria using the micro-reserve model
The 'BulPlantNet' project halted species loss in Bulgaria through the introduction of plant micro reserves, a conservation strategy pioneered by earlier LIFE projects in Spain. 'BulPlantNet' succeeded in having 58 sites outside the Natura 2000 network designated as 'Small Protected Sites' in Bulgarian legislation. These sites are home to 47 endangered plant species. The project also drafted actions plans for all 47 species.
The 'BulPlantNet' LIFE Bioversity project selected, inventoried and monitored 62 small sites for the conservation of 47 selected endangered plant species in Bulgaria, and deposited 62 proposals for the designation of these sites to the Ministry of Environment and Water (MOEW). From these, 58 were officially designated as 'Small Protected Sites' (SPSs) under Bulgarian legislation, which was almost double the initial target of 30 sites. A total of 47 action plans for all the target plant species were drafted and officially endorsed by the MOEW to safeguard the survival of these species. As a result of establishing action plans for all the target species, during the next ten years the management activities for the maintenance of these territories, which comprise around 1 006 ha in total, will be conducted on a predictable basis. 'BulPlantNet' therefore successfully demonstrational the value of the Plant Micro-Reserve (PMR) model for the first time in Bulgaria. This was applied to protect isolated populations of endangered species in the Bulgarian flora.In addition to establishing protected areas, the project contributed by adding an extra set of measures for habitat maintenance and monitoring, improved scientific knowledge in this area, increased public awareness through information campaigns, and involved all interested parties in conservation activities. The project team created a SPS network database for the subsequent development and sustainable management of sites, with detailed information on all the target species including distribution maps. Training in the field was also conducted for targeted expert groups within different administrative regions. The network of SPSs established by the project covers practically the whole territory of the country. Citizens have been well informed and the network is generally well accepted. This is a good prerequisite for the addition of new sites in the future. There is good potential for the enlargement of the network, through the possible inclusion of the remaining endangered plant species from the Bulgarian flora that meet the criteria of the PMR concept.The project's coordinating beneficiary created an ex situ facility where 21 targeted plant species were propagated and kept for future in situ restoration, according to the recommendations of the action plans. The 'BulPlantNet' model could also be applied to the other countries in the region, as the flora of neighbouring countries had evolved in similar conditions. The project has therefore demonstrated how the PMR concept for the conservation of endangered plant species could be applied throughout the Balkan region. The small sizes of the protected areas, combined with the application of traditional agricultural practices, such as grazing or mowing, are among the reasons for the relatively low level of expenditures expected in creating PMR networks. Therefore, despite its high conservation value, these activities can be characterised as cost-efficient.