The Balkan Mountains’ territory is vast and encompasses diverse habitats – from broad fields to inaccessible subalpine terrain. Here one can find the most extensive natural beech tree forests in Europe. The beech trees are moisture-loving and fastidious when it comes to soil, which is why they usually occupy the moist northern slopes where soil is deeper. Typical for the Balkan Mountains are the natural beech forests that have kept their original appearance. More than half of them are over 100 years old. In the Central Balkan National Park alone, forests over 150 years of age exceed 14 000 hectares, and forests more than 240 years old can be found as well. Some trees, for example in Boatin reserve, can reach up to 50 meters in height. There are many areas with pristine forests where humans have never intervened.
The role of the old forests for the biodiversity has been pointed out in several researches, according to which the survival of more that a third of the European species depends on old and dead trees. The old, dead or decaying trees, the fallen trunks and branches from habitats, ensure shelter and food for birds, bats, and mammals and are especially important for the less noticeable forest species such as insects, mushrooms and lichens.
The bounties that the beech forests generously share with us are numerous. They are a source of food – wild berries and mushrooms; of essential oils and herbs; of genetic resources for the biodiversity. Their role in the protection of water resources is of extreme importance – for maintaining the hydrological regime of streams and groundwater as well as supplying the villages with potable water.
Their invisible functions are vital – the benefits of regulation processes in the ecosystems. Thanks to them the air and waters are purified; the climate is regulated; soil is being formed and erosion, diseases and pests are prevented; damages from natural disasters are reduced.
The old forests play an important role in the offsetting of global warming through deadwood – a huge, long-term carbon storage of sorts. They are vital for the processes in all other ecosystems – soil formation, photosynthesis, circulation of substances – they are the basis of life.
Beech forests offer shelter and refuge to many species – almost 1000 higher plants, amongst which more than ten Bulgarian, ten Balkan and ten Subbalkan endemic species. Only in “Kozya stena” reserve, on an area of 900 hectares, there are almost 600 types of plants out of which 43 are endemic. The huge area of the forests provides peaceful habitats for a number of endangered large mammals and birds – brown bear, wolf, reindeer, wild goat, golden eagle, imperial eagle, Ural owl, little owl and more. A lot of invertebrates, invisible to the naked eye, complement the animal kingdom.
The scientific, educational, and aesthetic value of the beech forests in the Balkan Mountains is great – the amazing range of colours and diversity of landscapes are a source of positive energy and inspiration.