Rusenski Lom harbours a rich variety of forest and farmland biotopes
Facts & Figures
Coordinates: 26° 8’ 28’’ E, 43° 38’ 3’’ N
Altitude: 238 m
Rusenski Lom Nature Park: 3.408 ha
Lomovete Natura 2000 site: 32.489 ha
Rusenski Lom region is located in the northeast of Bulgaria, in the canyon-like valley of the Lom Rivers, the last major right bank tributary of the Danube before it spills into the Black Sea. Rusenski Lom is a protected area covering territories from Vetovo, Ivanovo and Tsar Kaloyan municipalities.
Rusenki Lom Nature Park together with the wider area of the Lom Rivers (Lomovete) harbours a rich variety of habitats: meandering rivers, small natural lakes and fishponds, riverside terraces with wet hay meadows, alluvial forests, high vertical rocks, dry semi-natural grasslands, rocky steppe grasslands, dry scrublands and oak forests on dry and rocky soils among others.
The variety of habitats and climate conditions contributes to a high flora and fauna diversity. The flora in the park counts 877 species (23 % of Bulgaria’s flora) including 30 Balkan and 1 Bulgarian endemic species. Nine species of the orchid family can be found in the Park.
Rusenski Lom is one of the top places for birds in Bulgaria, and 122 (of a total of 174) species breed in the Park. Some of the birds are endangered in Europe and are under Bulgarian and EU protection. However, protection is not incompatible with human activities. Many of the species occur in open and semi-open areas of semi-natural character and are dependent upon certain low-intensity farming practices for their survival. Examples are: long-legged buzzard (Buteo rufinus), lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina), Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), common quail (Coturnix coturnix), woodlark (Lullula arborea), corncrake (Crex crex) and red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio).
Some of the most attractive inhabitants of drier grasslands are spur-thighed and Hermann’s tortoises (Testudo graeca iberia and T. hermanni) as well as the European souslik (Spermophilus citellus) and its predators: marbled polecat (Vormela peregusna) and steppe polecat (Mustela eversmanii) – all species of Community interest according to the EU Habitats Directive.
Many of the habitats in the Lomovete area are of high nature conservation importance and as such are identified and classified according the EU Habitats Directive. Some of the semi-natural habitats are depending on continued and extensive management, often grazing at low densities:
|EU Code||Habitat||Distribution||Interaction with farming|
|6210||Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco Brometalia)||Rocky steppes on the canyon sides and margins (important orchid sites)||Grazing is not regulated and planned but light grazing (0,6-0,7 LU/ha*) is necessary to maintain the habitat. The number of animals should be limited within the norms provided below. Overgrazing and trampling by animals is a threat.|
|6240||Sub-continental steppic grasslands||Dry semi-natural grasslands on richer loess heights and uplands||Low-intensity grazing (0,6-0,7 LU/ha) required to maintain the grassland habitat. Most of these areas are undergrazed at the moment, thus natural succession to woodland is occuring.|
|6250||Pannonian loess steppes||Dry semi-natural grasslands on poorer loess heights and uplands Largest known populations of the Bulgarian endemic species Chamaecytisys kovacevii and of the Balkan endemic Verbascum dieckianum.||Livestock is no threat to these two endemic species and grazing is required to maintain the steppic characteristics. Main threats are overgrazing by livestock close to settlements; burning of dry grass on the pastures in the beginning of spring; and dissemination of aggressive weed species from the adjoining farmlands.|
|6510||Lowland hay meadows||Meadows of the canyon floors along Lom rivers||Grazing at certain stocking densities (more or less 1 LU/ha) is required to maintain this rich habitat. Mowing is recommended as a management practice to remove the surplus of nutrients, brought in by the river. Trampling of vegetation by animals on their way to the grasslands as well as overgrazing close to settlements is a threat to the habitat.|
|40A0||Subcontinental peri-Pannonic scrub||Bushy grasslands or open woodlands on the canyon margins||Since it neighbours arable lands, a real threat is the conversion to arable lands, burning of stubble-fields and inflow of nutrients from the arable fields. A large part of this habitat is already destroyed due to these reasons. Grazing by goats should not be allowed.|
|91E0||Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae)||Small vegetable gardens and tree crop mosaics near villages in the canyon floor||Forests under the strong influence of human activities: gardening and harvesting.|
* LU/ha: livestock unit per hectare. 1 LU equals about 1 cow or 1 horse or 7-9 sheep or 7-9 goats.
The region is dominated by intensive arable land use which surrounds the territory of the Nature Park. The land use in the three municipalities Vetovo, Ivanovo and Tsar Kaloyan comprises 92 % arable land (54.700 ha), 4.097 ha semi-natural grasslands, and perennial plants.
In the Nature Park, forests are the main land cover (2.808 ha or 82 %), followed by farmlands. Farmland is a mixture of grasslands and extensively used arable lands.
- Meadows: 45 %
- Pastures, including bushy pastureland: 15 %
- Arable land: 9 %
- Abandoned arable land: 4 %
- Rocky land: 21 %
- Farm infrastructure: 6 %
In terms of ownership, forest lands within the Rusenski Lom Nature Park are mostly state-owned and municipal. About half of the farmland in the Park however is privately owned, the other half by the municipalities.
In contrast, private lands comprise more than 60 % of farmland outside Rusenski Lom Nature Park. There are also large areas of common land owned by the municipalities, mainly meadows and pastures.
The farming sector in the Lomovete area is characterized by a very strong duality in its structure: many (very) small scale farms versus several very large and intensive agro-businesses. With Bulgaria being part of the European Union, the farming structure becomes more diverse. Accession to the EU introduced the new term “semi-subsistence” farmers, producing partly for their own consumption and partly for the market. There is also a growing number of market-oriented family dairy farms whose production systems can be intensive or extensive, just as in the old Member States.
Remarkably, about 75 to 80 % of all livestock in the area is kept by subsistence and semi-subsistence farmers, each keeping 1-2 cattle or a couple of sheep and goats. Consequently they manage the majority of grasslands in the area, many of high nature value. Two years after accession to the EU there is a trend of increasing the herd size in the family farms and decreasing the overall number of subsistence farmers of 1-2 animals. Sadly grazing patterns are complex and poorly documented, even in the Park. Typically farmers use land informally, including land otherwise unfarmed (e.g. on canyon margins) and crop residues on arable land.
The same small-scale farmers have a large proportion of their forage on communal land (e.g. canyon floor meadows and flat plateaus above the canyons) or depend on grazing in state-owned forests (which requires special permission and is officially forbidden for goats). Often they form common village herds and have a rotational system of herding among the livestock owners. The herdsmen take the animals out for grazing in the morning and return in the evening, when the animals go back to their premises for milking, in general in the owner’s backyards. This pattern increases the chances for overgrazing in the vicinity of settlements, while remote pastures are underused or abandoned.
The aims of policy from the point of view of biodiversity-beneficial farm management are reflecting the overwhelming disruption that the post-Communist transition has inflicted on the region. These are:
- Maintenance of appropriate grazing regimes on all currently-used forage areas, especially semi-natural grazing land
- Possibly, reintroduction of grazing on former forage areas
- Control of scrub expansion, but avoiding the total eradication of scrub
- Maintenance of small-scale, low-intensity mosaics in the vicinity of villages
Since 2005, the number of registered farmers in the Lomovete area has increased because of the expectations of farmers to get financial support under the EU agricultural payments. All registered farmers and land are eligible to apply for the single area based payments (SAP scheme – 63 EUR/ha). The Lomovete area is not defined as a disadvantaged area (still commonly known as Less-Favoured Area, LFA).
There are still large areas of grasslands in Rusenski Lom that are not registered, which means that either their owners are not eligible for support and/or are not interested in applying. There are many rural residents willing to use their grasslands but they face several problems:
- They have to register as agricultural producers in order to be eligible, which is not affordable because of the additional costs associated (mostly the need to pay social security payments);
- Most of semi-natural grasslands consist of many small parcels which decreases the cost-efficiency of their management given the level of payments and the related costs on registration and maintenance of HNV farmland;
- Furthermore, due to the small size of the parcels they may be ineligible for CAP payments, as the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) registration requirement is of minimum 1 ha per farm, comprised of parcels of min 0.3 ha.
However, the perspective of receiving additional support for the management of the grasslands motivated a number of people to go through the process of registration. Payments are expected from the agri-environmental schemes for HNV grasslands (131 to 155 EUR/ha), as well as for Natura 2000 compensation payments which will be introduced only in 2010.
Generally it seems that the subsistence and semi-subsistence farmers are considered to be a problem by the administration in terms of high administration costs but low funds ‘absorption’ capacity and no market viability prospects, albeit they are the largest group of farmers and manage the largest share of HNV grasslands. Subsistence farmers have no (clear) market orientation thus receive in general no CAP payments. The public good ‘high nature value’ delivered by them does not receive public funding besides potentially the agri-environmental area-based payment as the administration expects that environmental (as well as social, e.g. poverty alleviation) objectives are delivered via the market mainly. Semi-subsistence farmers are a significant group as well, operating partly or entirely in grey markets. They face several problems to apply for CAP payments such as minimum land requirements (see above), minimum holding size (1 to 4 economic units), little awareness of the availability of support, low educational levels, etc.
Another major obstacle to receive CAP funding is that few livestock farmers in the area are able to comply with both the Bulgarian requirements for animal premises and those for milk hygiene, but again the performance of farmers who actually manage HNV farmland is by all accounts significantly worse than the average. Additionally only farmers with more than 5 dairy cattle can get milk quota and thus sell milk officially. Small farmers lack a voice and capital to enable them to make any significant investments. They are not used to accessing advice but the Bulgarian state on its part has not availed itself of the flexibilities allowed it by EU rules.
A last policy issue is the use of common (often communal) grasslands by both registered and unregistered farmers. As recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture, farmers formed associations at municipal level to apply together for the SAPS payments and then redistribute the money among the users of the land. In some municipalities the associations are formed only by officially registered farmers which means that the rest of the rural residents who also graze their animals on the common land have no official rights to use it and receive payments for it. Yet, in reality the animals of these subsistence farmers also graze on the common land and create severe competition for the grassland resource, especially in dry years. On the other hand, overgrazing (sometimes as high as twice the grazing capacity) is becoming not just a fodder issue for officially registered farmers but also a control issue. GAEC requires them to keep the grasslands in good conditions and when controls come they will be the ones suffering the penalties.