Bulgaria is a country rich in biodiversity. That biodiversity is strongly influenced by a very diverse terrain, ranging from the seashore at the Black sea to the highest mountain on the Balkan Peninsula – the Rila Mountains, with its highest point on Musala peak (2,925 m a.s.l.). In addition, it has a mixed climate influenced by Mediterranean, Continental, and Atlantic air masses, a transitional geographical location between Europe and Asia, and a history as refugia for many species during periods of glaciation. The forests vary from oak-dominated stands in the lowlands, to beech-dominated, mixed beech-conifer, and pure coniferous stands in the mountains. The total forest cover of the country is 3.864 million ha, which is more than 30% of the country’s territory. To help preserve forests and their rich biodiversity, there are three national parks, which largely occupy the highest parts of the Rila, Pirin, and Stara Planina mountain ranges, 11 nature parks, and 55 strict reserves.
Forests in the lowlands and lower mountains were exploited for centuries, and, consequently, it can be extremely hard to find any primary oak-dominated forests. Some isolated patches have been preserved, mostly on Strandzha Mountain and several reserves near the Black sea, namely Kamchia, Ropotamo, and Uzunbodzhak reserves.
Beech forests are the dominant forest type in Stara Planina, parts of the Strandzaha, Sredna gora, and Osogovo mountain ranges and the lower parts of the higher mountains. Some of them were never actively managed due to the steep and inaccessible terrain. Most of these pristine beech forests are located in reserves in Stara Planina Mountains and within the Central Balkan National Park.
The southwestern part of the country is dominated by a mountainous landscape. It includes the vast Rhodopes Mountains and the higher Rila and Pirin Mountains. They are largely populated by coniferous and mixed beech-coniferous forests. Most of these forests were not actively exploited until the middle of the 19th century. However, later development of the wood processing industry facilitated logging activities and today only isolated pristine coniferous forests are preserved in the Rhodopes and Rila Mountains. These are mostly located on rocky landscapes, such as the Trigrad Gorge with centuries-old Pinus nigra forests, or in deeper valleys where they were protected as reserves during the first half of the 20th century, such as the Parangalitsa Reserve (declared 1933; contains 240 ha Picea abies-dominated forest). Better preserved are the forests on the steep slopes in the Pirin Mountains, which are now included in the Pirin National Park and in two strict reserves within the park – the Dzhindzhiritsa-Bayuvi dupki Reserve and the Yulen Reserve, which contain centuries-old Pinus peuce and Pinus heldreichii dominated forests.
Further information on Bulgaria’s primary forests and their natural history are available in the following articles: