Threats and conservation issues
In Prespa, the main threat to juniper woods and the rich flora associated with them is the encroachment of deciduous broadleaved species such as oak, oriental hornbeam and hop hornbeam, which adversely affects the characteristics of the habitat type. The factors which have favoured these species are the junipers’ relatively low natural regeneration rate and the tailing off of human activities in the juniper woods. In the past humans had inadvertently created favourable conditions for the conservation of juniper woods by carrying out their everyday activities such as grazing and logging, but these activities are no longer maintained.
The specific factors that led to the encroachment of deciduous broadleaved species were:
The reduction in low-impact traditional activities such as grazing, coppicing and firewood collection
The extensive, medium-scale animal husbandry which was carried out in the area until the mid-60s used to contribute to controlling broadleaved species. Mixed flocks of sheep and goats kept invasive vegetation at bay through grazing, to the benefit of juniper which is less attractive as a forage plant. The flocks maintained all the other plants at a relatively low height and consumed the tender shoots, buds, fruits and seedlings of other species, thereby creating a space for the light-loving, or photophilous, junipers to develop. Moreover, this traditional method of control through grazing also helped limit the amount of dead organic matter in the understorey and thus helped to prevent wildfires. The situation altered between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s with the shift to intensive agriculture which gradually led to the collapse of traditional farming practices. As well as the cessation of grazing in the woods, traditional logging practices were also abandoned, and local communities no longer cut small broadleaved trees or branches to use for heating or animal fodder in winter. Broadleaved species are more energy efficient than juniper, so residents preferred to log trees such as oak, oriental hornbeam and hop hornbeam, further contributing to the maintenance the juniper woods by removing these competing species.
The lack of systematic forest management
The gradual abandonment of traditional activities which had maintained the balance between junipers and broadleaved species was not replaced with systematic forest management. This was due in part to the low priority given to the preservation of biodiversity until relatively recently; however, the relatively low profit margin on marketable products from these woods also played a role.
Negative attitudes towards the woods
Over the years, as people’s lives became more removed from the woods they also lost sight of their importance. This loss of knowledge about the natural values and the ecological and economic functions of juniper woods resulted in a disregard for them and to problematic behaviour such as the dumping of refuse or rubble and illegal logging.