Junipers not only have unique physical characteristics, but they also have a historical significance, as confirmed by numerous references. From myths and legends to allusions in the Bible, the special nature of these majestic trees has fascinated humans since ancient times. Greece is the only member state of the EU where the habitat type 9562 *Grecian Juniper Woods occurs and Prespa is the only part of Greece where it has been recorded. In fact, Prespa is home to one of the largest areas of juniper woods in the Balkans (around 2,000 hectares), including rare stands such as the “ancient cedar (juniper) woods” at Agios Georgios, Psaradhes and others. Legend has it that the small number of tall, ancient trees in the stand at Agios Georgios have survived because they are thought to be holy, under the protection of the saint. The two species which dominate the juniper woods of Prespa are Juniperus excelsa and J. foetidissima, both with squamous, or scaly, leaves. The main difference between them is that the former has 3-6 seeds in its fruit, while the latter has 1-3.
Juniper woods in Prespa are threatened by the encroachment of deciduous broadleaved species such as oak, oriental hornbeam and hop hornbeam, which adversely affects the habitat type. A key factor that favoured this encroachment of broadleaved species was the absence of systematic management for many years, mainly due to the gradual abandonment of human activities in the woods from the late 1960s onwards as intensive agriculture developed on the plain around Lesser Prespa Lake. This shift led to the gradual reduction of grazing and selective logging, which had formerly contributed to forest management.
The main purpose of the JunEx project is to improve, restore and promote these juniper woods through the resumption of grazing as a management and forest protection measure. The more specific objectives of the project are: to improve the conservation status of the habitat type in areas where it has been degraded; to restore the juniper woods by boosting regeneration rates (by natural or artificial means); and to increase knowledge about the habitat among stakeholders involved either as managers or as users of these woods. To accomplish these objectives the project includes various activities, chief among them the restoration and maintaining of controlled grazing. This will be achieved through building infrastructure for livestock farming, together with selective logging to remove some of the competing broadleaved species. The combination of controlled grazing and the removal of encroaching broadleaved species will also benefit natural regeneration. Seedlings grown from local seeds will be planted out at selected locations, also contributing to the restoration of the juniper woods. The project will also include the clearing out of rubbish and dead organic matter, as well as communication activities.
Targeted communication activities will help increase knowledge about the juniper woods among those working in forest management, specialists in forest restoration and forestry workers such as forestry co-operatives, and will also raise public awareness about the values of this unique habitat type.