Assessing the conservation status of forest habitats in protected area 'River Iskar'.
Protected area 'River Iskar' BG0000613 covers the downstream region of Iskar river. This area is representative for Danube Valley and has similar parameters to other protected areas in the region. The vegetation in 'River Iskar' area could be grouped in forest, non-forest and aquatic habitats. Unfortunately a great part of these habitats is not a priority for Habitats Directive of EU. An analysis on the state and the nature conservation status of the forest habitats has been carried out by following a standardized methodology, approved by the Ministry of Environment and Water of Bulgaria. Forest habitats are represented as 91E0*, 91F0, 91H0*, 91 M0 and 91Z0, of which habitat 91 M0 is characterised with the greatest spread in area and is followed by 91E0* and 91H0*. Habitat 91I0* of Standard form of the Protected Area was not found and shows similarities in species composition to 91 M0 or 91H0* habitats. The overall evaluation of all forest habitats indicates an unfavourable to poor nature conservation state with more than seven parameters of such low scores. These results are partially due to the strict evaluation criteria of the methodology applied as well as to the deteriorated condition of the forests in the area. The latter is determined mainly by anthropogenic conditions. The information presented covers the essence of natural degradation processes in these forests, namely - a tendency for gradual forest decline and reshaping the landscape into steppes, as well as the occurrence of succession processes, which in turn lead to the replacement of autochthonous forests with more adaptable and aggressive species (for example invasive tree and shrub species). A brief examination of the deteriorated forest conditions for the 1995-2012 period reveals that during the past years deforestation was intensified by a variety of harmful activities such as: parceling out of small private forest plots and their inadequate management, poor control over security and regeneration activities by the Ministry of Environment and Water and Executive Forest Agency, an increase in unauthorised logging attributed to the impoverished and unemployed local population, as well as ineffective penalization practices and lack of motivation for solving such problems on regional and national level. It is recommended that the impoverished groups be integrated into the restoration activities of the endangered forest habitats and that they be involved more actively in the local control.