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Natura 2000 in Pieniny

Natura 2000 in Pieniny

Natura 2000 is a network of nature protection areas established in all EU countries  The aim of the network is to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. Natura 2000 is comprised of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) designated for species other than birds, and for habitats (Habitats Directive) and  Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds (Birds Directive). To the proper network functioning it is  necessary to maintain and restore the optimum state of the natural habitat of some species of plants and animals in the area and the preservation of sites providing connectivity between these areas.

Habitats and species whose protection is important from a European point of view and expressed in EU directives are determined in each protection area. Their condition is regularly  monitored and if necessary, special protection is conducted.

Pieniny is a part of European network. The most atractive part of the Pieniny is situated within Pieniński National Park. Pieniny is a common name for two areas designated here: PLH120013 and PLB120008 that make up one common area PLC120002 called „Pieniny”, area of  2336,4 ha. The outstanding qualities of this area  is determined by its geological structure manifested by the presence of towering limestone crags separated by deep ravines, including the famous Dunajec River Gorge and the history of climate change. Complex topography, mosaic of habitat conditions and multigenerational, consistent with the rhythm of nature  human activity is reflected in the richness and specificity of organisms occurring here and it is also an example of harmony between man and the surrounding nature.

Habitat Directive in „Pieniny” PLH120013
the code of habitat  in Natura 2000 is presented in brackets after its name

There are 14 habitats for which “Pieniny” site was established. These habitats covers 80% of total SAC’s area and are distributed  from the lowest-lying banks of the Dunajec river covered by riparian forests, up to the mountain peaks occupied by rock grasslands. Within the Polish part of the Carpathians Pieniny are unique in terms of a group of non-forest habitats associated with southern exposures and underlying calcareous limestone. They are represented by small, often irregularly distributed habitats, constituting only about 3% of the area, where most of xerophyte and thermophilic species can be observed. In this one location several habitats can be found: Juniperus communis formations on heaths or calcareous Grasslands  (5130)[1], Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia) (6210), Alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslands (6170) with unique plant species on the national scale, Medio-European calcareous scree of hill and montane levels (8160), Calcareous rocky slopes with chasmophytic vegetation (8210).  Other non-forest habitat, occupying approximately 9%, is Mountain hay meadows (6520) with rare and locally occurring Alkaline fens (7230). At the edges of fens or along water courses Hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities of plains and of the montane to alpine levels (6430) can be found. This group of habitats also includes 24 Caves not open to the public (8310) which  are  major   refuge areas for bats.

The condition of non-forest habitats in most cases depends on the maintenance of traditional and sustainable farming practices. However, traditional farming in Pieniny has been abandoned because of its low profitability. Changes observed in  these habitats (the spread of perennial plants, the disappearance of  species typical for these habitats, overgrowing with shrubs and trees, changes in  habitat conditions) have adverse effects on  plant communities. This means that active protection measures are required. Among forest habitats covering 70% of “Pieniny” area, three of them deserve particular attention as they make “Pieniny” distinguished from other parts of the Carpathians. These are: Medio-European limestone beech forests of the Cephalanthero-Fagion (9150), Tilio-Acerion forest of slopes, screes and ravines (9180) and Western Carpathian calcicolous Pinus sylvestris forests (91Q0) occupying exposed places on the rocky and limestone soil. Habitats of Medio-European limestone beech forests of the Cephalanthero-Fagion and Western Carpathian calcicolous Pinus sylvestris forests occupy slopes with southern exposures, and therefore are characterized by a presence of dry and thermophilic flora and fauna. The habitat of Medio-European limestone beech forests of the Cephalanthero-Fagion is threatened by the presence of alien invasive species – Small Balsam (Impatiens parviflora), while the Western Carpathian calcicolous Pinus sylvestris forests  are  threatened by mechanical destruction of the roots of trees growing near the hiking trails. Northern, shaded and steep slopes are suitable habitats for Phyllitido-Aceretum community  with protected fern Hartstongue Phyllitis scolopendrum. The biggest part of the "Pieniny" is occupied by Asperulo-Fagetum beech forests (9130), which covers about 40% of the total  area, forming pure stands,  mainly on the northern slopes of the “Pieniny”. The alluvial areas of the Dunajec river and areas around springs are occupied by  Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae) communities (91E0). Easy dispersal of alien invasive plants by Dunajec waters, particularly Japanese and Sakhalin Knotweed,  has contributed to their occurrence in riparian forests and  poses real threats to native flora. The lack of periodic flooding of the Dunajec river valleys (Niedzica and Sromowce Wyżne dams caused less variable flows in the river downstream) and the absence of large dead wood have resulted in lower conservation status of these alluvial forests.

Plants of European importance  in the "Pieniny" site: Green Shield-moss (Buxbaumia viridis), Pieniny Treacle-mustard* (Erysimum pieninicum) (*priority species) and Lady's-slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus). Green Shield-moss occurs on rotten wood, particularly spruce and fir. “Pieniny” is one of the two main sites for Green Shield-moss in the Polish part of the Carpathians, where the condition of the local population is reasonable good. Pieniny Treacle-mustard (Erysimum pieninicum) is an endemic species which occurs only in Pieniny. Although an increase in its population has been observed in recent years, it does not  expand outside the Pieniny area. Shrub encroachment has been observed at most sites in “Pieniny” and their excessive growth may have a negative effect on plants. Lady's-slipper orchid, which occurs only at 3 sites in “Pieniny”, is the most impressive of our orchids. Unfortunately, overgrowing poses also a serious threat to the population of this rare orchid.

Animals of European importance  in the "Pieniny" site: two species of invertebrates – Jersey Tiger (Euplagia quadripunctaria), Ground Beetle (Carabus variolosus); two amphibian species - Yellow-bellied Toad (Bombina variegata), Carpathian Newt (Lissotriton montandoni) and three species of mammals: Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx), Lesser Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) and Greater Mouse-eared Bat (Myotis myotis).

The Jersey Tiger can most frequently be seen on the southern slopes of the “Pieniny” with a lush flowering tall herb communities. The most current information about the state of the Jersey Tiger population are only from several localities and do not allow for a full assessment of its entire population in the “Pieniny” area. Similarly, we have an incomplete knowledge about Ground Beetle (Carabus variolosus) associated with wetlands (marshes, streams). Despite the confirmation of its occurrence there is a lack of detailed information about its population and habitat condition. Amphibians are represented in “Pieniny” by the Yellow-bellied Toad, which occurs quite commonly in the area, and by Carpathian Newt which is less common here. In both cases, the incomplete data do not allow to assess the conservation status of these species. The mammal species of European importance in the “Pieniny” are Eurasian Lynx and two species of bats: Lesser Horseshoe Bat and Greater Mouse-eared Bat. “Pieniny” is only a part of European Lynx range, that is why it is necessary to maintain wildlife corridors - space allowing  free migration of individuals between the nearest Natura 2000 sites: Ostoja Popradzka  and  Ostoja Gorczańska. Caves in “Pieniny” provide a good shelter for colonies of bats  in winter as well as offer plenty of food.

Birds Directive in „Pieniny” PLB120008

The following bird species are protected  in “Pieniny” (PLB120008) under the Birds Directive : Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo), Eurasian Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium passerinum), White-backed Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus), Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria).

The Pieniny has been a part of the Golden Eagle breeding area for years. Also the Peregrine Falcon finds here a convenient place for breeding and since 2003 it has become  a regular part of the avifauna of the “Pieniny” Although falcons nests  in inaccessible places, the loss of brood occurs in some cases due to the predatory mammals or other birds. “Pieniny” is one of the most important areas for Eurasian Eagle Owl in Poland. The size of the local population is estimated at 4-6 pairs. Similarly, the Eurasian Pygmy Owl, the smallest owl in Europe, for which the “Pieniny”  is also an important breeding area. Annually 3-4 pairs are recorded here. Spruce stands in the disintegrating phase observed in the western part of the area and the old-growth fir forests covered by strict protection, provide good conditions for Three-toed Woodpecker. Whereas, White-backed Woodpecker prefers deciduous and mixed stands. Despite the differences in dietary, both species bore their hollows in dead or dying trees. The only migratory species protected  under the Birds Directive is the Wallcreeper arriving from the Tatra Mountains in autumn-winter period. The conservation status of birds,  protected under the Natura 2000 Network has not yet been fully recognized.