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Extension to the Joint World Heritage Property "Primeval Beech forests of the Carpathians (Slovak Republic and Ukraine) and the Ancient Beech forests of Germany (Germany)"

Date of Submission: 30/01/2015
Criteria: (ix)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Ministry of the Environment of Albania
State, Province or Region:
Kukes and Elbasan Counties
Coordinates:
Ref.: 6019
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The future nomination, which is subject of this Tentative List entry, represents an extension to the World Heritage property "Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests  of Germany" (Germany, Slovakia, Ukraine, WHC  ref-no  1133bis). This property  was inscribed  by the World  Heritage Committee first in 2007 as "Primeval Beech Forests  of the Carpathians,  Slovakia  and Ukraine"  and extended  in 2011 by the component  parts "Ancient BeechForests  of  Germany"  (Germany)  to  the  present  serial  transnational  site. The  future nomination (its name will bedecided at a later stage of the process) is of serial, transnational character and consists of 33 components parts in 12 State Parties. The component parts represent an outstanding example of undisturbed, complex temperate forests, its postglacial expansion  process and exhibit the most complete and comprehensive ecological patterns and processes of pure and mixed stands of European Beech across a variety of environmental conditions. They contain an invaluable genetic reservoir of Beech and many species associated and dependent on these forest habitats.

Name(s) of the component part(s)

1.c        Name(s) of the national component part(s):

Lumi i Gashit

Rrajca

1.d       State, Province or Region:

Lumi i Gashit: County: Kukes, Tropoje district. Commune: Margegaj, Tropoje

Rrajca: County: Elbasan, Librazhd district. Commune: Rrajce

1.e        Latitude and Longitude, or Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) coordinates:

Lumi i Gashit: N 42° 29' 2", E  20° 03' 31"

Rrajca: N 41° 10' 14", E  20° 31' 53"

Description of the component part(s)

Lumi i Gashit

The component part Lumi i Gashit is located in the North-East of Albania in the border zone with Montenegro  and Kosovo in the area of the European Green Belt. It belongs to the Bjeshket e Nemuana mountains (in English often referred  to as Albanian Alps). Bjeshket e Nemua is a high-altitude mountain with peaks reaching 2,694 m a.s.l. The Strict Nature Reserve borders in the East to the 8,000 ha large, Tropoje Lugina e Valbones" National Park (designated in 1996). The Strict Reserve contains the different elevation zones from 1,000 m at river level up to the watershed along the eastern border of the mountain at 2,100 ha. The area is characterised by a Mediterranean mountainous climate. The temperatures on average during the winters range between 9.6 °Cand 0.5 °C and during summer  20.7 °C. The mean annual rainfall for the area is 1,850 mm. The reserve covers the upper catchment area of the mountain river Lumi i Gashit including the spring and its partly only temporary tributaries. Gashi river is traversed by a dense network of hydrological, the reason that it has a pronounced mountains character. Almost all streams have two directions, West-East and East-West. Gashi's river runs across the North-South direction and is the only river which has water the hole year, fueled partly by the Deberdolit's lake and from the others streams. Its water pours in Valbona's river, which flows in the river Drini. The biggest streams which have water throughout the year are: Radogoshi's Stream; Poligjca's Stream; Torkuzi's Stream. Lumi i Gashit is characterised by different vegetation complexes ranging from lower mountain forests up to alpine rocks. Beech forests occur on steep slopes in the montane zone, which are partly mixed with Abies alba, Picea abies, Pinus peuce (endemic for the Balkans) and Pinus heldreichii.  The timberline is at approximately  2,100 m a.s.l. but due to grazing  it is lowered down to 1,700 m. Beech forests are covering approximately  one third of the Strict Nature Reserve (around 1,000 ha), more precise information is presently not available. Lumi i Gashit is rich in animal species. There are 81 species from different taxas. There are 14 species of amphibians,  67 mammals. They belong to the different IUCN red list threat category. Some of this species are: brown bear (Ursus arctos), wolf ( Lupus canis), fox (Vulpes vulpes), marten (Martes  martes),  squirrel (Scinus vulgaris),  roebuck  (Capreolus capreolus),  wild rabbit (Lepus europea), otter (Lutra lutra), mountain's eagle (Aquilla hellaca), falcon (Falco sp.div). The  remoteness  and the location  in the former  border  exclusion  zone  (,kloni")  are the main reasons  why forests  on the slopes of the river Lumi i Gashi were not heavily impacted  and in some parts even primeval forest patches remained.

Rrajca

The component Rajca is located in the upper Bustrica valley within the borders of Shebenik­ Jablanica National Park. The NP is located in the North-eastern part of Librazhd District in Elbasan County in central Albania. Traditional land use on vegetation and landscape can be observed in lower elevations. In the hilly landscape around Rajca and Sutani only on extreme steep slopes very few and also grazed remnants of termophil mixed oak forests of the sub-montane belt can be found. These forests are destroyed on a large scale and they are, due to grazing, replaced by Buxus sempervirens. The bushes of Buxus sempervirens are dominant and only some Juniperus oxycedrus and Pteridium aquilinum are growing. Very few trees of Quercus petraea, Acer opulifolium, Fraxinus ornus, Carpinus orientalis have been surviving. Cattle do not eat Buxus sempervirens and apparently this is the reason for its massive occurrence. The altitudinal range of Rajca is 700-2,000 m a.s.l. (the NP park ranges in altitude from 300 m to more than 2,200 m). The relief is rugged and mountainous. Besides the two rivers Qarrishte and Bushtrica there are multiple smaller streams and at least 14 small glacial lakes. Lower and deeper valleys of creeks characterize the wooded steep slopes. Along rock walls and boulder fields the natural timberline within the beech forest belt is formed. Avalanche tracks, sliding blocks and screes are expressing the tremendous geomorphological dynamic and its impact on the forest structure. The region on Shebenik-Jablanica NP is characterized by a Mediterranean climate. The average annual temperature is between rc and 10°C. The average annual precipitation is1300-1800 mm. The area of the component part is located in the Bustrica  valley. Bustrica is a mountain river with its source below the peak of Shebenik (2,250 m). The vegetation of the component  consists of mixed beech forest (Fagus sylvatica, Abies borisii­regis, Pinus peuce, Sorbus cf. Aria).The areas above an elevation of approximately 1,230 m on both sides of the Bustrica valley and the tributaries  of Bustrica  River  are  covered  by  aclose, old growth  beech forest  of primeval character. Beech trees expand to the gravel islands in the narrow riverbed and grow in mixture with Abies alba, Pinus peuce, and Sorbus cf. aria.In lower areas the natural vegetation comprises:  Quercus trojana, Quercus petraea, Qu. cerris, Carpinus orientalis, Ostrya carpinifolia, Acer opulifolium, Acer campestre, Cornus mas, Fraxinus ornus, Corylus avellana and some Fagus sylvatica.The area is an important habitat for the Balcan Lynx. The area of Rajca with its primary forest complexes  has been conserved due to its isolation in the former border zone (,kloni") of the iron curtain and due to its remoteness  with very difficult access.



Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The "Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians  and the Ancient Beech Forests  of Germany" (the title of a finite European nomination will be decided at a later stage of the process) are indispensable to understanding the history and evolution of the genus Fagus, which, given its wide distribution in the Northern Hemisphere and its ecological importance, is globally significant. These undisturbed, complex temperate forests exhibit the most complete and comprehensive ecological patterns and processes of pure and mixed stands of European Beech across a variety of environmental conditions, such as climatic and geological conditions, throughout all European Beech Forest Regions. They comprise all altitudinal zones from the coast up to the forest line in the mountains and further include the best remaining examples of the outer boundaries of the European Beech forest range. Beech is one of the most important elements of forests in the Temperate Broadleaf Forest Biome and represents an outstanding example of the re-colonization and development of terrestrial ecosystems and communities after the last ice age. The continuing northern and westward expansion of Beech from its original glacial refuge areas  in the  eastern  and southern parts of Europe can be tracked along the natural corridors and stepping stones spanning the continent. More recent changes in the distribution pattern of this species relate to direct influences of human disturbance and the more complex effects of anthropogenic climate change. Both historical and present serial patterns of distribution represent natural evolutionary strategies for adapting and surviving environmental change. The dominance by Beech across extensive areas of Europe is testament  to the tree's genetic adaptability.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The selected Beech forest sites not only represent the full serial diversity found across Europe but are also of sufficient size to maintain the natural processes necessary for the long-term ecological viability of the wider ecosystem. Buffer zones including surrounding protected areas (nature parks, biosphere reserves) will be managed sympathetically to ensure the long-term conservation of the particular character of the designated Beech forest together with its inherent attributes. Other than the extent of forest area and presence of an effective buffer zone key characteristics used in the site selection process included the average age of forest stand and the period of lapse since it was last managed or actively disturbed. The evaluation criteria used in the selection process help to describe the degree of naturalness of a forest, but also provide some indication of the inherent functional capacity of the ecosystem. Finally, where appropriate, special importance was given to connectivity between Beech forests and the surrounding complementary habitats as a perceived prerequisite for ecosystem functioning and adaptation to environmental change.

Lumi i Gashit

The integrity is expressed by the structure of the forests (old trees and high deadwood share) and  by  the occurrence of the primeval forest indicator lichen Lobaria pulmonata, which is growing on the stems of old beech trees.

Rraica

The average stand age of the component  part is 180 years. On steep slopes in remote areas primary forest remnants survived.

Justification of the selection of the component part(s) in relation to the future nomination as a whole

In the selection process of suitable primeval and ancient Beech forests in Europe, a classification system defining Beech Forest Regions (BFR) in Europe has been developed. Each BFR is characterised by its specific climatic and floristic situation and showing an individual history of postglacial Beech forest development differing in time of first Beech arrival and the different genetic ecotypes of Beech, as Beech was re-colonising Europe after the last ice-age from different refuge areas. It is considered that a finite serial transnational European nomination will include candidates from all BFR. Therefore, the best suitable Beech forest sites in each BFR have been selected to represent the different ecotypes and postglacial development processes in a most representative way. Each component part within one BFR brings specific aspects and significantly adds additional value to the series as a whole. These specific aspects are shown in the following: 
The two components are part of the Moesic Balcanic BFR. They are important habitats for endemic and endangered species, which encourages the assumption that they are refuge areas for endemic species.

In Lumi i Gashit the inclusion of a Pinus heldreichii rocky forest in the Beech Forest belt and the joint occurrence of Fagus sylvatica and Pinus peuce in large stands of high integrity and in elevations higher than 1,700 m are a remarkable unique feature of tremendous value.

In Rrajca the rich occurrence of the Balkan endemic Pinus peuce is to be pointed out as an important plant geographic particularity and a unique feature of this site. Pinus peuce develops at the upper timberline and forms  within the Beech Forest belt mixed stands with Fagus sy/vatica.

Furthermore, the geomorphological dynamics and their impact on the forest (avalanche  tracks, sliding blocks and screes) are an additional value of the component part.

Comparison with other similar properties

The occurrence of deciduous forests with trees from the genius Fagus is limited to the Holarctic of Earth’s northern hemisphere. They are found throughout the nemoral zones for climatic reasons and are limited to certain conditions. The genus of beech (Fagus) is a typical element of deciduous forests. It comprises of 14 species that exist under humid climate conditions in the three major Holarctic regions of deciduous forest: in the east of North America, in Europe/West Asia, and in East Asia. It’s counterpart in the southern hemisphere is the cognate Nothofagus genus (Fagaceae) native to the Neotropical, Australian and Antarctic floristic realm. Forests with Nothofagus are already represented in World Heritage Sites of Los Glaciares National Park (Argentine), Lorentz National Park (Indonesia) and Gondwana Rainforest of Australia. Forests with trees from genus Fagus are found outside of Europe in the World Heritage sites of Shirakami-Sanchi (Japan).

In Europe beech forests are represented (beside the existing site of “Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany”, which is concern of this extension) in the World Heritage site of Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatia), Durmitor National Park (Montenegro) and Pirin National Park (Bulgaria). In the National Park of Plitvice Lakes, the outstanding universal value chosen is the lake-system built by travertine barriers (criterion vii, viii and x). The Dumitor National Park was nominated for the outstanding Canyon (criterion vii, viii and ix). In Pirin National Park the outstanding universal value is the natural coniferous forest and its functioning ecosystem as well as the glacial geomorphology of the region (criterion vii, viii and ix). In all three sites, beech forests are covered, but they are not core part of the nomination. The Plitvice Lakes National Park includes the Corkova uvala primeval forest, compost of beech, silver fir and spruce forest. This forest is of high scientific and natural value. The proposed new sites are more important for representation of on-going ecological processes, climatic adaptation of Fagus sylvatica and diversity of site conditions and geo-morphological characteristics of beech forest communities. They meet the sufficient size of minimum 100 ha needed to ensure integrity of the site, while Corkova Uvala primeval forest within Plitvice Lakes National Park has a size of 75 ha. Therefore, values of this primeval forest will be additionally emphasised in the future management of the existing world heritage site and presented as complementary to the Ancient Beech Forests serial site.

All in all this extension is of crucial importance for the long term conservation of European beech ecosystems. The size of the component parts as well as their spatial distribution cover a variety of environmental conditions and the genetic diversity of beech. No other already existing World Heritage Site unites these features, which makes the extension to a unique project in terms of conservation of the ancient beech forests of Europe.