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Situated at the southeast end of the Rhodope mountain range, at the crossroads of two continents, the National Park of Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli Forest (DNP) is of exceptional ecological significance at European level.
Characterised by a rich habitat mosaic on a network of low hills in a transitional climate zone between the Mediterranean and the continental, the DNP extends over an area of 42,800ha in Evros Prefecture. It is located at the easternmost edge of a huge forested area that extends all the way west and north along the Rhodope mountain range, while major forested areas are absent for hundreds of kilometres eastwards. Pine trees predominate in the area of the National Park, forming coniferous forests of Pinus brutia, with P. nigra found at the lowest altitudes of its known distribution, while mixed and deciduous forests also occur over a large expanse. Geologically, the northern part of the DNP is dominated by Tertiary ophiolith complexes, while the south mainly consists of Paleogene volcanic and sedimentary rocks.
The location of the DNP, on one of the most important migration routes for birds of the Western Palearctic, makes this forest one of the few regions in Europe cohabitated by 36 out of the 38 European raptor species, where three of the four European species of vulture (Aegypius monachus, Neophron percnopterus and Gyps fulvus) co-exist. The resident Black Vulture population in particular is of great importance, as it is the last remnant of an initially large population of the species within the Balkan region, while the presence of the endangered Egyptian vulture is also significant.
The DNP is a rare example of humans and nature co-existing, as thousands of years of human habitation in combination with low-intensity exploitation of natural resources have contributed to the development of a rich habitat mosaic which is the key factor to the high biodiversity of the area, with unique and rare species of flora and fauna. Old woods, rocky elevations, meadows and fields scattered in the forest, as well as many gorges with rich riparian flora offer a multitude of suitable nesting and feeding habitats for many different species.
Its distinct geographical location also contributes to the rich biodiversity of the DNP, as it is a meeting place of European and Asian flora and fauna, where several European species reach their southern limits of expansion, while it is simultaneously the westernmost limit of several Asian species' distribution.
Approximately 360-400 plant species (including 25 orchids), 104 butterfly species, 12-13 amphibian species, 29 reptile species, 60-65 mammal species (of which 24 are bat species) and more than 200 bird species can be found in the area of the DNP.
The DNP is also an outstanding site for raptors, with 16-20 diurnal European raptor species regularly breeding, and 36 out of the total 38 species found in Europe present. Of exceptional importance are the presence of the endangered Falco cherrug, as well as the co-existence of three of the four European vulture species.
Criterion (x): The rich habitat mosaic of the DNP is considered of great importance for the conservation of biological diversity. The area of the DNP is also important for the conservation of many flora and fauna species such as the Endangered Neophron percnopterus and Falco cherrug, the Near Threatened Aegypius monachus, Milvus milvus, Circus macrourus, Falco vespertinus, Corracia garulus and Ficedula semitorquata,and the endemic flora.
Integrity: In the DNP humans and nature co-exist, with low-intensity, sustainable exploitation of natural resources, as its remote location near the borders of the country has prevented intensive development in the area. Human activities in the DNP mainly involve extensive livestock and farming, logging, ecotourism tours and research. The National Park's rich habitat mosaic of diverse forest to open habitat transitional zones, combined with its distinct geographical location at the crossroads of two continents, makes it exceptionally biologically diverse, able to sustain viable populations of many species.
Concerning raptors, other sites in Europe with similar properties are mainly located in Spain. These include the Monfrague and Cabañeros National Parks, which host significant populations and a wide variety of raptors as well as other species. The uniqueness of the DNP, though, rests on the ecological variation derived from combining typical Mediterranean, continental European and Asian species in a diverse habitat background in an area of only 42,800ha. It is also a typical example of how human presence practising traditional activities can affect the shaping of the landscapes in favour of biodiversity.