Floodplain or riparian forests can be extremely important for the prevention of floods and landslides. Floodplain forests used to be widespread in Bulgaria, but today they are only partially preserved. WWF, in partnership with local Bulgarian partners began a project for restoration and conservation of natural riparian forests of native species along the rivers Danube and Maritsa.
Riparian forests are rich in biodiversity, naturally purifying water, and can prevent floods and landslides. During heavy rain falls, riparian forests collect the water and then slowly return some in the riverbeds, therefore slowing down the water flow. Riparian forests create unique conditions that control and influence the transfer of energy, nutrients and sediments between the aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
These riparian forests have experienced frequent disturbance by human impact, resulting in a continuous decrease of the habitat area. In recent decades, they have suffered from a wide range of detrimental actions including: clear fellings; transformation into arable lands or hybrid plantations for intensive production of timber; cleaning/correction of riverbeds; and infrastructure projects or activities (such as the construction of small hydropower plants and the extraction of inert materials). Such long-term adverse human impacts lead to degradation of the priority habitat and negative changes in its structure, composition, stability and functionality.
The WWF together with local Bulgarian partners (National Forestry and regional forestry directorates "Ruse" and "Plovdiv") have applied for a LIFE+ project to restore 48.1 hectares of natural riparian forests. They will plant local tree species and remove exotic species. A guide will be developed for the recovery and management of riparian forests as well as an analysis of the relationship between the targeted areas and the other Natura 2000 sites. Additionally, volunteers will actively be engage in the project and in particular highschool students, who will help with the planting of trees.
The project is co-funded by the LIFE + instrument of the European Commission and will be implemented from September 2014 to 2019 with a total budget of around 500.000€.
Restoring riparian forests can not only mitigate flooding problems to a certain extent, it also provides additional ecosystem services. While this concept could be difficult to implement in coastal urban areas due to the lack of space, it can be a valuable approach in rural areas. But also in rural the aspect of sufficient space is probably the most crucial factor in implementing the measure. If this initial obstacle is solved, the reforestation is a promising ecosystem-based approach.