Achieved results

The bio-physical condition (IP index) of 64 775 heathland and shrubs ecosystems (H&S) and their services (RESC index) were mapped and assessed throughout the whole country (outside of Natura 2000) during project implementation. In accordance with the methodology, heathland and shrubs ecosystems were divided into three subtypes: 501 Arctic, alpine and subalpine scrub, 502 Temperate and Mediterranean-montane scrub and 503 Riverine and fen scrubs. The study showed that the majority of H&S (98%) belong to subtype 502 and the other two subtypes are presented only by 1%.
For the evaluation of the ecosystems conditions, the team explored the biodiversity indicators (projective cover, abundance of plant and animal species, presence of plant and animal species from the Red Book of endangered species, and the presence of invasive plant species), heterogeneity of the environment (pollution from landfills, soil type, degree of erosion and organic content in the soil), as well as the participation of H&S ecosystems in ecosystem
processes (amount of the formed biomass). The projective coverage of the H&S was found to be between 10 and 25% (35%) and between 51 and 70% (22%). The high diversity of species in H&S was determined not only by their characteristics of transitional ecosystems which combine the features of grassland and forest ecosystems but with their own specific biodiversity. Due to the accelerated natural dynamics of H&S expansion at the expense of grasslands, the diversity of plant species from the Red Book is less than that of the animals whose distribution is stimulated by their greater mobility and flexibility. According to the indicator for presence of invasive species, most H&S (83%) are classified into categories of good and very good condition (presence or absence of 1 to 3 species), which increases their importance as natural ecosystems.
H&S are less affected by pollution, but more affected by soils condition, especially for organic carbon content and the risk of soil erosion. The prevalence of H&S in soil conditions from the lower categories correlates with their distribution, which is often on steep and eroded terrains with soils with low humus substance.
H&S accumulate a great amount of biomass (over 52% of H&S falls into the highest category with an accumulation of over 20 t / ha of dry biomass), and effectively participates in the absorption, transformation and retention of atmospheric carbon.
According to the methodology, the ecosystem services provided from H&S are grouped into three main types – provisioning, regulating/ maintenance and cultural (religious and spiritual values to the population) services. The first group includes the number of domestic animals, as well as wild animals for hunting, amount of biomass used for food and for obtaining materials. The study showed that according to these indicators H&S, falls into the highest categories, which proves their importance as sources for natural resource for the population. The second group of indicators includes stabilization and control of soil erosion, buffering and limiting sediment flows, maintaining pollination potential and habitats of donor populations. Based on most of these indicators, H&S falls in the highest categories such as buffering and limiting sediment flows with 64% of them at a very good level of the provided services. Only the maintenance category of the habitats of donor populations is lower because this indicator takes into account the presence of H&S in protected areas. The majorities of protected areas in Bulgaria overlap with the protected areas of the Natura 2000 network and are not included in this study. The group of Cultural services provided from H&S includes indicators for the emotional connection man to nature, expressed in spiritual satisfaction from celebrations or observation of natural phenomena, conducting sacred and religious rites, scientific interest etc. From the performed analysis, it was established that the population still benefits very little from the social services provided by H&S. The smallest part of the overall assessment of this group of indicators is scientific and educational interests, as well as the possibility of spiritual satisfaction from contact with H&S.
It can be concluded that the majority of H&S(96%) are in good condition and provide ecosystem quality and biodiversity. However, the ecosystem services provided from H&S mostly fall into the category of average state (67% of H&S). This pattern reveals the underappreciated opportunity of H&S to provide ecosystem services which can be used by the public and by all stakeholders. These findings reveal the urgent need for the comprehensive study, promotion and preserving of H&S ecosystems at national and international levels.