baumzaehlen - Primeval Forests & Their Trees

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Steneto Strict Nature Reserve, Bulgaria


Steneto Reserve is a part of Central Balkan National Park and also a UNESCO biosphere reserve. In 2017, it was added to the Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe World Heritage Site. It includes the best preserved forests in the National Park1 and is the second largest (36 km2, after Opens internal link in current windowDzhendema Reserve) virgin forest in Bulgaria2. Most of the reserve is situated in one large valley including the magnificent Steneto Gorge. The uppermost slopes are mostly outside the reserve. The elevation ranges from 760 m to 1940 m. The “middle mountain belt” is the most extensive altitudinal zone, where mean annual temperature is 4.8–7.0°C and annual precipitation 800–1300 mm with a May–June maximum3. Slopes vary from gentle to vertical.


The region is one of the richest in Europe in regard to tree species diversity4. The entire national park has more than 50 tree species in its 720 km2. Warm, dry sites of Steneto Reserve may have up to 20 tree species/hectare 1. However, most of the reserve is overwhelmingly dominated by Opens internal link in current windowFagus sylvatica (European beech), mixed with a few other species, most abundant of these being Opens internal link in current windowAbies alba (European silver fir), Opens internal link in current windowPicea abies (Norway spruce) and Opens internal link in current windowAcer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple). The conifers are more abundant in shady ravines and near the timberline. Opens internal link in current windowOstrya carpinifolia (hop hornbeam) is common on sunny cliffs. F. sylvatica reaches about 300 years 1.


The reserve also protects a rich fauna including 90 nesting bird species5. Large herbivores, particularly roe deer, were very numerous until 1990 but reintroduced wolf and, unfortunately, poaching keep their numbers much lower nowadays3. Cattle graze freely on the meadows bordering the reserve and also stray into some peripheral areas of the reserve.


A few marked trails run through the reserve. Staying overnight is possible in a few huts at the borders of the reserve. Camping is possible around the huts. It is not possible to drive the road to the northern end of Steneto Gorge. For the gorge, it is best to start from the southern side of the mountain range, stay overnight at Dermenka Hut and enter the gorge from the south.





2       Veen, P. et al. (2010): Virgin forests in Romania and Bulgaria: results of two national inventory projects and their implications for protection. Biodivers Conserv 19:1805–1819.

3       Sakalian, M. (ed.) 2000: Biological Diversity of the Central Balkan National Park. USAID.

4       Svenning, J.-C. (2010): Geography, topography, and history affect realized-to-potential tree species richness patterns in Europe. Ecography 33: 1070-1080.



Official site:


Video clip:

Fagus sylvatica (European beech) forest. On the rock on the right, Fraxinus excelsior (European ash, tree) and Sambucus nigra (black elder, shrub). Elev. approx. 1200 m.
Fagus sylvatica (European beech) forest. Elev. approx. 1150 m.
Steneto Gorge. Mainly Abies alba (European silver fir), Picea abies (Norway spruce) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech).
Mainly Abies alba (European silver fir), Picea abies (Norway spruce) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech) on a wall of Steneto Gorge.
Fagus sylvatica (European beech) forest at approx. 1500 m.
Fagus sylvatica (European beech) forest at approx. 1200 m. Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple) between the two nearest trees.
Acer pseudoplatanus (sycamore maple, two trees in the foreground and one on the rigth with a broken branch); Fraxinus excelsior (European ash, immediately left and almost hidden by the largest A. pseudoplatanus); Fagus sylvatica (European beech, other trees). Elev. approx. 1200 m.
Acer heldreichii (Heldreich's maple) in Fagus sylvatica (European beech) forest at approx. 1350 m.
Ostrya carpinifolia (hop hornbeam, left) and Picea abies (Norway spruce, left centre) on rock in Steneto Gorge. Other trees: Fagus sylvatica (European beech).
Steneto Gorge. Ostrya carpinifolia (hop hornbeam) foliage in the foreground. Mainly Abies alba (European silver fir), Picea abies (Norway spruce) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech) in the background.
Steneto Gorge. Mainly Abies alba (European silver fir), Picea abies (Norway spruce) and Fagus sylvatica (European beech). Also Pinus nigra (European black pine), bottom with long branches.
Eastern (upper) part of Steneto Valley. In the foreground Picea abies (Norway spruce) at the timberline. In the background mainly Abies alba (European silver fir), P. abies and Fagus sylvatica (European beech).