Eastern Carpathian beech forests

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Stužica primeval forest, Slovakia (By Caroig (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons)

Primeval beech forests of the Carpathians are comprised of ten reserves are in the eastern Carpathian Mountains, five clustered in eastern Slovakia and southwestern Ukraine near the Polish border, and five in southwest Ukraine near the point the mountains pass into Romania. These forests, classified as substantially primeval by the United Nations, are situated between 47°56’12”N to 49°05’10”N and 22°11’23”E to 24°23’35”E.

Dates and History of Establishment

1908:    First Ukrainian forest Natural Reserve established in Stuzhytsia;
1920s:  Several Ukrainian beech forests became Protected Areas;
1968:    The Carpathian Biosphere Reserve created by Soviet Council decree 568;
1977:    The Eastern Carpathian National Park established in Slovakia
1980:    Karpatskiy National Park (50,303 ha) established over the four easternmost  sites;
1992:    Carpathian (Karpatskiy) Biosphere Reserve est. by Law 2456-XII, over the same area;
1993:    Eastern Carpathian UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve established in Slovakia and Poland;
1998:    Ukraine joined the MAB Reserve;
1997:    Poloniny National Park est. in Slovakia by Act 258, covering 3 of the 4 Slovakian sites;
1998:    The Council of Europe Diploma A awarded to the Ukrainian Carpathian Biosphere Reserve;
2002:    Vihorlat Protected Landscape Area established in Slovakia.                               

Land Tenure

State. Managed by the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve Administration with the Slovakian State Nature Conservancy and the Ukrainian Uzhanski National Nature Park under the Slovakian Ministry of the Environment and the Ukrainian Ministry of Environmental Protection.   


Elevations of these beech forests vary from 210 to 1700 meters, the higher levels comprising the Maramorosh Massif.

Physical Features

The East Carpathian mountains extend 1000 kilometers through Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine and Romania. In Slovakia they are called the Bukovske Vrchy (Beech Hills). They form a rolling ridge-and-valley landscape underlain by upper Cretaceous and early Tertiary sandstones and claystones, called the Carpathian flysch, of anticlinal limestone ridges and synclinal valleys in the easier weathered schists. The main ridge on the Polish border is on the Continental divide, and continues through Ukraine. From it, lower spurs run out to the foothills. The three borders meet at Mount Kremenets (1221 meters). Maramorosh has granitic bedrock and Virhorlat is an andesitic volcanic massif. The dominant soils are acidic and rocky brown forest soils and alluvium with some peat in the valleys, with podzolic lithosols on high mountains and gley on the slopes. The many headwater streams flow south towards the Danube.


The reserves have a mountain climate with a wide diurnal temperature range. Mean annual air temperatures decrease with altitude from 9.5°C at 500 m to 5°C at 1000 m. The mean temperatures in July are 15.3°-17.4°C, and in January, -4.0° to -7.4°C). The lowest recorded temperature is -40°C. and the highest, 31°C. Annual rainfall ranges from 800 mm at low elevations to 1250 mm in the high mountains, falling mostly in summer, July being the wettest month. Snow cover lasts between 90-140 days a year, with depths of 40-80 cm to 150 cm, depending on altitude.


caption Havešová Beech primeval (virgin) forest in Slovak national park Poloniny, UNESCO world heritage site from 2008. (By Jean-Pol GRANDMONT (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, GFDL ( or CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons) Ancient undisturbed Fagus sylvatica beech forests, monodominant, ecologically stable and intact, cover extensive areas of this nomination, including the largest virgin beech forest in Europe, the Uholka-Shyrokyi Luh massif in Ukraine. They are relics of mesotrophic forests that used to cover two fifths of temperate Europe. The area is exceptional in the extent, integrity and age of its forests of beech, but apart from these the flora is largely representative of its type. Past the foothill oak groves (200 to 590 m), there are five main vegetation types: beech forest (500 to 1200 m), beech-fir forest (1100 to 1200 m), pine-alder alpine dwarf woodland unique to the region, subalpine and alpine meadows, and upland rocky-lichen landscapes.

Sixty plant communities, over 1100 vascular plants, at least 741 species of fungi (481 in the beech forests), 444 mosses and at least 436 lichens have been recorded in the ten sites, with 14 species endemic to the Carpathians. Species totals are listed in Annex 1. Oak-beech forests are found on the lowest and warmest sites: dominated by common and sessile oaks (Quercus robur, Q. petraea) and hornbean  Carpinus betulus), but including Norway and field maples (Acer platanoides, A. campestre) and the lindens (Tilia platypylla and T. cordata). 

The herb layer is dominated by hairy sedge. (Carex pilosa). Low and middle elevation meadows and pastures are quite species rich. On sites with more humus and on talus, there are Scotch elm (Ulmus montana), ash (Fraxinus excelsior), sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), and limes. Maple-beech forests grow between 1000 and 1190 m. Silver fir (Abies alba) occurs at higher and wetter levels and dwarf pine (Pinus mugo) and green alder (Alnus viridis) above them. Near the summits, harsh conditions limit tree growth. The banks of brooks are lined by the willows (Salix aurita, S. silesiaca).  Deforested sites at lower and middle levels are usually overgrown by scrub associations. Rare varieties and forms of birch Betula occur. There is a great range of non-forest communities: soaks, mires, meadows, pastures and the timberline grasslands (poloninas), a species-rich and local mountain vegetation type, created mostly by grazing cattle on the mountain ridges and dominated by Prata subalpina, Nardus stricta, Deschampsia caespitosa and Festuca rubra. Since grazing stopped their species-richness has decreased and smallreed Calamagrostis arundinacea has expanded, creating a future management problem. Annex I details species by reserve.


Although its wildlife is distinct from that of surrounding mountains, the fauna, like the flora, is representative rather than exceptional, although the undisturbed forest is very good habitat for the rich invertebrate life, especially. About 1500 animal species are recorded, 292 vertebrate and more than 1500 invertebrate species, 950 being insects. Between the ten sites, 73 mammal, 101 bird, eight reptile, ten amphibian, at least 74 mollusc, 20 fish and 165 butterfly species are reported. They include a great many saproxilic wood- and tree-dwelling and some cave-dwelling species, dependant on the forests’ characteristically rapid decomposition of coarse woody debris (especially on the volcanic andosols of Vihorlat).

These forests represent one of the most extensive European sanctuaries for large forest animals, many of which immigrated from the northeast after World War II. These include brown bear (Ursus arctos), bison (Bison bonasus) (introduced via Poland), wolf (Canis lupus), lynx (Lynx lynx), wildcat (Felis silvestris), wild boar (Sus scrofa attila), elk (Alces alces), red deer (Cervus elephus) and roe deer (Capreolus capreolus). There is a rich fauna of common small mammals and 20 species of bats, many being dendrophilous, including the rare Myotis bechsteini (VU). There is a remarkable diversity of centipedes, isopods and millipedes in beech-fir woods and a multitude of beetles in broad-leaved forest: 572 species are reported including the rosalia longhorn (Rosalia alpina) (VU). The only characteristic East Carpathian species is the slug Trichia bielzi, found in luxuriant valley groves. The reserve protects the gene pool of animals such as the East Carpathian pony Equus caballus huculensis, which is a local attraction. 192 bird species are recorded. Typical of the region are black stork (Ciconia nigra), golden and lesser spotted eagles (Aquila chrysaetos  and A. pomarina), corncrake (Crex crex), eight species of woodpeckers, hoopoe (Upupa epops) and western capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus).

Cultural Heritage

The area, originally peopled by Ruthenians, has always been sparsely populated. But it was influenced during the 15th to 16th centuries by the gradual spread of Wallachian shepherds from Romania who roamed over the mountain pastures. There are old Orthodox and Catholic wooden churches, roadside chapels and statues dating from the 18th century. With farming and shepherding, beech charcoal-making was a traditional mainstay.

Local Human Population

Most local people work in shepherding, agriculture and forestry. Nobody lives in the core zones and in the Slovakian region the highlands are being deserted by herders. But there are ten villages and some 17,660 people in the buffer zones, mostly near Vihorlat and Havesova. In Ukraine the western section is more densely inhabited with 12 small villages, in the eastern section there are 17 nearby settlements with nearly 400 people, and about 50,000 people live in the nearby towns of Rakhiv (15,200) and Khrust (32,300).

Visitors and Visitor Facilities

There is a well-developed network of good roads and tourist trails and the region is visited by some 80,000 people a year, 30,000 in the Poloniny National Park and 50,000 in the Ukrainian sites. But few ecotourists use the trails; most visitors are local people who take the forests for granted and use them for hiking, camping, hunting and fishing. A Museum of Carpathian Ecology has been built at Rakhiv near the Carpathian National Park. Accommodation and services are available in Rakhiv which is on a railway. In Slovakia there is a visitors’ centre in Nová Sedlica in the Poloniny National Park. Expert guidance is also provided by the Centre for Scientific Tourism of the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

Scientific Research and Facilities

A basic survey of the floristic and phytosociology of the Biosphere Reserve has been completed, and investigations of fungi, avifauna, and selected invertebrate taxa are continuing. Important forestry research has also been undertaken by the Technical University in Zvolen using permanent research plots. Inventorying the flora and fauna is an essential part of this research. The Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute has several climatic and hydrological stations, and there are permanent plots for monitoring the health of forests and meadows. A common Geographic Information System database is being established as a means to approach the East Carpathians as a coherent whole, to unify wildlife inventory methodologies and databases and facilitate common decision-making.  In Ukraine some 20 scientists work with technical assistants and forest guards as monitors. In Slovakia 30 scientists from several institutes work on long-term programs both independently and in affiliation with the Park administration.

Conservation Value

These largely undisturbed pure stands of forests that used to cover two fifths of Europe are relics whose beauty, habitats and ecological processes are an important part of Europe’s temperate forest heritage. The sites lie within a WWF Global 200 Eco-region, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and are Natura 2000 sites.

Conservation Management

Their remoteness and restricted accessibility have preserved the primeval character and ecological complexity of these forests. The serial sites enjoy protection as a whole and are managed jointly as Strictly Protected Nature Reserves, under the Ukrainian Law on the Protected Areas Network of Ukraine, No.2456-XII of 1992 and by the Slovakian Nature and Landscape Protection Act No.543 of 2002. These are enforced in Slovakia by the State Nature Conservancy in Poloniny National Park and Vihorlat Landscape Protection Area; and in the Ukraine by the administrations of the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve and the Uzhanski National Nature Park. With the Polish Park service across the border, this exemplifies trilateral transboundary co-operation under difficult political and economical circumstances.

To support the area, both sustainable agriculture and profitable ecotourism are needed. The existing focus of the area’s Joint Management Committee is on the reserve management, monitoring and protection, mountain meadow maintenance and protection, conservation of monumental old trees, management of river corridors and water ecosystems; also the lowering of the impact of tourism on core areas, and providing training in ecotourism, management skills for local entrepreneurs and in the restoration of historic buildings. Monitoring of air, water and soil quality and of biota of all kinds has long been done and is being systematised. A further aim is to balance institutional management with the participation of stakeholders to benefit local populations, involving their interest through educative ‘Green diplomacy’, GPS-aided educational trails and an interactive internet site. The development of sustainable tourism in future will only be successful if all the partners follow a common strategy in the provision of services.

In addition to the gradual introduction of a policy of non-intervention with natural processes, a long-term aim is to establish protected corridors connecting the scattered sites from a mosaic of largely continuous natural and semi-natural forests. In the Ukraine many of them will become protected areas as part of the pan-European ecological network. In Slovakia, following nomination, the management of corridors in protected areas will be upgraded.  This will be easiest where sites are already close together and joined by protected state forests as with Chornohora + Svydovets, and Kuzyi-Tribushany plus Maramorosh in Ukraine, and the Poloniny National Park sites in Slovakia. A transboundary Integrated Management Plan will be implemented in the Ukraine by Coordination Councils, and in Slovakia by a Joint Management Committee through the Presov Autonomous Region administration. The process will start with participation by municipal representatives and continue with the support of citizens, NGOs and other stakeholders. It will provide advice and a basis of solid information on forest management and conservation. In the future the World Heritage site might link with the forests of the adjoining Bieszczady National Park in Poland and later still with parks across the border in Romania.

Management Constraints 

There are few negative pressures on the forests apart from occasional fires and storms which can damage exposed beech trees owing their shallow-rooteding. The abandonment of grazing on the high polininy meadows will cause their reversion to scrub unless countered. There is some illegal tree-cutting and poaching, but it is the thousands of local visitors who may exert the most pressure in future.


In the Ukraine the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve and the Uzhanski National Nature Park staff have 310 and 110 employees respectively to protect the reserves, including buffer and development zones. There are also 200 forestry officers in charge of forest protection. In Slovakia the staff in the Poloniny National Park and the East Carpathians Protected Landscape Area numbers 24. These number 16 graduate natural scientists and forest ecologists responsible for management and research plus 8 rangers for patrolling the four sites, assisted by 32 voluntary nature protection guards. Expert management is reinforced by the cooperation of the Centre for Nature and Landscape Protection of the State Nature Conservancy. Highly qualified and well equipped staff Forest District staff are responsible for the management of buffer zones and corridors between the properties.


The Ukrainian budget for these reserves in 2004 was approximately US$700,000. In future the two governments will allocate EUR25.000 (US$32,000) annually to fund the Joint Management Committee and the Integrated Management Plan, based on the Action Plan submitted annually. Projects such as habitat reconstruction and ecotourism development will be funded separately. Programs are planned for the in-field training of scientific staff. The establishment of the transboundary Biosphere Reserve in 1992 was funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the GEF.

Local Addresses

Ministry of Environmental Protection of Ukraine, 35 Uryts’kogo Str. 03035 Kyiv, Ukraine.
Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, 77, Krasne Pleso Str., 90600 Rakhiv, Ukraine.   
Direction of National Nature Park Uzhans'ki, Shevchenka St. 54, 295050 Velykij Bereznyi, Ukraine.  
State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic 10 Lazovná Street, P.O. BOX 5, 974 01 Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. Administration of National Park Poloniny, P.O. Box 47 - Partizánska 1057 069 01 Snina, Slovakia.    

Further Reading

  • The principal source for the above information was the original nomination for World Heritage status.
  • Bublinev, E. &  Pichler, V.(eds.). (2001). Slovak Primeval Forests – Diversity and Conservation. IFE SAS, Zvolen.
  • Brang, P. (2005). Virgin forests as a knowledge source for central European silviculture: Reality or myth? Forest Snow and Landscape Research, 79 (1/2):19−31.
  • Commarot, B. (ed.)(2005). Natural forests in the temperate zone of Europe: biological, social and economic aspects.  In Forest Snow and Landscape Research, 79 (1/2).
  • Denk, al. (2002). The evolutionary history of Fagus in western Eurasia: Evidence from genes, morphology and the fossil record. Plant Syst.Evol. 232: 213–236.
  • Flora and Fauna of the Reserves in USSR (1988). Fauna of the Carpathian Reserve. Moscow. 36-43.
  • Hodovanets, B. (1996). Present State of Avifauna of the Carpathian Biosphere Reserve. Protection in Ukraine. Vol. 2. pp36-41.
  • Ministry of Environmental Protection of Ukraine & State Nature Conservancy of the Slovak Republic  (2006).Transnational Serial Nomination Beech Primeval Forests Of The Carpathians.[Contains a bibliography of 157 references]
  • -----------------------------------------------------------------(2006).Integrated Management Plan For The Serial Nomination, Beech Primeval Forests Of The Carpathians
  • Parpan V. & Stoiko S.  Beech primeval forests of the Ukrainian Carpathians – Conservation and coenotic structure. Lima NV, Ivano-Frankivsk.  pp82-86.
  • Proceedings of the International Conference ‘Fauna of the East Carpathians’: Present State and Protection (1993). Uzhgorod. pp55-57.
  • Yefremov A., Antosyak V. & Sukharyuk D. (n.d.). Flora of the Carpathian Reserve.




M, U. (2014). Eastern Carpathian beech forests. Retrieved from


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