Proposal for the Creation of a New Natura 2000 Site in the Ciuc Mountains

Anna-Mária CSERGŐ1, László DEMETER 2, Zsolt MOLNÁR 3, Dániel BABAI 4, Gusztáv JAKAB 5

1 Sapientia University, Sighisoarei Str. 1C, Corunca, Romania,
2 Sapientia University, Libertatii Str. 1, Miercurea-Ciuc, Romania,
3 Institute of Ecology and Botany of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Alkotmány Str. 2-4, 2163 Vácrátót, Hungary,
4 Institute of Ethnology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences , Országház Str. 30. 1014 Budapest, Humgary,
5 Tessedik Sámuel College, Institute of Environmental Sciences, Szabadság Str. 1–3, 5540 Szarvas, Hungary,

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Casin, Csík mountains, Ghimeș, Gyimes, Habitat Directive, Kászon, mountain hay meadows, Natura 2000 habitats, protected species, SCI


The Natura 2000 system was introduced in Romania in 2007, upon joining the EU. In the first phase a number of sites were proposed. However, many of the high nature value areas were not included in the proposal, and the distribution of sites is biased towards the Southern Carpathians. Here we present a proposal for a new site in the Ciuc Mountains in the Eastern Carpathians. The main habitat type in the area is mountain hay meadows. In total we identified 17 Natura 2000 habitat types, four priority plant species and more than 30 priority animal species on the proposed site. An essential factor for the maintenance of high nature value grasslands is the continuation of traditional agriculture, still practiced in the area by the majority of the rural population but in decline. These communities provide habitat management services on such a scale that the government could not afford to pay for them just for the sake of nature conservation.


The vegetation of the Ciuc Mountains consists mainly of a mosaic of spruce and mixed beech-spruce forests with hay meadows and pastures. Botanical data referring to this area are deficient, and detailed floristic or vegetation studies are very scarce (see review in Jakab et al., 2007). The northern part, inhabited by Csángó people, who are well-known for their traditional knowledge, attracted mainly ethnobotanists (Rab et al., 1981; Pálfalvi, 1995; Pálfalvi, 2001; Babai and Molnár, 2009; Molnár and Babai, 2009a, 2009b). Floristic data are available from literature data (Wagner, 1899; Kümmerle, 1902; Degen, 1912; Degen, 1930; Soó, 1940a; Soó, 1943; Rácz, 1968; Miklóssy V. V., 1980; Mititelu et al., 1993) and herbaria (***Schedae of Bacău Flora, 1974, and ***CL). Vegetation was studied by Soó, 1940b; Csűrös and Resmeriţă,1960; Andrei, M., 1963; Kovács A., 1971; Csűrös et al., 1980; Csűrös et al., 1985; Epuran, 2001; Kovács J. A., 2004). The neighbouring geographic regions, such as the Casin Basin and Ciuc Basin, included in the proposed area, were studied by Csűrös (1973), Demeter et al., 2005; Csergő and Demeter (2011).

Based on the available literature data and on surveys during the year 2009, we have completed a SCI (Site of Community Interest) proposal for the Ciuc Mountains.


The proposed site has an area of approximately 1400 km2. Its boundaries are the Hăşmas-Cheile Bicazului ROSCI0027, the eastern part of the Middle and Upper Ciuc Basin above 700 m, it comprises an existing SPA - Munţii şi Depresiunea Ciucului ROSPA0034, the Casin Basin to the south and the Uz valley-Palanca straight line to the east (Fig. 1).

So far, 17 types of Natura 2000 habitats have been identified, as follows (in square brackets, the corresponding plant communities, and in round brackets, the distribution of that particular habitat within the site):  

3230 Alpine rivers and their ligneous vegetation with Myricaria germanica [Salici purpureae-Myricarietum Moor 1958];
(along Barackos, Jávárdi, Fiság and Kászon rivers)

4060 Alpine and boreal heaths [Campanulo abietinae-Vaccinietum (Buia et al. 1962) Boşcaiu 1971; Empetro-Vaccinietum gaultherioidis Br.-Bl. 1926];
(on the higher peaks of Ciuc Mountains)

6170 Alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslandss[Diantho tenuifolii-Festucetum amethystinae (Domin 1933) Coldea 1984];
(on Naskalat, Péter, Hegyes, Szellő peaks)

6210* Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (Festuco-Brometalia, * important orchid sites) [Polygalo majoris-Brachypodietum pinnati Wagner 1941];
(Kászon valley, Kendhegy, Gyimesek)

6230* Species-rich Nardus grasslands, in siliceous substrates in mountain areas (and submontane areas, in continental Europe) [Scorzonero roseae-Festucetum nigricantis (Puscaru et al. 1956) Coldea 1978; Violo declinatae-Nardetum Simon 1966];
(Gyimesek, Borzikhegy, Naskalat)

6430 Hydrophilous tall herb fringe communities of plain and of the montane to alpine levels [Telekio-Petasitetum hybridi (Morariu 1967) Resmerita et Ratiu 1967; Filipendulo-Geranietum palustris W Koch 1926; Rumicetum alpini Beger 1922] (along most of the rivers and springs, Ciuc Mountains, Gyimesek) 

6510 Lowland hay meadows (Alopecurus pratensis, Sanguisorba officinalis)  [Arrhenatheretum elatioris Br.-Bl. ex Scherrer 1925];
(mostly in the Ciuc Basin)

6520 Mountain hay meadows [Festuco rubrae-Agrostietum capillaris Horvat 1951, Poo-Trisetetum flavescentis Knapp ex Oberd. 1957];
(Uz valley, Gyimesek, Naskalat, Ciuc Basin)

7230 Alkaline fens [Carici flavae-Eriophoretum latifolii Soo 1944, Carici flavae-Blysmetum compressi Coldea 1997, Caricetum davallianae Dutoit 1924];
(Fiság, Remete, Szalonka, Borzsova valleys, many other places in Gyimesek, Ciuc Basin)

8160* Medio-European calcareous scree of hill and montane levels [Gymnocarpietum robertianae Kaiser 1926];
(Porcelánkő in Jávárdi valley)

8210 Calcareous rocky slopes with chasmophytic vegetation
 (Porcelánkő in Jávárdi valley)

91E0* Alluvial forest with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae) [Telekio speciosae-Alnetum incanae Coldea (1986) 1991, Salicetum fragilis Passarge 1957; Salicetum albae Issler 1924];
(Kászon, Margit, Uz valleys, Gyimesek)

9110 Luzulo-Fagetum beech forests
(between Nyerges tető and Csíkkozmás, up to Katorga, sparse in Gyimesek)

9180* Tilio-Acerion  forests of slopes, screes and ravines 
(Kászon valley, Szarvaskő, Kendhegy, Uz gorge)

91Q0 Western Carpathian calcicolous Pinus sylvestris forests
(on small outcrops in Kászon valley)

91V0 Dacian Beech forests (Symphyto-Fagion) [Pulmonario rubrae-Fagetum (Soó 1964) Täuber 1987, Symphyto cordati-Fagetum Vida 1959, Leucanthemo waldsteinii-Fagetum (Soó 1964) Täuber 1987];
(in Uz gorge, Naskalat, Ciuc Mountains, Gyimesek)
9410 Acidophilous Picea forests of the montane to alpine levels [Hieracio rotundato-Piceetum Pawl. Et Br.-Bl. 1939];
(Ciuc Mountains, Gyimesek, Uz valley)

Of these habitats, the Nardus grasslands and the mountain hay meadows are outstanding from the point of view of plant species richness and of the number of protected species. A quadrat of 4 x 4 m identified by Molnár Zsolt and Babai Dániel on the western part of the Gyimes pass contained more than 80 vascular plant species, which might be one of the most species rich plant communities at this scale in Europe. Here we present this phytosociological relevé, taken on the western slope of Pagan Mountain (Pogány-havas), near the Gyimes Pass (24 July 2007, vegetation cover: 100%, plot size: 14 m2): Ranunculus strigulosus 6%, Agrostis tenuis 14%, Primula veris 12%, Festuca rubra 10%, Prunella vulgaris 9%, Alchemilla acutiloba 7%, Helictotrichon sp. 7%, Melampyrum sylvaticum 7%, Briza media 6%, Festuca pratensis 6%, Centaurea nervosa 5%, Cirsium erisithales 5%, Achillea distans 4%, Anthoxanthum odoratum 4%, Leucanthemum vulgare 4%, Pedicularis comosa 4%, Trifolium alpestre 4%, Dactylis glomerata 3%, Mercurialis perennis 3%, Plantago media 3%, Potentilla erecta 3%, Rhinanthus angustifolia 3%, Tussilago farfara 3%, Alchemilla sp. 2%, Carlina acaulis 2%, Galium mollugo 2%, Anemone narcissifolia 1%, Astrantia major 1%, Clematis recta 1%, Colchicum autumnale  1%, Hypocheris maculata 1%, Symphytum cordatum 1%, Campanula patula 0,5%, Carex pallescens 0,5%, Cruciata glabra 0,5%, Fragaria vesca 0,5%, Gentiana asclepiadea 0,5%, Gymnadenia conopsea 0,5%, Phyteuma tetramerum 0,5%, Achillea millefolium +, Acinos arvensis +, Anthyllis vulneraria +, Ajuga reptans +, Campanula rotundifolia +, Carex montana +, Carum carvi +, Chrysanthemum corymbosum +, Cirsium arvense +, Euphorbia amygdaloides +, Euphrasia sp. +, Gentiana praecox +, Helianthemum nummularium ssp. obscurum +, Hypericum maculatum +, Hypocheris uniflora +, Knautia arvensis +, Linum catharticum +, Listera ovata +, Maianthemum bifolium +, Medicago falcata +, Myosotis sylvatica +, Onobrychis viciifolia +, Picea abies +, Plantago lanceolata +, Plantago atrata ssp. carpathica +, Polygonatum verticillatum +, Potentilla aurea +, Potentilla thuringiaca +, Ranunculus polyanthemos +, Scorzonera purpurea +, Silene nutans +, Stachys alpina +, Thesium bavarum +, Thymus sp. +, Tragopogon pratensis +, Trifolium montanum +, Trisetum flavescens +, Veronica chamaedrys +, Veronica officinalis +, Vicia cracca +, Viola hirta +.

Among the species listed in Annex II of the Habitat Directive, four have populations in this area: Ligularia sibirica (large populations along Szalonka, Szépvíz, Delne, Remete, Somlyó, Aracs, Cibre valleys, on the Széphavas peak and in Kerek eger - inedit.),  Pulsatilla patens (on Pogányhavas, a few thousand individuals), Cypripedium calceolus (several populations in Menaság, Gyimesek, Mindszent), Tozzia carpathica. We possess a handful of information related to the size and state of conservation of the first three taxa. The latter one was mentioned by Baumgarten (1816) on the Tarhaus mountain and was recently discovered in Jávárdi valley, Lunca de Jos by Babai Dániel.

We identified a large number of nationally protected, endemic or glacial relict plant species (altogether 61 taxa) in the Ciuc Mountains, and the list will probably increase with future surveys. They are: Aconitum moldavicum, Anemone narcissifolia, Arnica montana, Bruckenthalia spiculifolia, Campanula carpatica, Carex davalliana, Centaurea kotschyana, Centaurea phrygia ssp. carpatica, Cicuta virosa, Coeloglossum viride, Corallorhiza trifida, Corydalis capnoides, Cystopteris sudetica, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, Dactylorhiza incarnata, Dactylorhiza maculata, Dactylorhiza sambucina, Daphne cneorum, Dentaria glandulosa, Dianthus tenuifolius, Epipactis atrorubens, Epipactis helleborine, Epipactis palustris, Festuca amethystina, Gentiana acaulis, Gentiana cruciata ssp. phlogifolia, Gymnadenia conopsea, Hepatica transsilvanica, Hypericum richeri ssp. transsilvanicum, Iris graminea, Lathyrus transsilvanicus, Lilium bulbiferum, Listera ovata, Lysimachia thyrsiflora, Menyanthes trifoliata, Monotropa hypopithys, Neottia nidus-avis, Nigritella nigra ssp. rubra, Orchis militaris, Orchis morio, Orchis ustulata, Phyteuma tetramerum, Plantago atrata ssp. carpathica, Potentilla palustris, Primula elatior ssp. leucophylla, Primula farinosa, Ranunculus carpaticus, Ribes alpinum, Ribes nigrum, Salix daphnoides, Salix hastata, Salix pentandra, Salix rosmarinifolia, Senecio carniolicus, Sphagnum spp., Streptopus amplexifolius, Symphytum cordatum, Traunsteinera globosa, Utricularia vulgaris, Vaccinium gaultheroides ssp. microphyllum, Valeriana dioica ssp. simplicifolia, Veronica alpina, Viola jooi. The rare Dracocephalum ruyschiana has been noted from Gyimesek by Kümmerle (1902), but it is likely to have disappeared since.

So far, we identified 32 animal species listed on Annex II of the Habitats Directive, of which three are large carnivores (Ursus arctos, Canis lupus, Lynx lynx), 22 birds (Ciconia ciconia, Ciconia nigra, Pernis apivorus, Milvus milvus, Milvus migrans, Circaetus gallicus, Circus cyaneus, Aquila pomarina, Bonasa bonasia, Tetrao urogallus, Crex crex, Bubo bubo, Glaucidium passerinum, Aegolius funereus, Caprimulgus europaeus, Picus canus, Dryocopus martius, Dendrocopus syriacus, Dendrocopus medius, Dendrocopus leucotus, Picoides tridactylus, Lullula arborea, Ficedula parva, Ficedula semitorquata, Ficedula albicollis, Sitta krueperi, Sitta whiteheadi, Lanius collurio), three amphibians (Triturus cristatus, Triturus montandoni, Bombina variegata), two fish (Eudontomyzon spp., Cottus gobio) and one invertebrate (Rosalia alpina).

We estimate that the proposed site is the largest mountain hay meadow area of the Eastern Carpathians. It is also important to note that hay meadows are part of a living rural landscape, where rural communities continue traditional semi-subsistence farming, and thus contribute to the maintenance of landscape structure and manage high nature value habitats. At the same time, traditional agriculture declined heavily in the past few decades, this meaning the decrease of managed hay meadows. Abandonment or conversion to grazing affect primarily meadows that are situated farther away from inhabited localities.

Figure 1: Existing SCI-s (green areas) and the proposed SCI (white area).


The proposed site is especially important and representative for extremely species-rich mountain hay meadows. These grasslands are of secondary origin, their existence depends on mowing. Hay meadows represent the source of winter fodder for sheep, horse and cattle in traditional subsistence or semi-subsistence farming. Large scale grassland management cannot be realized without the participation of local communities, therefore, in a strictly conservationist approach, local communities provide a habitat management service that should be supported, otherwise it will continue declining. The Natura 2000 status should contribute to the maintenance of the viability of local communities and should direct rural development in a conservation oriented direction.


This study was part of a project financed by UNDP GEF and Dr Barbara Knowles.



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