Autumn in the sea of trees

The Yenice Forests will draw you in with their autumn colors. And when you heed the call and step inside, you’ll find all the beauty of nature arrayed before you.

I first set out to see the Yenice Forests by train at the end of the 1990’s. Later I made the same trip from Ankara to Karabük many times. Every time I found new pleasure, new delights, and I returned home having left new friendships behind. The forest was different in every season, but it was fall that touched me most deeply. If you ask why, the best answer is the photographs that accompany this article.

When you look at the Yenice Forests from above, you see that they are like a vast sea of trees. This landscape is what prompted the locals to call the point overlooking the Şimşirdere Valley to the north of Holdulca Tepe ‘the forest viewing pier'.

With the largest number of woody species in Turkey, the Yenice Forests are regarded as one of Europe’s 100 forest ‘hot spots’ in terms of their diversity of monumental trees, deep valleys, rivers and the wildlife to which they give refuge. At the same time they are one of 305 Important Nature Areas identified in Turkey by the Nature Society.

This region, which contains the İncedere, Şimşirdere and Çitdere water collection basins northwest of the Bolu Mountains and the forest west of the township of Safranbolu, is also characterized by rugged natural formations that rise from as high as 100 meters to as much as 2000 meters. It is thanks to this topography that the area has preserved its pristine character and biological diversity. Apart from a handful of villages in the area around the Yenice River and its tributaries, there are no settlements in the region.

When you step inside the forest you may think you are in a tree museum. Thirty different species of trees, shrubs and bushes are found in this forest, where six species predominate. We should also add to this list the seventeen species of trees, shrubs and bushes found on the riverbanks, roadsides and in out-of-the-way places.

The Yenice Forests have a natural, old-growth forest structure of mixed deciduous and non-deciduous trees. The broad-leafed variety, characterized by the eastern beech, predominates at 1000-1200 meters. Above 1200 meters needle trees like the Uludağ fir and Scotch pine began to appear with frequency, turning into pure forests of evergreens at 1400 meters and up. At Keltepe, the highest point in the region, alpine vegetation is seen in the open areas of limestone.

Various species of succulent bushes grow in the areas south of the Yenice River. In the lower reaches, where the İncedere and Şimşirdere join the river, the woody species we are accustomed to seeing in the  Mediterranean Region appear: sandalwood, heather, laurel leaf rockrose, Phillyrea, pistacia, Judas tree and sumac.

Osman Kahveci, Director of the Department of Forests which is responsible for forest management in Turkey says, “With their monumental trees, uninterrupted woodlands, natural old-growth forest and multi-layered structure, the Yenice Forests are Turkey’s most important and productive forested areas. They provide a habitat for numerous species of plants, birds, mammals, reptiles and butterflies.” Kahveci points out that one of the most important characteristics of these forests is that they contain a large number of trees and stands of trees with monumental properties rarely found in the world.

You will encounter a different world in every corner of the Yenice Forests.  Yew, hazelnut, black pine, sycamore maple, hornbeam maple, sessile oak, and Wych elm will greet you in the area around Çitdere, and monumental yew and hazelnut trees in the Kavaklı area. The Yenice Forests are also home to nine endangered endemic species, such as the Onosma bozakmanii, which is found nowhere else in the world.

Studies show that the region plays host to grizzly bear, lynx, wildcat, wolf, jackal, fox, deer, roe deer, wild boar, badger, and tree marten. Providing a habitat for various bird species as well, it harbors a large population of temperate forest biom species such as the lesser spotted woodpecker, middle spotted woodpecker, semi-collared flycatcher, grey-headed woodpecker, and lesser whitethroat. Among the butterflies, the Apollo (Parnassius apollo), which is threatened globally, the false Eros blue (Polyommatus eroides), under threat on a regional scale, and the Erebia medusa all find a home in the forest stillness.

Parts of the Yenice Forests have been taken under protection today as the Kavaklı Nature Preservation Area, the Çitdere Nature Preservation Area, and the Yenice Wildlife Development Area. To enable forestry research in the region, forest reserves have also been created such as the Karabük Büyükdüz Research Forest and the Yaylacık Research Forest.

Mineral processing, forestry and beekeeping are the basic sources of livelihood of the hospitable local people. Farming and livestock raising are aimed purely at supplying household needs. Besides the forest, the caves and highlands and Şeker Canyon are the other noteworthy spots in the region, which has seen the increasing development of day-tours in recent years. For the future of nature in the region, it is crucial that these activities be brought under control.

The best part of walking in a forest is seeing the trees up close, being able to touch them and, if you pay attention at different times of the year, seeing all the living species at once. Yenice’s vast forest is waiting for you to experience it, feel it, and share it with your friends who also respect nature. We would like to leave the last word to Prof. Dr. Hikmet Birand, who has this to say about Yenice in his book, ‘Anatolian Landscapes': “The forest is everywhere; a green silence reigns supreme. The hills, lined up one behind the other, each receding one a little darker as they merge with the evening clouds on the horizon, all are forest…”