Daniel Pullan, our International Casework Manager writes:

I was thrilled last week when my Bulgarian colleague Irina Mateeva told me that the Bulgarian Government had designated the last part of the Rila Mountains as a Special Protection Area. This area of beautiful mountain forest holds globally important populations of rare birds such as Thengalms and Pygmy Owls, Golden Eagle and White-backed and Three Toed Woodpeckers.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are the best places in the European Union for birds, and form part of the ‘Natura 2000’ network under the Birds and Habitats Directives. Back when Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB, our BirdLife partner in country) provided detailed information on the country’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs) that should be designated as SPAs. However, six sites were left out by the then government for economic and political reasons. We helped BSPB to bring together a complaint to the European Commission, and then assisted our Bulgarian colleagues to push the Commission and European parliamentarians to get the case progressed to court.

Its been a long road. Four of the unprotected sites in the case were designated along the way, leaving part of the Kaliakra IBA, finally designated in 2013, and then just this final vital part of the Rila Mountains unprotected. The Bulgarian government held out against protecting this site due to lucrative and well politically-connected development interests which wanted to expand an illegal ski resort. Sheer determination by our BSPB colleagues and other NGO allies got the case to the European Court, where last year a judgement came down condemning the Bulgarian Government for not protecting the site.

Bulgaria now has 100% of its IBAs protected under the Natura 2000 Network, far more than any other EU state. Work still needs to continue to make sure these sites are protected and managed properly, but that’s a different story! Very well done BSPB


Photo credit: Iordan Hristov