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The European Commission announced at 22.07.2016 that is taking Bulgaria to the Court of Justice of the EU over its failure to protect unique habitats and important bird species in the Rila Mountains. The Bulgarian authorities have failed to widen the zone classified as a special protection area outside Rila National Park in order to provide adequate protection to Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus), Tengmalm’s owl (Aegolius funereus) and the Eurasian pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum), as well as the white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), the three-toed woodpecker (Picoudes tridactilus), the hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia) and the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius).

The more details can really here:

European Commission refers Bulgaria to Court over failure to protect bird habitats and started an EU pilot for the failure to protect Brown Bear and European Bullhead around Rila National park

Link http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-16-2491_en.htm

Rila, the highest mountain range of Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula, is among the most valuable areas in Bulgaria and in the EU for the conservation of 20 vulnerable bird species. Bulgaria has so far properly classified 72% of the important bird area in Rila mountain as a special protection area. However, this does not cover significant parts of the habitats of 17 endangered bird species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive.

The trial is the last step in the discussions between EC and Bulgaria which started in 2007 when Bulgaria failed to declare the whole Important Bird Area Rila as Natura 2000 site. Only the part which was inside Rila National park was declared as Natura 2000 site. Bulgaria failed to declare some other SPAs and EC started a procedure 4850/2007 against the country. Step by step Bulgaria declared all requested IBAs as SPAs except the missing area of Rila mountain.

European Commission also started EU pilot procedure (EU Pilot 8342/16/ENVI) against Bulgaria for the failure to protect Brown Bear and European Bullhead habitats in the same mountain. Natura 2000 in Rila protects only the part of the mountain which is inside the National park. The habitats outside the park were not included in Natura 2000. After the biogeographical seminar in 2012 Bulgaria promised to include in Natura 2000 the habitats of these two species outside the park. The state did not initiate anything to implement this promise till now. Bulgarian Academy of Science submitted in March 2015 a proposal for a new Natura 2000 site which stayed without any attention of the Ministry of Environment. Just after the EU pilot Bulgaria answered that will consider this proposal on the next meeting of the Biodiversity Council at the Ministry without to mention when will it be.

Rila mountain is a spiritual mountain for the Bulgarian society. More than 170 000 people signed the petition to the European Parliament for its protection in 2007. The case was discussed in the European Parliament and Bulgarian state a few times promised to solve it without to implement it. The case was discussed also in Bulgarian Parliament this year and the Minister of Environment promised to protect the nature of Rila mountain but without to mention any deadlines for this.

It is difficult to understand why the state delays and risk a penalty from the European court. The most reliable explanation is that some of the forests and lands in Rila mountain were part of the famous land swaps deals in Bulgaria which happened in the period 2007 – 2009. At this period, some private firms and persons, usually connected with the former State Security Services and the ruling party succeed to exchange on non-market prices significant areas along Black Sea coast and the mountain resorts. This way solving the Rila case is not only a question to save European Nature, it will be also a sign for the restored rule of law in Bulgaria.

The European Wilderness Society fully supports effort of 170 000 people signed the petition to the European Parliament for protection already in 2007.  Rila National Park it’s not only spiritual mountain for the Bulgarian society and a hotspot for European biodiversity it is simultaneously also the important part of European wilderness preservation system.  The very first wilderness of this park was audited and add to this Europe wide network already in 2005.

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About Author

Vlado Vancura is the Deputy Chairman and Director of wilderness of the European Wilderness Society and is based in Liptovsky Hradok, Slovakia.

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