Old friendships and new cooperations – Wilderness meetings in Bulgaria

The European Wilderness Society set out on a two-week mission to visit the two Bulgarian members of the European Wilderness Network, as well as to search for new potential Wilderness in this beautiful, multi-faceted country.

Protecting Wilderness is a real challenge all across Europe, and has a particular relevance in the Balkans. Bulgaria hosts a variety of terrains, ranging from impressive mountaineous areas, through spectacular riverine habitats, including the Danube floodplains to the Black Sea coastline. During this two-week trip, the European Wilderness Society rekindles old friendships with members of the European Wilderness Network, as well as visits various potential, unspoilt Wilderness.

Meeting in the Ministry of Environment and Water

The trip started with a meeting in the Ministry of Environment and Water, where the European Wilderness Society had the chance to sit down with the Director of the Protected Areas Department and discuss challenges and potentials of Wilderness protection in Bulgaria. More than 30% of the territory of Bulgaria is part of the Natura 2000 network. However, Wilderness with full non-intervention management needs support. The initiative to designate new Wilderness in Bulgaria found a very positive response and received the support of the Protected Areas Department.

Visiting Rila Wilderness

Rila Wilderness, embedded in Rila National Park has been a member of the European Wilderness Network since 2005. Rila National Park is the largest National Park in Bulgaria. The area of 16 222 ha Rila Wilderness fully aligns the European Wilderness Quality Standard as platinum quality Wilderness. Its high mountain peaks, mountain meadows, deep valleys and canyons host endemic flora and fauna. The Wilderness is also rich in high mountain glacial lakes and forest complexes.

The European Wilderness Society had the pleasure to visit representatives of Rila National Park in their headquarters in Blagoevgrad. The National Park has a new visitor centre, located in the historic centre of the town. There are many new faces in the administration since the last visit of this Wilderness. This triggered interesting discussions about Wilderness, nature-driven processes and the current challenges and successes of the National Park. The partners discussed future cooperation, and the ways how the European Wilderness Society can provide support in successful Wilderness stewardship.

Meeting in Central Balkan Wilderness

Central Balkan Wilderness is embedded in the Central Balkan National Park, which was established in 1991. The 20 019 ha Central Balkan Wilderness consists of 9 strict nature reserves. Recently, nine components of the national parks were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe. This is also the focus of the BEECH POWER project, one of the Interreg projects of the European Wilderness Society. The Central Balkan National Park is currently involved in several projects. It has also achieved international recognition for its old-growth forests, rich variety of terrains and biodiversity.

The European Wilderness Society met with the director of Central Balkan National Park to discuss issues concerning Central Balkan Wilderness, pressures on Wilderness, challenges of tourism management, big achievements in the last years and what is to come.

These meetings are important elements in strenghtening the European Wilderness Network. As Edward Abbey beautifully said, the idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders. We are thankful to all the old and new Bulgarian defenders.

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