Wilderness is under pressure in Europe

If you ever wondered what pressures exist for wilderness, here is an article, which we received from Stela Dineva, WWF Bulgarian Office. This is a reaction to our article on the threats for Tatra National Park in Slovakia! We sincerely thank Stela for sharing this news with us, which we publish without any editing

Another example of National Park in Europe threatened by unsustainable development is Rila National Park, Bulgaria. A part of a mega project for ski facilities is already a fact – the lift to the Seven Rila Lakes (called “the eyes of Rila”). It affects not only a National Park but also a Natura 2000 site designated for the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora of Community interest – RilaSCI. Although illegal (built with decision of environmental impact assessment (EIA)which was void by prescription and without appropriate assessment (AA)it lifts enormous number of tourists to the Seven Rila lakes. These oligotrophic mountain lakes are vulnerable habitat of glacial origin and if EIA and AA were implemented for the lift in the statutory term they would have shown the devastating anthropogenic effects on the Seven Lakes.

The Bulgarian Ministry of environment (MEW) and the European Commission (EC) were aware of the negative impact of the increasing number of the tourists on the glacial lakes ecosystems in the circus of the Seven Rila lakes before and after the construction of the lift.

The negative impact of the visitors of the Seven Rila lakes figures as one of the threats for Rila National Park listed in the Management Plan (2001). The scientists, whose research on the glacial lakes ecosystems in the circus (from the late 90s up to 2001) were used for the development of the Management Plan, warned about this negative effect. It is written in the Management Plan that “the high concentration of people around the Seven Lakes (about 400 people in August 1997, about 2,000 people in 1999) affects vegetation, deteriorates the purity of water and soil, significant areas are trampled.”

According to official information from MEW only in 2011 (after the start of the lift in 2009) in the Seven Lakes area were concentrated 120,539 people.

MEW was alarmed by non-governmental organizations and citizens many times for the risk of the construction of the illegal lift “Pionerska hut – Rila lakes hut”. A complaint by Bulgarian NGOs was sent to EC DG Environment in 2008, and copy of this complaint – to MEW. A quotation from the complaint:

“The flow of people (through direct pollution or waste household water, construction activities etc) will lead to: increasing eutrophication (shift from oligo- and mesotrophic to meso- and eutrophic), appearance of blue-green and green algae, change in the water flow, the level of lakes, ie. degradation and destruction of the habitat and disappearance of the characteristic species.”

“Limitation of the tourist flow in the areas of the endangered lakes“ is the “conservation measure needed” for the Oligotrophic mountain lakes according to The Red Data Book of the Republic of Bulgaria, Volume 3 – Natural habitats – joint edition of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences & MEW, 2011. It also says that tourism leads to “erosion of the banks, pollution with organic and other types of waste (metals, plastics, food remains)” and that it is a factor increasing the speed of the eutrophication of the lakes.

The report on the favourable conservation status of the habitat type of the Seven  lakes, protected under Natura 2000, was published on the website of MEW on 10 October 2013. It states that:

  • The “general assessment of the status of natural habitat 3130 in BG0000495 Rila SCI according to all the criteria” is “unfavorable insufficient status”
  • “It is urgently needed to restrict the tourist flow especially in the SevenLakes area”;
  • “If such measures are not taken urgently, the habitat will go into unfavorable bad status.”

EC requested for evidences that the increased tourists flow disrupts the ecosystem of the lakes. A Statement of independent experts (scientists in hydrobiology and algology) on the accelerated eutrophication and other negative impacts on habitat 3130 in Rila SCI was sent to the Commission in January 2013. According to this statement there are indications for advanced eutrophication in lakes which are not monitored by MEW, besides the data for the development of this process the lakes whose physicochemical parameters are monitored by MEW.

“Anthropogenic changes and threats to habitat 3130 related to the eutrophication of lakes due to increased tourist flow in the region of the Seven Lakes as a result of the construction and the operation of the chairlift from Pionerska hut to Rila Lakes hut”

says the statement of the experts. According to the scientists the camping in the area of the Lakes increased especially after 2009.

At present EC requests evidences that the number of the tourists is formed by the operation of the lift. When it is necessary to decrease the tourist flow in a precious natural habitat you could not do it by allowing the functioning of a new lift, could you?! Evidences that the tourists increased after 2009 are presented to EC and are more than clear from the letters with data from the monitoring of the number of the tourists sent from MEW and its structures to Bulgarian NGOs.

The report on the favourable conservation status of the Seven Rila lakes says that “It is necessary to take measures to build paths for the tourists to adhere to.” MEW envisages such a measure although it is obvious from the report that it is not the first and the only measure which should be taken. The scientific report underlines the urgency of reducing the flow of tourists in the area of the Seven Rila lakes.

Besides the above mentioned project in recent weeks,the government directly declared itself in favor of a new investor who wants to build 20,000 beds and 155km of ski runs in the old growth forests between Samokov and Sapareva Banya. Entering in Rila National Park will be sought again.

We do not expect excuses from the irresponsible and passive till present authorities but we do insist on taking actions:

  • The operation of the illegal lift should be stopped

  • All the illegal acts of investors and the government in the protected areas should be sanctioned

  • The impact on the environment and after this – on the economy of all the plans and projects falling in protected areas (esp. national parks and nature parks) should be adequately assessed before their implementation.

Vlado Vancura

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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One thought on “Wilderness is under pressure in Europe

  1. Wilderness in Europe is in constant and growing threat!!! This article is just top of the iceberg. Therefore is so important to motivate people to secure wilderness for present and future generations!

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