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Let Nature Remain in Bulgaria

November 26, 2007

RILA BUFFER EXCLUDED FROM BULGARIA’S NATURA 2000 NETWORK

 “Street Barricades Fail to Save nature” Inter Press Service

When the Bulgarian Parliament adopted the final list of nature sites to be protected, it excluded precisely those areas that are most spectacular, and most interesting for tourism developers.

 http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=40409

 

Valentina Petrova

 

30 Nov 2007 Sofia Echo

Photo:

Valentina Petrova

 

Natura 2000 would not include zones which are already part of municipal master plans, Parliament decided on November 29.
This drastically reduced the Bulgarian part of the European ecological network.

Approved Natura 2000 zones cover 33.8 per cent of the country. Realistically, no more than 20 per cent would remain, because the rest was already part of municipal master plans, Dnevnik daily said.

Excluded from Natura 2000 were the Rila Buffer zone, parts of Kaliakra and Emine.

Exclusion of the Rila Buffer was based on arguments from the National council for biological diversity, which had advised the exclusion of the zone.
Rila Buffer had been included in the proposal for Natura on the insistence of scientists from the Bulgarian Academy of Science (BAS), who prepared the final version of the proposal for the Bulgarian network.

Katerina Rakovska from the WWF announced on the same day that the decision to exclude Rila Buffer would lead to punitive procedures from the European Commission (EC). According to her, Rila Buffer was of extreme importance and it would again be included in Natura, after European experts would examine the decision.

Representative of each EU member state will have to defend in front of representatives of the EC the inclusion or exclusion of each separate zone in Natura 2000, during a so-called bio-geographical seminar. The decision of Parliament has to be presented to the EC before the end of 2007, the seminar will take place in March 2008.

Toma Belev of the Park Association said that once again, the State put the interests of one investor above public interests. He added that it was precisely the zones along the Black Sea coast which had been pointed out by Bird Life International as ornithologicaly important. The EC had accepted the criteria of Bird Life International, Belev said.
Because of this, Bulgaria could end up being sentenced by the European Court, as already happened with France and Greece, he said.

Rakovska said that, after the November 29 decision, only one-third of the areas originally proposed by scientists remained as part of the network.

The exclusion of parts of Kaliakra was good news for investors, who planned the construction of wind turbines between Kavarna and the Kaliakra reserve.

The area is part of bird migration routes and has been crucial feeding grounds for bird species, threatened elsewhere in the EU.

“The EC is not interested in concrete places, but only in the protection of particular species and habitats,” Michail Michailov from Environment and Water Affairs Ministry.
According to Michailov, there was no reason to expect criticism from the EC, because in practise the commission would accept the execution of the directive if between 20 and 60 per cent of territories, inhabited by rare species, had been included.

The decision of November 29 brings the number of zones in Bulgaria’s Natura 2000 network to 342.

 

Bulgaria’s protected areas are coming under severe

pressure from developers who plan to turn some of the country’s most

pristine areas into new ski and beach resorts.  A coalition of 17

Bulgarian nature conservation organizations warns that the Bulgarian

government is breaching EU legislation to aid investors.

 

 

A recent press release from a group of Bulgarian environmental NGOs explaining how pristine nature is being sold out for good profit in Bulgaria:

 

 

LET NATURE REMAIN IN BULGARIA COALITION

 

Investors beware: illegal development projects threaten Bulgaria’s most

pristine nature

 

 

Nov 19/ 07 – Sofia – Bulgaria’s protected areas are coming under severe

pressure from developers who plan to turn some of the country’s most

pristine areas into new ski and beach resorts.  A coalition of 17

Bulgarian nature conservation organizations warns that the Bulgarian

government is breaching EU legislation to aid investors.

 

This week Bulgarian government prepared the final list of protected

areas to be included in NATURA 2000 – the European Union’s network of

protected territories. ‘This is a requirement that Bulgaria had to

fulfill as an EU member state as of 1 January 2007 but it did not

manage to do so on time. On top of that, some of the most valuable

areas were excluded from the NATURA 2000 list because of developers’

interest in new ski and beach resorts,” explains Katerina Rakovska from

WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme [1].

 

Three natural areas are not included in the final list of NATURA 2000

sites despite scientific bases. The Rila Buffer habitat in the

mountains and huge chunks of Kaliakra and Emine bird sites on the

Bulgarian Black Sea coast were left outside of the network. The

Bulgarian government explains that developers’ interests are of

‘national priority’, although only scientific data should matter in

designating the NATURA 2000 network.

 

“There was ample scientific motivation for inclusion of all sites

excluded by the government from the NATURA 2000 network. Unfortunately,

Bulgarian Ministry of Environment puts developers’ first.  In the past

two years not a single negative environmental impact assessment was

given. The Bulgarian Ministry of Environment has simply turned into an

institution for issuing permits for development,” Katerina Rakovska

adds.

 

Large-scale seaside resorts are planned in Kaliakra and Emine. The Rila

Buffer, which acts as a safeguard around Rila National Park, was left

outside of the NATURA 2000 network.  Two gigantic ski resorts are

currently being constructed there – ‘Panichishte’ and ‘Super Borovets’.

The former is built without any environmental permit. 

 

On October 27, civil society members and concerned citizens were

threatened and physically intimidated at an informative event organized

near the Panichishte Visitor’s Information Center.  A group of men

carrying guns and knifes stopped the action. One of participant

received a head concussion while trying to communicate with the

attackers. Before any violence, the police arrived, warning the

activists that next time they might come too late.  This comes after

civil society groups organized various public events about the

Panichiste project in response to the governmental oversights [2]. 

 

‘All that we ask for is compliance with the Bulgarian environmental

laws and inclusion of Rila Buffer in the Natura 2000 network of

protected territories. Authorities have taken no action against the

illegal logging or the construction of roads and chair-lifts near

Panichishte,”explains Tsveta Hristova from Za Zemiata [2]. 

 

Bulgaria’s pristine nature and affordable real estate prices are

attracting a growing number of foreign investors — many from Britain,

Ireland, Russia and other countries. Apartments in the Rila Lakes

resort above Panichishte, for example, are already on the market [3].

‘Some of these buyers are investing in properties that are constructed

illegally, putting their investments and some of Europe’s most valuable

natural areas at risk. They should take a good look at where they put

their money. Otherwise, they may cut a bad deal for their pocket book

and become silent accomplices in destroying Bulgaria’s most valuable

nature,” says Alexander Dunchev from Bulgarian Parks’ Association .

 

Notes for the editors:

 

[1] Decision No 122 of the Council of Ministers from March 22nd 2007

and decision No 661 from October 16th 2007. 

 

[2] See images and background information at:

http://forthenature.org/upload/files/Record000.amr

http://forthenature.org/gallery/ 

 

[3] http://www.mirela.bg/en/project.php?id=44949

 

 

A background story describing the situation published by Inter Press Service:

 

 

BULGARIA
Luxury Hotels Coming Up in National Parks

Claudia CiobanuBUCHAREST, Oct 11 (IPS) – Bulgarian Prime Minister Serghei Stanishev and former premier Simeon Saxe-Coburg attended a ceremony Tuesday marking the official start of a grandiose tourism project dubbed Super Borovits. An unusual show of political unity across party lines, it was meant to promote the tourism industry. But Super Borovits has been highly criticised for threatening nature.Since August, more than ten protests have been held in capital Sofia against large-scale tourism development. Most ecologist groups have been engaged in a major campaign to defend important natural and cultural treasures from new construction.The Super Borovits complex is meant to be an expansion of an existing ski resort in the Rila mountains, 70 km south of Sofia. The extended resort would include 19 ski tracks totalling 42 km, lifts capable of carrying 37,000 tourists, 4,000 vacation homes, and several hotels stretching over an area of 100,000 square metres.The building of such facilities would radically alter the surrounding scenery and ecosystem, threatening biodiversity in the Rila mountains. “The works are approaching the Rila buffer zone, and it is very likely that they would lead to demolition of landscape and habitats,” Filka Sekulova from A SEED Europe (“Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment, and Diversity”) told IPS. The Rila mountains are among the most biodiverse regions in Europe. A large portion of the mountainous range is protected by national law.Bulgaria has three national parks — Rila, Pirin, and the Central Balkans. With Bulgaria a member of the European Union (EU) since Jan. 1, 2007, such spots, together with others which are not protected at the national level, have become candidates for receiving protected status under the European Natura 2000 framework.Adopted in 1992, Natura 2000 is meant to safeguard the most seriously threatened habitats and species around Europe.Before joining the EU, Bulgaria was asked to draw up a list of sites which could be included in Natura 2000.Bulgarian scientists from the National Biodiversity Council (an advisory body to the ministry of environment) considered that roughly 30 percent of Bulgaria’s territory should be proposed for Natura 2000, but the final list presented by the government to the European Commission (EC) barely encompassed 10 percent of the area.Irina Mateeva, responsible for European policies at the Bulgarian Environmental Protection Society, said that only 88 places out of a total of 114 suggested by the specialists have been put on the final list given to the EC.

“The list of Natura 2000 sites submitted by the Bulgarian government omitted virtually the entire Black Sea coast as well as many mountainous areas near ski resorts that are the focus of investors’ interests,” said Katerina Rakovska, coordinator for Protected Areas and Natura 2000.

The Bulgarian government was also late in submitting this list. While the EC had asked for the proposals by Jan. 1, the Bulgarians responded only in March.

Alberto Arroyo Schnell, Natura 2000 coordinator for WWF (World Wildlife Fund) said the Bulgarian government itself acknowledged that the reason for this postponement is “investors’ interests” in some of the sites, especially on the Black Sea coast or near ski resorts. “This is in total contradiction with the requirements of the EU habitats directive and national law, which set out scientific arguments as the only motives for site designation.”

After the EC confirms the national list of sites, national authorities are expected to adopt decisions which establish a definitive protected status for these regions. At this stage too, Bulgarian officials found an opportunity to stall. It was only in September that the government adopted the first decision on a site. The other 87 will have to wait.

In the meantime, investors are quickly building tourist facilities in many of those areas, or at least drawing up plans for such constructions. According to existing regulations, areas for which master plans for development exist can be excluded from the protected sites. Each day the government lingers reduces the total area that will eventually be preserved.

Cveta Hristova from the Bulgarian environmental group Za Zemiata says examples of areas under Natura 2000 where construction is being carried out illegally are “too many”. Among them, ski facilities built without environmental permits in the Pirin mountains, a holiday complex destroying a unique combination of grey dunes and forests in Kamchiya close to the Black Sea, and golf courses built over the western Pontic steppes in Kaliakra.

“Authorities have given clear signs that they do not care,” Hristova told IPS. “All the actions they take are never aimed at actually preventing or stopping such development.” At most, the ministry of environment imposes fines on local officials who allow such constructions. Once these fines are paid, construction continues in the same manner.

On Oct.1, Bulgarian ecologists approached European commissioner for the environment Stavros Dimas with evidence that the Bulgarian state is not fulfilling its obligations to protect Natura 2000 sites. The same day, a couple of hundred demonstrators gathered again in the centre of Sofia, insisting they would continue to protest “until the illegal construction in Rila is stopped.”

 

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