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Bulgarian proposals to sacrifice its wildlife for commercial developments slammed by environmentalists

Прес - съобщение за кампанията "За да остане природа в България" и НАТУРА 2000, изпратено на чуждите медии

Sofia, Bulgaria -- Bulgarian environmentalists strongly criticised the Bulgarian government’s efforts to exclude 37 major untouched mountain and coastal areas from the NATURA 2000 network of protected areas. They also called on the European Commission to stand up for NATURA 2000, which Environment Commissioner Dimas has described as “the cornerstone of our policy to protect Europe’s biodiversity”. [1]

After a two-month delay, yesterday Bulgarian NGOs received the official decision of the Council of Ministers with the list of territories to be included in the NATURA 2000 network of protected areas. The decision is still to be officially released. Pressured by commercial investors, the Bulgarian government excluded large mountainous areas and left out for “further precision” a number of sites along the Black Sea coast, some of which are protected under the intergovernmental Ramsar convention on wetlands. Environmentalists pointed out that investment plans for environmentally insensitive developments in the sites which fell off the NATURA 2000 list abound.

Thirty three percent of Bulgarian territory was designated for inclusion in NATURA 2000 network. However, with its decision yesterday, the Bulgarian state will deprive these territories of any protection until October 2007 at the earliest. [2]

Among the nature sites in jeopardy is the unique rocky coastline of Kaliakra on the Black sea coast, in line to be taken over by the notorious Azure del Mar Arab-style village, mass tourist complexes planned for development at the site. [3] The unfortunate fate of Pirin National Park destruction for the winter ski resort of Bansko, whose illegal construction and environmentally insensitive expansion was heavily criticized by environmentalists, might very well multiply itself in many of the sites, left out of NATURA 2000. [4]

Petar Shurulinkov, an expert from the Bulgarian Science Academy that took part in defining the NATURA 2000 sites, said: “The re-evaluation of the left-out sites, as announced by the Bulgarian government, will only lead to their destruction by October 2007. The period is too short for making a scientific re-evaluation but long enough for investors to launch construction work.”
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As the investors" lobby in Bulgaria is so strong and the Bulgarian government so open to suggestion, Bulgarian environmentalists believe that it is now up to the European Commission, which has committed to halt biodiversity by 2010, to protect the excluded wildlife areas in the country.

Desislava Stoyanova from Environmental Association Za Zemiata (For the Earth)/CEE Bankwatch Network said: “If the Commission wants to take a meaningful step towards the recently adopted 2010 Biodiversity Target, it should take the appropriate action against these plans to wipe out some of the last remaining European biodiversity sanctuaries.”

In spite of a statement from Bulgaria?s environmental minister Dzhevdet Chakarov, that the country will not receive penalties for scaling down the NATURA 2000 network, environmentalists believe that the country is very likely going to face sanctions. At the same time, the Bulgarian Minister of Regional Development, Asen Gagauzov, has openly admitted that the only reason for the exclusion of some designated sites is the existence of investors" development plans in these areas [5].

Andrey Kovachev, from the Bulgarian BALKANI Wildlife Society, commented: “Basing the exclusion of territories upon economic motives only is a gross violation of the European nature conservation directives.”

Reacting to the arrogance of the Bulgarian government, on February 26 the European Greens submitted 17 written questions to Commissioner Dimas. The Greens asked whether and how the fulfillment of Bulgaria"s obligations with European environmental directives will be ensured by the Commission. An answer is still pending, and should come within the legal period of six weeks.

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For more information, please contact:

Desislava Stoyanova
Env. Association Za Zemiata (For the Earth)/CEE Bankwatch Network
Phone: +32.2.401 4803 or +32.487.617482 (mobile)
Email: desislava@foeeurope.org

Elena Tilova
Conservation officer
GREEN BALKANS Federation of Nature Conservation NGO"s
Phone/fax +359 (0)42 622401 or +359 (0)887 574699 (mobile)
Email: etilova@greenbalkans.org , http://www.greenbalkans.org/

Jordanka Dineva
Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation
Phone: +359 2 984 11 75, +359 899 506 369 (mobile), Email: jordanka.dineva@biodiversity.bg

Notes for editors:

1. In a speech for the Green Week conference in May 2006, Environmental Commissioner Dimas underlined that the ecological network NATURA 2000 is “the cornerstone of our policy to protect Europe’s biodiversity” on the way to reach the 2010 target. He continued that the network “sets a model for nature protection – science-driven, legally enforceable and based upon ecosystems as the basic unit” while avoiding contradiction. http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=SPEECH/06/333&format=HTML&aged=0&language=EN&guiLanguage=en

2. On February 15^th this year, the Bulgarian Council of Ministers decided to leave 37 precious environmental territories out of the NATURA 2000 network. In that, the Bulgarian state ignored the outcomes of a six-year research for the identification of these territories involving the majority of the Bulgarian biodiversity specialists. The sites under question are the only ones to have survived the mass seaside tourism developments wave that Bulgaria has been recently experiencing.

3. As announced earlier by the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds, upon submitting the NATURA 2000 list to the Commission, the Bulgarian government shortened the list by four additional sites. These include lakes along the Black sea coast, protected under the Ramsar Convention, such as the Mandra-Poda.

4. Over the last four years, Bulgaria has been experiencing a major boom in the real estate sector. Hopes for speculation with the expected price increase after EU entry has lured Bulgarian and foreign investors into a rush for hotels and resort construction in nature areas with high tourist potentials. While significant increases in the number of tourists in Bulgaria has not taken place, the construction boom in Bulgarian protected territories is a fact. The most notorious example is the winter ski resort of Bansko, whose illegal construction and environmentally insensitive expansion has been widely criticised by Bulgarian environmental organisations. The unfortunate fate of the Bansko and Pirin National Park destruction may be replicated in many of the sites left out of NATURA 2000.
The full report “Bansko ski zone: Crime against UNESCO site” can be downloaded from: http://www.bluelink.net/savepirin/REPORT_PIRIN.pdf

5. In Bulgarian only http://evropa.dnevnik.bg/show/?storyid=312010


See also:

1. Map of the sites in Bulgaria designated under the EU Habitats Directive, marked in red are all the sites excluded for “further reconsideration/precision” from the list approved from the Bulgarian Government. Author: Balkani Wildlife Society (http://www.balkani.org/): http://evropa.dnevnik.bg/lib/showimg.php?filename=oo_312860.jpg

2. Map of the sites in Bulgaria designated under the EU Birds Directive, marked in red are all the sites excluded for “further reconsideration/precision” from the list approved from the Bulgarian Government. Author: Тhe Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) (http://www.bspb.org/):
http://evropa.dnevnik.bg/lib/showimg.php?filename=oo_312236.jpg

3. Photo gallery of sites excluded from the NATURA 2000 network: http://evropa.dnevnik.bg/show/?storyid=312046]

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