Conservation of the animal world in Bulgaria

The beginning of activities for the preservation of separate animal species in the Bulgarian lands probably dates back to distant prehistoric times. It was as early as then that there were restrictions on the rights of hunting, aimed at preserving game for people of a high social stature. Other species were simultaneously protected by ancient beliefs, some of which exist even today in folklore thinking: for example, about storks, swallows, etc. But all these precursors of the preservation of the animal world are negligibly small compared to the damages that man inflicted to the fauna of the Bulgarian lands for thousands of years, either by direct killing of some species or through abrupt changes of the environment. The first acts passed on hunting in post-Liberation Bulgaria (in 1880 and 1897) cannot qualify as nature preservation activity. In 1904, in another act on hunting was instigated, a reward given for any “harmful game” shot down. Only the subsequent Hunting Act (1909) waged war on human poaching and envisioned the creation of breeding places for “useful game.”

By the end of the 19th century, the idea of nature preservation already had many followers. The first published materials were in defense of forests. In 1896, Hristovich published in the Priroda (Nature) journal an article entitled In Defense of the Bird World. A Society for the Protection of Useful Animals and for the Destruction of Harmful Animals was founded in Svishtov. A very important event in the development of nature protection work was the establishment of the Union for the Protection of Nature, in the autumn of 1928. On its initiative, the first regulatory document, the Nature Protection Act in Bulgaria, was adopted in March 1936. It explicitly and specifically refers several times to endangered and rare animal species and provides measures for their preservation. In the subsequent Decree for Nature Protection (1960) there is no special progress in this sphere. In 1967, the Nature Protection Act was passed and its appendices lists many plants and animals placed under protection. In the 1980s, the Committee for the Preservation of the Environment at the Council of Ministers issued many special orders for placing many plant and animal species (for example, the three orders of 1986 for the protection of amphibians and reptiles, birds and mammals) under strict protection. Some special orders for the protection of separate species or groups of species were published (for example, for the protection of tortoises in 1981). Some territories of special significance for the existence of separate populations or associations of species were declared protected (for example, the rock cliffs with bird colonies near the village of Gintsi in the Western Balkan range, the abandoned mine gallery near the village of Golak in Ihtiman Sredna Gora Mt, where colonies of many thousands of bats live, etc.). The use of industrially important species (water frogs, snails, later of the adder as a source of poison used in medicine) was regulated. In the middle of the 1980s, the Red Book of Extinct, Rare and Endangered Plants (1984) appeared in Bulgaria, as well as the Red Book of Animals (1985). The area of protected territories and buffer zones around them increased considerably. Hundreds of articles on nature protection appeared in the mass media. Many illustrative papers (slogans, brochures, etc.) were distributed. As a result of this activity, the ecological and nature conservation cultures of the population in the country increased considerably. As a whole, however, nature preservation activities were insufficiently coordinated with international norms and standards until the beginning of the 1990s. The success was to a large degree due to the sheer enthusiasm of individual scientists and nature lovers, foresters, tourist activists, etc.

At the beginning of the 1990s there began a rapid adaptation of the Bulgarian nature preservation legislation to the international recommendations and agreements. The Preservation of the Environment Act was passed in 1991. Some of the older orders and decrees were invalidated because of their incomplete nature, because of imperfections or because they contradicted newly passed regulatory documents. World and international categories were adopted for both the protected territories (this necessitated the re-categorization of many without eliminating their protection), and the species placed under protection. Trans-border cooperation started with neighbouring countries for protecting species which are especially significant in conservation terms (e.g., the so-called bear tunnels at the border with Greece). Many non-governmental nature protection organizations and associations were established, and these carried out extremely useful activities with or without the collaboration of authorized state bodies, and sometimes in violation of their decisions. Many nature protection activities in the country, mainly with respect to birds, are performed with the financial support of international organizations (e.g., the establishment of the Network of Ornithologically Important Places – with the help of Birdlife International). Most attempts are directed towards projects of a monitoring nature (for example, the yearly mid-winter counts of wintering water-loving birds in the country or the periodic counts of the white stork). The aim is to find many years of changes and tendencies in the development of separate populations, associations or ecosystems. The populations of especially valuable animal species are supported by special programmes (for example, the feeding of eagles and vultures in the Eastern Rhodopi and the Vratsa Balkan mountain; the creation and maintenance of water basins for the Alpine newts of Petrohan). Control on human poaching as well as the intolerance to it have increased.

The socio-economic changes that occurred during the last decades had a marked effect on the natural environment in the country. The increased development of infrastructure projects turns large spaces into ecological deserts and isolates large natural territories. The severest consequences in this respect occur as a result of the building of motorways. The urbanization of sites with exceptional biodiversity such as the Black Seaside, parts of Northern Pirin, Rila, and the Rhodopi mountain range deals heavy blows to nature. A serious threat is the projects for some new industries (e.g., gold extraction with the use of cyanide). At the same time, the depopulation of many border regions, the Eastern Balkan range and other places freed vast territories from the anthropogenic stress and the state of the biocoenosis in them, albeit slowly, is approaching the natural one. Such territories turn into specific “undeclared reserves” and today they have a richer and more various animal worlds than in past decades. The abandoning of many arable lands in the country, the creation of boundary strips, and other forms of microrelief, separate buildings, and the planting of wood and shrub species in restitution lands has had a favourable effect on many animal species from different groups. Finally, the discontinuation of many types of industrial production and the building of purification stations is good for the Bulgarian rivers: today they run less polluted and richer in life than they used to.

The regulations through which the preservation of the animal world in Bulgaria is carried out are mostly international ones, adopted by Bulgaria and now part of the domestic regulatory framework: others are Bulgarian regulations that conform to the international ones. A major document of international nature preservation law is the Convention for the Preservation of the Biological Diversity, adopted by the UN in 1992. Accordingly, every country must set up a national plan or a strategy for the preservation of biodiversity; emphasizing the necessity to make an assessment of the impact on the environment for projects that might have a considerably negative effect on biological diversity, the assessment being aimed at the prevention or minimalization of that effect.

In accordance with the Convention, a National Strategy was prepared in Bulgaria for the preservation of biological diversity, adopted by the Bulgarian Council of Ministers in 1999. Assessments of the impact on the environment already accompany almost all significant construction projects, offering valuable recommendations and sometimes preventing the building of objects or facilities that may seriously damage nature. The introduction of foreign species of plants and animals has been regulated: it envisages the discontinuation of the introduction of such species, their control or their destruction when this is necessary. New species of wild animals can be introduced only by the consent of experts from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Of extreme importance in the European legislation are another two documents: the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitat (1979), also called the Bern Convention, for short, and Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora (the Directive on Habitats). Particularly about birds, the Council Directive 79/409/EEC on the Conservation of Wild Birds (the ‘Birds Directive’) was signed; the other groups of animals and plants are protected in the lists of the Habitats Directive. The Bern Convention has three appendices: the first is about plant species, the second and the third ones are about animal species placed under protection. The most essential part of the Habitats Directive is the setting up of the European Natura 2000 Ecological Network that will consist of special regions for the preservation of biological diversity. CITES, which came into force in 1975, is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It has three appendices: the first one is about species that are threatened and are, or could be, affected by their trade; the second one is about species that, although not threatened, may become threatened if trade with them is not strictly regulated; the third is about species that one country, party to the Convention, defined as subject to regulation through jurisdiction with the aim of avoiding over-abuse because of trade. The import or export of species listed in the appendices is solely allowed by the institutions in charge in the countries that are party to the Convention. The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known as CMS, or the Bonn Convention, 1979) has a worldwide scope (not only a European one). Three categories of the status of migratory species are specified in it: favourable, unfavourable, and endangered. Enumerated in the annexes are the species of the latter two categories. Closely related to the Bonn Convention is the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA, 1979). More narrowly profiled are EUROBATS, the Agreement on the Conservation of Populations of European Bats (1991), and ACOBAMS, the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (1996), concerning dolphins in the Bulgarian fauna. Of great significance for the preservation of the animal world is also the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (1975), also known as the Ramsar Convention (after the name of the city in northern Iran where it was signed). Ramsar-protected wetlands in Bulgaria are the reserves Srebarna, Atanasovsko Lake, Arkutino and others. The Convention concerning fishing in the waters of the Danube (1958) and the Convention concerning fishing in the Black Sea (1959) regulate the activities for safe fishing, biotechnical measures for facilitating migratory species of fish, etc.

The Biological Diversity Act passed in 2002 regulates the relationships between the state, the municipalities and the legal and physical personalities on the conservation and the stable use of the biological diversity in the Republic of Bulgaria. It replaced the Nature Protection Act of 1967 and its nine amendments adopted between 1977 and 2000. Biological diversity is declared an inseparable part of the national heritage and its preservation is a priority of state and municipal bodies and the citizens. Regulated is the establishment of a National Ecological Network that is to include protected zones, protected territories, and buffer zones around them. The introduction of non-local animal and plant species in nature or their re-introduction is only allowed if this does not bring any harm to the natural habitats or to local species of the wild flora and fauna or their populations. The section on trade with endangered species is adapted to the CITES convention. There are administrative penal clauses for violations of the law, including the amount of fines, the procedure for the confiscation of illegally possessed materials, etc. There are six appendices to the Act. The first one is on the types of natural habitats in the country, according to the Directive on Habitats of the European Union; 113 such types are listed. The second one contains a list of the species for whose preservation a priority conservation of the habitats is required; the species of Resolution No 6 (1998) of the Bern Convention are marked with a special symbol. Appendix 3 covers the species declared to be strictly protected in the territory of the whole country; this list is numerous (426 species). The species in the fourth appendix are placed under a preservation regime and regulated use. Through an order, the modes of their use are specified for every separate species. Listed in the fifth annex are the banned techniques, devices and means of catching and killing animals. The sixth annex lists 16 species of hunting birds for which, if proved that they were acquired in a legal manner, their transportation, trade, stuffing, etc. are permitted. In 2006 (State Gazette, No 76), a tariff for compensation for damaging or destroying protected plant or animal species from Annex 3 of the Act was published. Of very large significance for the preservation of the animal world of Bulgaria is also the Protected Territories Act of 1998, with its amendments of 1999, 2000 and 2002.

The animal world of Bulgaria is an utterly dynamic and rapidly changing matter; our knowledge is enriched and changing, hence changes in the regulatory framework for its preservation and for the periodic publishing of Red Books are inevitable.

Vladimir Beschkov