The first attempts at regulating the preservation of the natural resources in Bulgaria were made at the beginning of the 20th century with the passing of acts on forests and hunting. The coordinated territorial preservation of the flora and fauna, however, began after 1928, with the establishment of the Union for the Defense of Nature. The first officially declared protected territory in Bulgaria is the Strandzha reserve Silkosiya, comprising an area of 396 ha. It was set up in 1931 with the aim of preserving evergreen shrub formations in the water catchment basin of the river Veleka. Subsequent declared reserves were Parangalitsa (1933) and Bayovi Dupki (1935). In 1934, the Vitosha National Park was created, declared in pursuance of the Forests Act then in existence, which allowed the existence of strictly protected forests. Thus, nature in Bulgaria started being treated as a special object of legal protection. This park was the first one established in the Balkan Peninsula.
In 1936, the Law-Decree for the Protection of the Country’s Nature entered into force which served for decades as a regulatory measure for protected territories in Bulgaria. It was this early that plans were drawn up in a far-sighted manner for the management of protected territories, an important instrument for their current preservation. Also declared through this Decree were some natural and historical places of national significance: Vola, Buzludzha, Shipka, Oborishte. Several protected territories were also established, that today rate among the most valuable Bulgarian reserves and parks: Ropotamo (1940), Kaliakra (1941), Zlatni Pyasatsi (Golden Sands, 1943).
After the end of the Second World War several new reserves were declared, some of which encompassed large areas: Srebarna and Milka (1948), Tsarichina and Tisata (1949), Kamchiyski longoz, Dupkata, Gorna Topchiya and Alibotush (1951), Dzhendema (1953), Uzunbudzhak (1956), etc. In 1956, a Committee for the Protection of Nature was set up at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, the first scientific institution for nature protection in Bulgaria.
At the beginning of the 1970s, both around the world and in Bulgaria, the interest in wild nature, protected territories and endangered species increased. In 1976, after the establishment of the Committee for the Preservation of the Environment and the restructuring of the Commission for the Protection of Nature into a Scientific Coordination Centre for the Protection of the Environment at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, a new stage of nature protection activities started in Bulgaria. During this period the country actively joined most international nature preservation initiatives and important international conventions and programmes for the preservation of natural territories: the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1975) and the Ramsar Convention (official name: The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat, 1976); work started on the intergovernmental Man and the Biosphere programme at UNESCO, the UN list of national parks and other protected territories was expanded, and Bulgarian protected sites were registered in it from the very beginning. As a result, two wet zones, Arkutino and Srebarna, were declared sites of international significance; another two, Srebarna and Pirin, monuments of world cultural and natural heritage; and another 17 biosphere reserves.
In the period between 1976 and 1991, the protected territories in the country doubled and, having starting from 1% of the total territory of the country, they reached 2%. Hence, a network of protected territories can already be referred to, with which Bulgaria takes a leading position after Finland and Norway, becoming the country with the largest relative area of reserves with a strict regime in Europe. The large protected territories in Bulgaria were created in the period from 1991 to 1995, when the Committee for the Preservation of the Environment was transformed into a Ministry of the Environment and Waters. The interest of Western Europe and the USA to the Bulgarian nature increased. In 1993, with the help of the US Agency for International Development, a strategic scheme in the field of nature protection was prepared, which also coincided with the preparation of a Plan for Priority Activities on the preservation of wet zones. The protected territories increased considerably, from 1% in 1977 to 4,5% in 1995.
In 1998, the National Assembly passed the Protected Territories Act, the first narrowly profiled nature preservation law. It specifies the relations between the institutions responsible for protected territories and guarantees the more effective nature preservation and the protection of local interests. The law also regulates the establishment of directorates at the three national parks (the Central Balkan range, Rila, and Pirin) as their administrative bodies – independent legal establishments financed by the state budget and directly governed by the Ministry of the Environment and Waters. Management plans are introduced as major documents specifying the concrete regimes in every protected territory. The Protected Territories Act enables the creation of mechanisms for stimulating the economic initiative of local people: development of ecological and agricultural tourism, restoration of local arts and crafts and traditional production, etc., that simultaneously help and stimulate activities for nature preservation.
According to this legislation, protected territories in the Republic of Bulgaria are listed in the following 6 categories:
(also known as strict reserves)Samples of natural ecosystems that include characteristic and/or remarkable wild plant and animal species and their habitats are declared as reserves. These are exclusively state-owned, and all human activity is banned within them.
The reserves are managed in order that their natural character, the genetic resources, the natural habitats and the populations of protected rare, endemic and relict species are preserved. Research and educational activities, as well as ecological monitoring, may be carried out in them. They also serve for the development of a network of ecosystems and endangered habitats representative for Bulgaria and Europe.
Many kinds of activities are forbidden in the reserves, with the exception of their guarding, visits for research purposes, the passing of people on specially marked paths, including for educational purposes, collection of seed material, wild plants and animals for scientific purposes or for their restoration in other places in quantities and manners and time excluding violations in the ecosystems, extinction of fires and sanitary activities in the forests damaged as a result of natural disasters and calamities. Sanitary activities in the reserves are carried out by permission from the Ministry of the Environment and Waters, issued after a positive scientific decision made by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and a positive decision of the National Council on Biological Diversity.
The total number of strict reserves in Bulgaria is 55. More popular among them are Silkosiya, Uzunbodzhak, Parangalitsa, Yulen, Boatin, Tsarichina, and Ropotamo.
In national parks, the following zones are separated:
The reserves and the supported reserves falling within the areas of national parks preserve their regimes, defined by the order for their declaration.
Forbidden in national parks is/are:
National parks in Bulgaria were set up in the mountains Rila, Pirin, and the Balkan range.
Natural sights are managed with the aim of preserving their natural peculiarities and are declared together with a neighbouring territory necessary for their preservation. In natural sights those activities are forbidden that could violate their natural state or decrease their aesthetic value. Measures for the preservation, strengthening and restoration of natural sights are allowed with a permission issued by the Ministry of the Environment and Waters, coordinated with the owners of natural sights and other institutions with vested interest.
More popular natural sights are the Belogradchik rocks, the gorge of the river Erma, Pobitite kamani, Chudnite mostove, Bacho Kiro cave, the Alepu marsh, Buynovsko zhdrelo, Vratsata rock complex, and the rock complex Zaskogo near the village of Gintsi, Sofia region.
Forbidden in the supported reserves are all activities, with the exception of:
The total number of supported reserves in Bulgaria is 38. More popular among them are Atanasovsko Lake, Baltata, Balabana, Velyov Vir, Dolna Topchiya, Patleyna, Persinski Blata, Srebarna, Chamdzha, and Shabanitsa.
Forbidden in natural parks are:
The natural parks in Bulgaria are Balgarka, Vitosha, Vrachanski Balkan, Zlatni Pyasatsi (Golden sands), Persina, the Rila Monastery, Rusenski Lom, Sinite Kamani, Strandzha and Shumensko Plato.
Protected localities are managed with the aim of preserving the components of the landscape, conservation, maintenance or restoration of conditions in the habitats meeting the ecological requirements of the species and the associations that are the object of protection; providing opportunities for scientific research, educational activities and ecological monitoring; providing opportunities for tourism and spiritual enrichment.
Forbidden in protected localities are all activities violating the requirements for preserving the concrete objects that are under protection. More significant protected localities in Bulgaria are Vaya lake (partly), the Botanical Garden in Balchik, Malak Preslavets marsh, Garvanski marshes, Durankulak Lake, the islands St. John and St. Peter, Elata cave, and the Irakli locality.
The category of historical place from the old Protection of Nature Act was dropped from the classification schema described above. An area of approximately 63% was referred to other protected territories from the area of 12 139 ha, the historical places declared until 1998, Erased from the register of protected territories were about 37% of the historical places. In 2003, the re-categorization of protected territories in the country according to the Protected Territories Act was also carried out.
As of 31 December 2006, the total area of protected territories amounted to 549 927 ha, including:
The total area of protected territories in Bulgaria increased with respect to the area of protected territories as per 1997 with 58 708 ha, or another 0.6% of the territory of the country were occupied by protected territories. The increase of the area of protected territories is a contribution to the stable development of society on the basis of nature preservation.
With the entering into force of the Biological Diversity Act in 2002, conditions for building a national system of protected zones were created as part of the Natura 2000 European Ecological Network. It aims at guaranteeing the long-term preservation of the types of natural habitats and populations of species that are of European significance. It includes specially protected regions specified by the member countries of the European Union, according to the Directive for the Preservation of Natural Habitats and the Directive for the Protection of Wild Birds. According to the two directives approximately 140 natural habitats and over 600 species of plants and animals of significance for the EU are protected. The member countries and the accession countries are obliged to establish the distribution of these habitats and species in their territories, to place some of them under protection, and to manage them with the aim of their conservation and stable use.
The European Commission assumed that it is necessary for every country of the EU to preserve, by inclusion into Natura 2000, about 20% of their national area. As a contribution to the European Natura 2000 ecological network, Bulgaria must ensure the conservation of over 80 types of habitats, as well as of the most important habitats of 100 species of plants and 226 species of animals specified in European directives. The process of investigation and finding places appropriate for Natura 2000 in Bulgaria has been continuing for several years now, with the financial support of external donors and internal financing through the Ministry of the Environment and Waters.
With the building of a national network of protected zones, the preservation of the exceptional natural heritage of Bulgaria will be guaranteed to a large degree.