European Commission takes Bulgaria to court over failure to protect birds in Rila National Park

Posted on 22 July 2016

It is part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network
Brussels - The European Commission is taking Bulgaria to the Court of Justice of the EU over its failure to protect unique habitats and important bird species in the Rila Mountains. The Bulgarian authorities have failed to widen the zone classified as a special protection area from the EU’s Natura 2000 network in order to provide adequate protection to endangered species of wild birds.
Rila, the highest mountain range of Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula, is among the most valuable areas in Bulgaria and in the EU for the conservation of 20 vulnerable bird species. Under the EU legislation on the conservation of wild birds, Member States are obliged to designate special protection areas for the conservation of species in danger of extinction, those vulnerable to specific changes in their habitat, or those considered rare or requiring particular attention.
Bulgaria has so far properly classified 72% of the zone as a special protection area. However, this does not cover significant parts of the habitats of 17 endangered bird species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive, thus putting at risk the conservation of species such as Tengmalm's [Boreal's] owl (Aegolius funereus) and the Eurasian pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum), as well as the white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), the three-toed woodpecker (Picoudes tridactilus), the hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia) and the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius).
Despite the EC’s reasoned opinion sent in October 2014 about the need to extend protection areas in the Rila Mountains, Bulgaria has not complied with this obligation. The Commission is, therefore, referring this case to the Court of Justice of the EU.
In January 2016, the Court ruled against Bulgaria (case C-141/14) in a similar case concerning the designation and protection of Kaliakra, another important area for protection of birds in the Southern Dobruja region of the northern Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.
In Europe, many species of wild birds are in decline, and markedly so in some cases. This decline disturbs the biological balance and is a serious threat to the natural environment.

Europe has an immense heritage of natural areas and species: virgin forests like Bialowieza in Poland, beautiful lakes, oceans, rivers and wetlands like Doñana in Spain, and thousands of unique animals, such as lynx, wolves, bears, turtles and whales.
Spending time in nature and appreciating the richness of its sounds bring also enormous benefits to our health and wellbeing.
Europe’s Environment Ministers and the Juncker Commission are currently discussing whether to change the EU Nature Laws that have, for more than 25 years, helped protect this natural heritage.
WWF asks the Commission and the European environment ministers:
- to ensure full implementation of these laws and
- to tackle the unsustainable economic activities in protected natural areas.
Important decisions on the future of these laws are expected to be taken in the coming months.
Rila national park
WWF has been campaigning for Rila and other Bulgarian protected areas for a decade now
The black woodpecker may be seen in Rila National Park in Bulgaria
Rila Mountain
© WWF/Елица Грънчарова