World Heritage and Natura 2000 status of Pirin in Bulgaria threatened by unsustainable skiing infrastructure

Posted on 15 September 2016

Doñana and other protected sites in Europe are also in danger, says WWF
Sofia, Madrid, Gland – Bulgaria’s flagship Pirin National Park could be added to UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger unless immediate action is taken against plans to allow industrial-scale logging and expanding skiing infrastructure, warns WWF.
Pirin comprises of diverse limestone mountain landscapes with glacial lakes, waterfalls, caves and predominantly coniferous forests. It is also part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network for its unique natural resources such as old-growth pine forests and landscapes.
“Pirin is at a crossroads, either the Bulgarian government adheres to the international commitments it has made to safeguard this vital area that provides benefits to the entire world, or it allows it to be exploited to the point of no return. Nearly 60 per cent of Pirin National Park could be opened to logging if the new draft management plan is approved by the government. It is officially 0 per cent now. Construction could take place on 12,5-fold more territory in the heart of the national park compared to the current allowed area”, says Veselina Kavrakova, WWF-Bulgaria Country Manager.
Pirin is one of several UNESCO natural sites highly threatened by harmful industrial activities. All of them are also protected by the EU Birds and Habitats Directives (EU Nature Directives) and are part of the EU Natura 2000 network of protected areas. The current threat is a signal of lack of proper implementation of the existing legislation. WWF is currently campaigning to ensure that the current laws are maintained and effectively implemented against harmful industrial activities, like unsustainable agriculture, energy and transport infrastructures (#NatureAlert). The European Commission is expected to publish its Communication on the Future of Nature in autumn this year.
For example, Europe’s historic Doñana National Park faces the prospect of drying out completely after years of poor management and water over extraction. The World Heritage site, located in southern Spain, supports the regional economy and provides habitats for as many as six million migratory birds each year, as well as for the endangered Iberian lynx year round.
The analysis, Saving Doñana: From Danger to Prosperity, produced for WWF by Dalberg Global Development Advisors, also details the looming threats of dredging, mining, and gas storage.
The Spanish government has failed to safeguard the site from harmful industrial activities. “The situation is already critical and now we have the embarrassing prospect of an in danger listing for our most famous World Heritage site,” said WWF-Spain CEO Juan Carlos del Olmo.
WWF launched today a digital action to save Doñana.
Other World Heritage and Natura 2000 sites in Central and Eastern Europe under threat are:

•           Srebarna Nature Reserve (Bulgaria): a freshwater lake adjacent to the Danube and extending over 600 ha. It is the breeding ground of almost 100 species of birds, many of which are rare or endangered. Among the most interesting bird species are the Dalmatian pelican, great egret, night heron, purple heron, glossy ibis and white spoonbill. The reserve is also included in two Natura 2000 sites. The natural connection between the Srebarna Lake and the Danube River is disturbed by protective dikes. Main Threat: infrastructure.
•           The Danube Delta (Romania): the second largest and best preserved of Europe's deltas and the biggest reed bed in the world. It hosts over 300 species of birds and some 70 freshwater fish species in its numerous lakes and marshes. It is the largest Natura 2000 site in Romania. Main threats: infrastructure, agriculture and pollution.
•           Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany (Germany, Slovakia, Ukraine): represent examples of on-going post-glacial biological and ecological evolution of terrestrial ecosystems. Main threat: oil/gas concessions.
 •          Białowieża Forest (Poland) is the best preserved forest ecosystem and the last low-land deciduous and mixed old-growth forest in Europe. It hosts Europe’s largest bison population. Białowieża Forest has been designated as Natura 2000 site and UNESCO World Heritage site, yet it is under threat as permission was consequence of the Polish Environment Minister’s decision, in March 2016, to triple logging in the forest district.
•           Plitvice Lakes National Park (Croatia): one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe and the largest national park in Croatia. Main Threat: unsustainable water use and tourism
Pirin comprises of diverse limestone mountain landscapes with old-growth pine forests
© Димитър Граматиков
Tree trunks near a ski run
Cut trees to build a ski run in Pirin National Park, Bulgaria
© Tsveta Hristova, Za zemyata
Citizens protest in the streets of Sofia against illegal construction in Pirin & Rila National Parks and Vitosha Nature Park, 2015
Citizens protest in the streets of Sofia against illegal construction in Pirin & Rila National Parks and Vitosha Nature Park
© Konstantin Velichkov
A group of Greater flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) in a marsh, at sunset, Coto Doñana National Park, Andalucia, Spain.
© Jorge SIERRA / WWF-Spain