Another (Temporary?) Victory for Pirin National Park and World Heritage Site

Posted on 11 April 2019

The Court confirmed that in disregarding a SEA, the Ministry violated 3 Bulgarian laws and 2 EU Directives.
Sofia, Bulgaria: 23 March 2019 – On the 8th of March the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria rejected the 2017 Bulgarian Environmental Ministry‘s decision not to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the draft management plan of the Pirin National Park. The Court justified its decision by stating that an SEA is obligatory because the plan sets the framework for future development and investment proposals, all of which would normally be subject to Environmental Impact Assessments The Court further said that the draft plan needed to be evaluated with regard to the affect it would have on Natura 2000 sites coinciding with the territory of the Park.

The Court confirmed the long-held position of WWF and other NGOs in the For the Nature coalition that in disregarding a SEA, the Ministry violated 3 Bulgarian laws and 2 EU Directives. However, since this was only a first instance ruling, the Ministry of Environment could appeal the verdict.
“We are in the absurd situation in which civil society in Bulgaria is making enormous efforts to protect national natural treasures from its own environmental ministry. This court decision confirms what WWF and the other environmental groups have been insisting all along: that not subjecting the draft management plan for assessment is a violation of the law, both at the national and European level,” said Katerina Rakovska, Conservation Expert, WWF-Bulgaria

The most recent legal ruling, together with 3 new environmental infringement procedures initiated by the EU against Bulgaria, is an indication that the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment has a fundamental problem understanding not only EU nature directives, but also its own national nature conservation laws.
In November 2016, WWF launched an international campaign in support of Pirin National Park. More than 125,000 people from all over the world have signed a WWF petition to Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boyko Borisov to protect the Pirin World Heritage Site and its pristine wildlife from an illegal ski area development.

Pirin was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. However, in 2010, UNESCO excluded the ski areas above the towns of Bansko and Dobrinishte from the World Heritage Site, identifying them as “buffer zones” to the heritage site due to the damage and destruction already caused by construction around the Bansko ski zone. The installation of those facilities led to the clearance of more than 160 ha of forests, including 120- 300 year-old old-growth trees.

In January 2018, a WWF report revealed that Pirin National Park has suffered irreversible damage from the construction and expansion of the Bansko Ski Resort. The analysis found that the ski resort approved by the Bulgaria’s Government in 2000, has delivered a mixed economic impact to-date; and that other economic options for development not only exist, but have great potential.
In January, 2019 WWF and other NGOs in the For the Nature coalition won the final court case against the Government’s plans to open Pirin National Park up to construction. In a ruling that cannot be appealed, Bulgaria's Supreme Administrative Court overturned controversial changes made to the current management plan of Pirin National Park by the Government in December 2017. These changes opened up 48 percent of the Park to ski facility construction at Bansko, an area five times as large as the present area. The decision put centuries-old pine forests, as well as bear, wolf and chamois habitats at dire risk.

For more information:
Vladimir Ivanov, Communications Manager
Tel: +359 2 950 50 41, Mobile:  +359 884 72 41 46 

Katerina Rakovska, Protected Areas and Natura 2000 Expert
+ 359 2 950 50 40, + 359 893 393 810
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© Dimitar Gramatikov