Three major Bulgarian national parks, including a UNESCO site, may allow construction and logging

Posted on 20 October 2015

Their 10-year draft management plans remove construction protection regimes
Sofia - The coalition of NGOs and civil groups "For the Nature in Bulgaria” -- that WWF is part of -- warns that the draft management plans for UNESCO’s Pirin National Park, Rila National Park and Vitosha Nature Park open the door to construction, and in some areas logging and hunting, comparable to that in unprotected areas.
The draft plans also quote outdated legislation, have no environmental impact assessments and are based on contradictory, inconsistent data. If approved, they will be valid for the next 10 years and seriously harm nature. They also fail to meet public tender requirements, while supported by €4 million EU funds.
Despite these violations, the companies who prepared the plans received most of their payments. The signals environmental groups submitted to the authorities were unheeded.
The NGO coalition "For the Nature in Bulgaria” insists on a complete overhaul of the plans and new public consultations. The ones organized so far were difficult to attend. Some took place in remote areas where many couldn’t participate.
Here is a detailed overview of the problems.
Pirin National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site

Pirin National Park was declared a World Heritage site in 1983. In 2010, UNESCO excluded the ski areas above Bansko and Dobrinishte from the World Heritage list because it found their nature irrevocably damaged and urbanized by ski development.

In July 2015, the Bulgarian ministries of tourism and sports asked UNESCO to exclude an additional 10% of the park from the World Heritage list in order to allow for further ski development. In his response, the Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre Mr Kishore Rao said that Bulgaria can develop tourism anywhere outside the UNESCO site. He also called the new draft management plan for Pirin unacceptable: it included no adequate environmental assessments and lacked crucial data.

The ministries of tourism and sports have long lobbied for the expansion of the Bansko ski zone to other parts of Pirin National Park. At the moment, this is still prohibited by the Protected Areas Act and the park’s current management plan.

The draft plan for Pirin was developed by a company that also developed the plan for Vitosha Nature Park. The company envisions increasing the area of construction over 120 times -- from 219 hectares to 26,558 hectares. This is 65% of the park’s territory.
In July 2015, the coalition of NGOs and civil organizations "For the Nature in Bulgaria" that WWF belongs to, as well as dozens of other NGOs, experts and citizens, publicly denounced the draft plan.

Besides allowing construction, the plan does not meet public tender requirements and is blatantly unprofessional. For example, it quotes terminology found in regulations revoked in the 1990s; it neglects modern biodiversity protection developments; its conclusions are not based on the latest scientific information; there are a series of inconsistencies in its data; there is no logical connection between the results of field surveys and the planned future activities; it conceals legal violations within the Bansko ski zone concession and proposes zoning regimes and activities in favor of new ski investments.

Vitosha Nature Park 

Founded 80 years ago, Vitosha Nature Park is the oldest park on the Balkan Peninsula. But its new draft management plan opens the door to developments, logging and hunting identical to those outside a protected area. It removes existing protection regimes and guarantees protection for only 7% of its territory. The construction area would increase over 13 times under the new plan -- from 300 to over 4,000 hectares.
Moreover, the plan does not offer solutions to any of the park’s problems -- logging, lack of adequate public transport to the mountain, damaged tourist infrastructure, water pollution. Instead, its main goal is to develop new ski areas, although an opinion poll the plan itself quotes shows that 82% of the park's visitors go there in the summer and only 17% want it to develop as a ski area. The plan also ignores the conclusions of the environmental experts it quotes and envisions developments that will harm nature.
The plan is developed by a limited liability company that is also preparing the plan for UNESCO’s Pirin National Park. The Pirin plan has so far received over 300 negative assessments during its public consultation.

At the end of September, representatives of several political parties said they were categorically against new construction in Vitosha Nature Park.

Rila National Park

Rila National Park is the largest of three national parks in Bulgaria. It spans 81,000 hectares in the Rila Mountain.

Its plan fails to offer a way to limit the huge number of tourists that leads to eutrophication (organic matter pollution) in the emblematic Seven Rila Lakes. In one of the busiest summer days, 3,300 people visited the sensitive lake ecosystem.

Limiting the tourist flow would also coincide with people’s interests. In an opinion poll quoted in the plan, ¾ of the respondents said tourism development should not come with environmental, social or cultural risks. Traditionally, the attitudes of Bulgarian people are in full harmony with the needs of nature.
The freshwater of over 2 million people depends on the new draft management plan. However, it fails to address this issue and doesn’t include crucial information like water use, sanitary water zones and even a zoning map. It also does not provide the required information on infrastructure, socio-economic characteristics, abiotic factors, forests, medicinal plants, wood, berries and herbs, etc.

Most importantly, there is no construction ban in the entire national park. As required by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a ban should prohibit interference on 75% of the territory of national parks. There can only be construction of freshwater intake facilities, sewage treatment facilities, national park administrative buildings, recreation areas, tent camps, as well as repairs of existing buildings, roads, sports and other facilities, etc.
For more information:  
- Konstantin Ivanov, WWF Danube-Carpathian Programme, mob: +359 884 514 636; e-mail:

About WWF
WWF is one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries.  WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption (

The construction of two fire towers within Vitosha Park - illegal according to the current plan -- has begun. After NGO signals, the Regional Environment and Water Inspectorate stopped the construction of only one of them.
© WWF Bulgaria
The draft management plan for Vitosha guarantees construction protection for only 7% of its territory.
The new draft management plan for Pirin National Park envisions construction on 65% of the UNESCO territory.
© Ogilvy & Mather Sofia
Pirin should not look like this.
© Save Pirin Coalition