Roadmap for developing the mountain sustainably outlined
Pirin National Park, one of Europe’s most important biodiversity hotspots, has suffered irreparable damage from the construction and expansion of Bansko ski resort, reveals a WWF report published today. The analysis finds that the ski resort, approved by Bulgaria’s government in 2000, has also compromised Pirin’s long-term economic value and delivered a mixed economic impact to date.
Amendments made to Pirin’s current management plan by Bulgaria’s government in December have now opened up to 48% of the park to construction activities. A new draft management plan, currently under dispute in court, would allow construction of ski infrastructure in an area 12.5 times bigger than the current area and logging in 60 per cent of the national park.
The report forcefully shows that these plans would cause irreversible damage to the World Heritage site and are based on a questionable business case.
Veselina Kavrakova, WWF-Bulgaria Country Head, said:
“Ski development in pursuit of short-term gains has already taken a shocking toll on Pirin. This report brings its damaging impact on both nature and Pirin’s long-term economic value into sharp focus.”
Skiing in Bansko, Bulgaria may be a fun way to spend a ski holiday. Or you may be waiting in lines the whole time. Here’s the low down on all you need to know.
We landed in Sofia dreary eyed and exhausted from an epic New Year’s Eve party in Edinburgh. Our plan was to go skiing in Bansko, Bulgaria’s most popular ski resort to warm up for our ski tour through the alps at a more affordable price. When we stepped off the three hour bus journey from Sofia to Bansko, we were greeted with the beautiful Piran mountains, ready for some adventure.
We learned a lot about having a ski holiday in this Bulgarian town, some good things, and some bad. It’s actually very hard to place a finger on how I felt after leaving Bansko, so I’ll try to break down some helpful tips about the experience here.
Get there early!
If there is one tip I can’t stress enough for your holiday in Bansko it is to arrive at the gondola station early. Especially on the weekend, school holidays, or high season.
The World Heritage Centre currently receives numerous messages from civil society concerning the state of conservation of the World Heritage property Pirin National Park. The competent authorities of the Republic of Bulgaria as well as the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Body IUCN are fully informed of the concerns raised.
At its 40th session in 2016, the World Heritage Committee called on “the State Party to invite in 2017 an IUCN Advisory mission to review the implementation of the Management Plan and the preservation of the OUV of the property” (Decision 40 COM 7B.93). The Bulgarian authorities and IUCN are currently preparing this mission, which is expected to take place in the coming weeks. The results of the IUCN Advisory mission will be reported back to the World Heritage Committee at its 42nd session (Manama, Bahrain, 24 June to 4 July 2018).
Furthermore, the World Heritage Committee has requested the State Party “to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2017, an updated report on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 42nd session in 2018” (Decision 40 COM 7B.93).
Protesters want the controversial decision withdrawn and credible guarantees given that park preservation and the rule of law will be protected — including the resignation of Environmental Minister Neno Dimov.
Protesters took to the streets in 29 international cities, accusing the Bulgarian government of corruption and violation of domestic and EU environmental law after it decided to allow further construction in Pirin National Park, a World Natural Heritage site.
In December 2017, the Cabinet passed a plan to allow construction activities in 48% of the park. After what many felt was the government’s failed response to address the public outcry, environmentalists initiated an international outreach campaign in an effort to pressure authorities to uphold the law protecting the natural heritage site.
Pirin National Park was established to protect biodiversity in Bulgaria’s second highest mountain, an area considered to be one of the most well-preserved natural habitats in Europe.
The Ivanovo Rock–Hewn Churches were the most popular archaeological and historical landmark with tourists in Bulgaria’s northeastern Ruse District in 2017, the Ruse Regional Museum of History has announced. A total of 14,431 tourists visited the medieval Ivanovo Rock Churches which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.
Last year, the visitors of Bulgaria’s Ivanovo Rock Churches included a large number of foreign tourists. The international travelers came mostly from Japan, Germany, Romania, and the UK, and visited the landmark primarily as part of organized tours.
Yet, the most popular landmark managed by the Ruse Regional Museum of History in 2017 was its Museum of Natural History, also known as Eco Museum, which features an aquarium and a life-size statue of woolly mammoth.
Ruse’s Eco Museum saw a total of 17,852 visitors in all of 2017, including 5,204 individual visitors, and over 7,000 elementary, middle, and high school students.
In a surreptitious move, the government of Bulgaria approved on Thursday alarming new changes to the Pirin National Park management plan that could allow construction in up to 48 per cent of the park, a World Heritage site home to bears, chamois, wolves and centuries-old pine forests. The decision, announced a few days before Bulgaria takes over the Presidency of the European Council, comes a day after the closing of a public consultation on the proposed changes, launched on 22 November 2017, and offers no indication of its results.
The current management plan of Pirin National Park expired in 2014 but remains in place while the new draft plan awaits a court ruling on its roll-out. WWF and coalition filed a lawsuit with Supreme Administrative Court following the environment and water ministry’s decision that the new draft management plan did not require a Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment.
A budget ski resort expansion is poised to carve 333km of new slopes and 113km of ski lifts through a UNESCO World Heritage Site of “outstanding universal value.”
The 400 square kilometre Pirin National Park in Bulgaria is one of Europe’s best-preserved homes for large mammals such as brown bears and wolves, which roam its glacial lakes, alpine meadows and dense forest.
WWF expert in Bulgaria Katerina Rakovska said that new documents showed that the government had aligned its draft to “exactly” fit the zoning regime requested by the prospective ski resort builder, Ulen.
“This disastrous plan would open the door for the clear cutting of centuries-old forests, causing grave damage to biodiversity,” she said. “Research already shows that brown bears, chamois and capercaillie are avoiding areas of mass tourism. Under this proposal, they would literally have nowhere else to go.”
Skiers in brightly coloured jackets weighed down by boots and skis stagger along the pavement, overtaken by a horse and cart and watched by a group of old ladies chatting on a bench by the roadside. Not a sight you’d normally expect to see in a ski resort, but Bansko is a ski town with a twist. On one side you’ve got the Pirin Mountains with their towering peaks and modern ski resort. Then on the other side you’ve got a historic Bulgarian town full of cobbled streets and atmospheric restaurants. You can party on and off the piste then soak it off in a hot spring, or take a day out to visit a mountain vineyard or historic monastery. Whether you’re happier when you’re on or off the slopes, here are some of Bansko’s highlights.