The UNESCO World Heritage Centre has issued a draft decision on Pirin in which it requests the Bulgarian government to ensure that a full strategic environmental assessment for the new management plan of Pirin National Park is undertaken as a matter of priority. The government is asked also not implement the December 2017 amendments to the current management plan and refrain from introducing any new amendments. The decision is set to be approved at the World Heritage Committee at the end of June 2018 in Bahrain.
Responding to the draft decision, Katerina Rakovska, WWF-Bulgaria conservation expert, said: “We welcome the draft decision as it is in line with Bulgarian and European law and international commitments. It confirms what WWF and partner NGOs have been insisting on, together with our supporters who have been taking to the streets for five months now in more than 20 cities in Bulgaria and dozens more around the world. We are concerned, however, that the government may try to water down the draft decision before it is set for adoption at the World Heritage Committee in June 2018.”
WWF and other NGOs of the For the Naturecoalition have won a court case against the government of Bulgaria’s plans to open Pirin National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Bulgaria’s premier protected area, up to construction.
In March 2017, the Bulgarian environmental minister decided that the draft management plan for Pirin National Park did not require a Strategic Environmental Assessment. The plan permits construction on an area that is 12.5-times larger than currently permitted area and could lead to commercial logging affecting nearly 60 per cent of the park (currently no commercial logging is permitted in the park). Development of the plan has been financed by the EU.
The court’s decision requires the government to ensure that the appropriate environmental assessments are made.
“This is great news for Pirin and its supporters who have been taking to the streets for four months now in more than 20 cities in Bulgaria and dozens more around the world. This decision means the government must now ensure that all threats to Pirin are assessed and avoided”,said Katerina Rakovska, WWF-Bulgaria conservation expert.
Pirin national park has become an example of the Bulgarian government’s unwillingness to establish the rule of law. When all eyes in Europe are on Bulgaria because of its Presidency of the EU Council, we need to see a strong message from the EU, writes Veselina Kavrakova.
Baykusheva mura – the name alone sounds mythical and, at 1,300 years-old, it is believed to be the oldest pine tree on the Balkan peninsula. This ancient tree is located in the Pirin National Park in Bulgaria, which is also home to brown bears, wolves, chamois and the rarest woodpecker in Europe. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an EU Natura 2000 area, and a protected area under Bulgarian law.
One would think that such protection under three different legal regimes should be sufficient to keep destruction at bay. Alas, it’s not. Instead, the Bulgarian government decided to open up almost half of Pirin National Park to construction, and this just days before taking over the EU Presidency.
Like many Westerners, I imagined a gritty, gray and boring post-Communist Balkans.
“Bulgaria? Nobody goes there!” said my husband when I mentioned it.
Admittedly Bulgaria had never really been high on my list of places to visit, but fate brought me an opportunity to meet an old friend in the capital, Sofia. Like many Westerners, I imagined a gritty, gray and boring post-Communist, post-Yugoslavia Balkans. However, I had once read that Bulgarians nod their heads for “no” and shake them for “yes”, and I thought it might be interesting in an offbeat way to at least see that for myself.
I was surprised to find that Bulgaria is also a place with ancient history and spirituality like in Rome and Greece, walkable cities with ornate architecture and good wine like western Europe, and Middle Eastern flair inherited from centuries in the Ottoman Empire.
The more I looked the more I wanted to see.
Sofia historic interests
Unless you’re a scholar of ancient history, you might not realize that Bulgaria was part of the Roman Empire from around the 1st century. Recently-excavated archaeological remains were woven into the fabric of modern Sofia.
Sofia. The centuries-old beech forests of Central Balkan National Park have been added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List under the Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe item. The government has approved a joint declaration on the announcement of the site stretching over Austria, Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Italy, Croatia, Germany, Ukraine and Slovakia. By signing the declaration, the participating states undertake to set up an integrated system for managing the property to ensure its protection, the government press office said.
The serial property was approved by UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee at its 41st session in Krakow in July 2017. It comprises 78 components located in 12 European countries. The expanded serial site (so far it has only covered territories in Germany, Ukraine and Slovakia) represents an outstanding example of undisturbed, complex temperate forests and exhibits the spread of European beech since the end of the last ice age to this day.
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.