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Rila Buffer excluded from Bulgaria's Natura 2000 network

Date: 01.12.2007

Natura 2000 would not include zones which are already part of municipal master plans, Parliament decided on November 29.

This drastically reduced the Bulgarian part of the European ecological network.

Approved Natura 2000 zones cover 33.8 per cent of the country. Realistically, no more than 20 per cent would remain, because the rest was already part of municipal master plans.

Excluded from Natura 2000 were the Rila Buffer zone, parts of Kaliakra and Emine.

Exclusion of the Rila Buffer was based on arguments from the National council for biological diversity, which had advised the exclusion of the zone.

Rila Buffer had been included in the proposal for Natura on the insistence of scientists from the Bulgarian Academy of Science (BAS), who prepared the final version of the proposal for the Bulgarian network.

Katerina Rakovska from the WWF announced on the same day that the decision to exclude Rila Buffer would lead to punitive procedures from the European Commission (EC). According to her, Rila Buffer was of extreme importance and it would again be included in Natura, after European experts would examine the decision.

Representative of each EU member state will have to defend in front of representatives of the EC the inclusion or exclusion of each separate zone in Natura 2000, during a so-called bio-geographical seminar. The decision of Parliament has to be presented to the EC before the end of 2007, the seminar will take place in March 2008.

Toma Belev of the Park Association said that once again, the State put the interests of one investor above public interests. He added that it was precisely the zones along the Black Sea coast which had been pointed out by Bird Life International as ornithologicaly important. The EC had accepted the criteria of Bird Life International, Belev said.

Because of this, Bulgaria could end up being sentenced by the European Court, as already happened with France and Greece, he said.

Rakovska said that, after the November 29 decision, only one-third of the areas originally proposed by scientists remained as part of the network.

The exclusion of parts of Kaliakra was good news for investors, who planned the construction of wind turbines between Kavarna and the Kaliakra reserve.

The area is part of bird migration routes and has been crucial feeding grounds for bird species, threatened elsewhere in the EU.

"The EC is not interested in concrete places, but only in the protection of particular species and habitats," Michail Michailov from Environment and Water Affairs Ministry.

According to Michailov, there was no reason to expect criticism from the EC, because in practise the commission would accept the execution of the directive if between 20 and 60 per cent of territories, inhabited by rare species, had been included.

The decision of November 29 brings the number of zones in Bulgaria's Natura 2000 network to 342.

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