The project area is the cross border landscape of Rhodope Mountains shared by Bulgaria and Greece. Black and griffon vultures that breed in the area have home ranges that cover both countries. Black vultures that breed in Greece forage in Bulgaria, and griffon vultures that breed in Bulgaria forage in Greece. The whole area is intensively used by immature and non-breeding vultures, including Griffon vultures from distinct populations such as those in Croatia and Serbia. The project includes seven Special Protection Areas of the Natura 2000 network in Bulgaria and five in Greece.
Project sites in Bulgaria
SPA Studen Kladenec
The slopes surrounding the dam are covered with mixed broadleaf forests of oak and hornbeam, bushes of Christ’s thorn, white jasmine, prickly juniper and a variety of grass communities. A considerable part of the area is occupied by rock complexes. The animals here include: Balkan glass-snake, Aesculapian snake, Hermann’s and spur-thighed tortoises, black-eared wheatear, Sardinian warbler, black stork, wolf, beech marten, wild boar, fallow deer and other. There are 219 bird species established in the region; 59 of them are included in the Bulgarian Red List, and 103 have conservation significance on a European level.
Studen Kladenets has a global significance as a representative site of the Mediterranean biome, and it is also one of the most important areas for the conservation of the cinereous, griffon and Egyptian vultures, the Eurasian stone curlew and the eagle owl.
The main occupation of the local people is traditional (extensive) animal husbandry, agriculture, and forestry.
As in most southern, dryer areas, forest fires are a major threat here. The depopulation of the region leads to a decline in the numbers of livestock and to an overgrowing of pastures. Illegal logging, poaching, poisoning, unprotected electricity poles, disturbance by extreme sports activities and investment plans pose a threat to the biodiversity in the region.
At present 14% of the area of Studen Kladenets is protected as a reserve, and there are three protected areas. Valchi Dol Reserve aims at the conservation and protection of the griffon vulture colony, together with other rare and endangered bird species, typical for the Eastern Rhodopes. In 1989 the area was declared as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
SPA Most Arda
Most Arda Special Protection Area (SPA) is located in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains and covers a section of the Arda River valley – between Studen Kladenec and Ivaylovgrad Dams. The area includes the river course between Rabovo village and the town of Madzharovo along with the wooded mountain slopes and the rock masses of Iranov Ridge.
Most of the area is occupied by broadleaf dry-tolerant forests, arable land, grass and bush communities mixed with Mediterranean flora like prickly juniper, white thorn and white jasmine. Among the animals here can be observed: southern crested newt, agile frog, five-streaked and Erhard’s wall lizards, green whip snake, Hermann’s and spur-thighed tortoises, roe deer, beech marten, forest dormouse, wild cat, red fox, bat species and other.
Out of the 142 bird species here 31 are included in the Bulgarian Red List, and 65 have conservation significance on a European level. Most of the Arda area is an important site for the conservation of southern, cold-sensitive species like black-eared wheatear, olive-tree warbler, masked shrike and other.
This SPA is very important for the conservation of vultures. It is one of the few sites in Bulgaria with global significance for the conservation of the cinereous and Egyptian vultures.
SPA Yazovir Ivaylovgrad
Yazovir Ivaylovgrad Special Protection Area (SPA) is located in south-eastern Bulgaria, in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, and includes a part of the Ivaylovgrad Dam on the Arda River together with the surrounding mountain slopes.
Ivaylovgrad Dam is located in the narrow valley of Arda River. Most of the area is covered with broadleaf forests, bush and grass communities, with a few rock formations. The arable lands are along the lake shores. Among the animals here are: green whip snake, Crimean lizard, oriole, , wild boar, wild cat, beech marten et al.
There are 163 bird species confirmed in the area; 42 are included in the Bulgarian Red List, and 73 have conservation significance on a European level.
The area has European significance for the protection and conservation of rare and threatened habitats, plants and animals such as: Egyptian vulture, white-tailed eagle, booted eagle, black stork, et al.
Agriculture and animal husbandry.
The threats for the biodiversity here include forest fires, illegal logging, poaching, poisoning, unprotected electric poles, disturbance by extreme sports activities, and investment plans. The depopulation of the area leads to a diminished number of livestock and an overgrowing of the pastures.
The area includes two nature sites, declared for the conservation of rare plant species. They comprise just 0.05% of the area. In 2005 the area is declared an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
Dobrostan Special Protection Area (SPA) is located in the Western Rhodope Mountains, in southern Bulgaria. It includes the Dorbostan mountain ridge along with the neighbouring ridges: Belocherkovski, Cherni, Chukata and Krustova gora.
Dobrostan is a mid- and high-altitude mountain area with a varied relief defined by river valleys. The major habitats in the area are forests – broadleaf, coniferous and mixed; also, there are bush communities, pastureland and meadows. Fauna species include yellow-bellied toad, wall lizard, slow worm, red deer, brown bear, wolf et al.
There are 149 bird species in Dobrostan; 28 are included in the Bulgarian Red List, and 60 have conservation significance on a European level.
The area has significance on a European level for the protection and conservation of rare and threatened habitats, plants and animals such as: Egyptian vulture, golden eagle, hazel grouse, capercaillie, white-backed woodpecker et al.
Forestry, animal husbandry, tourism.
There is a considerable activity in the forestry and agriculture sectors in the area, together with tourism etc. Intensive logging in old forests, pastureland and meadow ploughing, arsons, planting of foreign tree species, soil erosion, insufficient use of distant pastures, construction of small water plants, motor vehicle traffic outside the road system (including off-road) – these are just a fraction of the problems in the area at present.
The Dobrostan region includes 14 areas under protection which, however, comprise the mere 4.3% of the area. Their protection aims at the conservation of landscapes, coniferous forests, rock formations and habitats for rare plant and animal species. The Chervena Stena Reserve was established in 1962, and in 1977 it was declared a biosphere reserve by the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme. In 2005 the area is declared Important Bird Area by BirdLife I
SPA Byala Reka
Byala Reka Special Protection Area (SPA) is located in southern Bulgaria, next to the national border with Greece. It covers the catchment area of the Byala River in the furthermost south-eastern part of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains, alongside with its surrounding hills.
The region is characterized by sporadically occurring individual cliffs. Around the villages there are small plots of arable land. The strong influence of the Mediterranean climate in the area dictates high flora diversity, with a wide distribution of mixed oak forests and bush. Due to the thin human presence in this border region there still remain forests of Fagus moesiaca and Quercus petraea. The fauna is represented by over a hundred species of butterflies, Rhodopean loach, snake-eyed lizard, true and marsh tortoises, olive-tree warbler, subalpine warbler, nightjar, masked shrike, Levant sparrowhawk, wolf, roe deer, bat species and other.
The area boasts with 167 species of birds; 33 of them are included in the Bulgarian Red List, and 67 have conservation significance on a European level.
Byala Reka is globally significant as a representative area of the Mediterranean biome. It contains important feeding and resting sites for two globally threatened species: the cinereous and the Egyptian vultures.
The main sources of living in the area are the extensive traditional animal husbandry, agriculture and forestry.
As many depopulated regions in the country the area shows a decline in the numbers of livestock which in turn diminishes the natural food sources for the vultures. Other threats include poaching, fires, unprotected electric poles, investment plans (wind generators, solar parks, small water plants); these activities lead to loss of biodiversity.
About 4% of the Byala Reka SPA is protected by law under the national conservation legislation. “Byala Reka Meanders” is a protected site aimed at the conservation of threatened bird species, including the Egyptian vulture and the golden eagle, as well as that of riverbank habitats. In 1997 the area is declared Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
Madzharovo Special Protection Area (SPA) includes a section of the deep, narrow valley of Arda River along with the surrounding mountain slopes and rock masses. It is located in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains between Borislavtsi village and the town of Madzharovo.
The diverse relief composed of rock complexes, rocky screes and land, determines the mosaic distribution of trees, bushes and grass. The arable land is located mostly on the higher grounds of the valley. Among the animals here can be seen: great toad, European blind snake, sand boa, Hermann’s and spur-thighed tortoises, rufous-tailed rock thrush, rock nuthatch, peregrine falcon, wild cat, hare, wolf, wild boar and other.
There are 174 bird species in the region; 40 of them are included in the Bulgarian Red List, and 78 have conservation significance on a European level.
The area is globally significant as a representative site of the Mediterranean biome. Located here is one of the two griffon vulture colonies in Bulgaria. Madzharovo is among the most important Bulgarian sites for the protection and conservation of birds of prey, in particular the globally threatened Egyptian vulture.
Up to the early 1990’s the area around the town of Madzharovo was characterized with a well-developed mining industry. Today locals rely on animal husbandry and small-scale agriculture. Nature based tourism has a big potential for enhancing the economic growth of the area and is already slowly being developed.
Due to the depopulation of the area the number of extensively bred livestock is in decline. This is causing the diminishing food sources for the vultures and undergrowth of the pastures leading to loss of biodiversity. Other problems and threats are poaching, potential disturbance of the nesting birds, fires, investment plans for small water plants and wind turbines.
About 7% of the area is protected by law under the national legislation. Patronka Protected Area is declared as a protected griffon vultures colony area. In 1997 the area was declared as Important Bird Area by BirdLife International.
Krumovitsa Special Protection Area (SPA) is located in southern Bulgaria and includes the valleys in the middle course of Krumovitsa River, along with the valley of Dusun Dere River and the neighbouring hills and slopes of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. The area also covers the surroundings of Gorna Kula and Chal villages.
Along the banks of the rivers there are poplar trees, willows, black alder and dense bush (brambles and dog rose). Animals inhabiting the area are light green whip snake, European blind snake, Hermann’s and spur-thighed tortoises, rock nuthatch, black-eared wheatear, black stork, booted eagle, wolf, wild boar, roe deer and other.
There are 136 bird species in the Krumovitsa region; 26 of them are included in the Bulgarian Red List, and 64 have conservation significance on a European level.
The area has a global significance as a representative area of the Mediterranean biome. It is among the most important areas for the conservation of the globally threatened Egyptian vultures.
Agriculture, forestry and (extensive) animal husbandry.
The depopulation in the area leads to a decline in the numbers of livestock and thence – in the number of carcasses. This diminishes to a great extent the natural food sources for the vultures. Fires, poaching, poisoned baits, electricity network and investment plans with no consideration for nature are among the threats for wildlife in the area.
Two natural sites within the Krumovitsa area are declared protected for landscape conservation. In 1997 the area is declared as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International
Projects sites in Greece
SPA Dasos Dadia-Soufli
The National Park of Dadia-Lefkimi-Soufli is located in the center of Evros region and in the fingertips of the Rhodopi Mountain. It consists of low forested hills with plenty of small valleys and few agricultural lands. It belongs to the Soufli municipality.
The Dadia forest is situated on a low altitude zone (10 to 640 m asl) and the dominant topographical feature of the park is a network of low hills and hill chains, generally of moderate slopes, separated by valleys containing temporary streams.
The National Park is dominated by woodlands. More than 70% of the area is covered by oak and pine forest either in pure or in mixed condition. The rest of the area is agricultural land (15%), open plains (9%) and villages/roads (3%).
The mosaic of habitats and the low exploitation of natural resources have contributed to the high biodiversity of the area, where unique and rare species of flora and fauna occur. During the last 20 years important number of flora and fauna species were recorded and studied in the area and is consisted: ca 360-400 species of plants, including 25 orchids, 104 butterflies making it one of the 10 prime butterfly areas in Greece, 12-13 amphibians and 29 reptiles making it one of the highest reptiles’ densities area in Europe. 60-65 five mammal species were found in the area, 24 of which are bats and most of them endangered species. Moreover, at least 17 fish species and at least 371 invertebrate species have been recorded. Totally 203 birds species (breeding: 132) have been recorded among them 36 diurnal and 7 nocturnal raptorial species.
Raptors are of particular interest, not only because of the high number of species found in the National Park and especially inside the project area, but also because of the large populations of some of them. The Lesser Spotted Eagle and the Short-toed Eagle occur in larger populations compared to other parts of Greece, while the Black Vulture population constitutes the last breeding colony in Greece and the Balkan Peninsula over the past 2 decades. A large population of Black Stork is also present in the area. Recently, Dadia NP is the stronghold of Egyptian Vulture population in Thrace as well in whole Greece even though during the last decade, the population was decreased from 8-10 pairs to 4-5 pairs.
Small scale agriculture, free-grazing stock-breeding, forestry with selective loggings, nature based tourism and nature protection are the main local activities positively affecting the status of habitats and landscape. Raptors are favored by the extensive mature forests to nest and the farmland and grassland to forage. However the low number of stock-breeders and farmers cannot preserve a habitat mosaic throughout the extension of the National Park except of the areas around the few villages. Forest raptorial species are dominant than the large raptors which prefer sparse forests and grassland.
The dense forests dominated by pine trees are vulnerable to forest fires which can be very destructive because of high temperatures and drought prevailing in the summer. Although the number of stock breeders was stabilized in the last 30 years, an abandonment of livestock breeding was recently recorded and is thought to be one of the major future threats. The aging of farmers, the depreciation of the profession among young people because of difficulty and social standard of living, and the low incomes of farmers in relation to the past are some of the causes of abandonment. The illegal use of poisoned baits to control foxes or to solve competition issues among the owners of hunting dogs and sheepdogs is one threat that appears from time to time and affects populations of vultures and large raptors. This activity is more controlled inside the borders of the National Park in contrary to the adjacent regions.
Dadia Forest was declared as Protected Area in 1980 with two core zones and a buffer zone. In 2006, the conservation status was improved and Dadia Forest was declared as National Park keeping the same area of c. 42,800 ha where 7,800 ha are included in the strict protection zone.
SPA Oreinos Evros-Koilada Dereiou
This site is situated in North East Greece next to Bulgarian border. It belongs to the Soufli municipality and the majority of the villages are traditional Pomak villages. The site encompasses the catchment of Diavolorema river that creates deep and steep slopes.
This site is too forested and less degraded by grazing. Forests of oaks and beeches with small clumps of pine reforestations cover the low hills. Partly forested areas with dispersed mature oak trees dominate a large part of the area, used for traditional non-intensive livestock grazing. The Diavolorema River crosses the area creating locations with riparian vegetation and small rocky outcrops. In many hedges around the fields, fruit trees have been remained offering food for the mammals.
It is an important area mainly for breeding raptors, forest, agriculture and shrubland species, as well as migratory raptors. The area is situated next to the Dadia National Park and it is frequently used by Griffon and Black vultures as foraging area. Sporadic observations of Brown Bear occur in these valleys while the wolf keeps permanent small population. The mature oaks trees and rocky outcrops are suitable for raptor nests. Priority species include: Golden Eagle, Black Vulture, Lesser-spotted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle and Black Stork. The Egyptian vulture is foraging in the area but is not breeding.
Forestry and animal husbandry are the main occupations of the residents. Oak forest is exploited for fire wood while beech and pine forest for industrial wood. The forest management is more intensive in the oak forests as demand for fire wood is high. The livestock breeding is still active in the Pomak villages however this activity gradually is abandoned.
The reduction of livestock is an ongoing threat to the availability of food for the vultures, but also for the maintenance of open forests. An ongoing threat is also the illegal use of poisoned baits for foxes, wolves or due to the poisoning of dogs as result of informal resolving of rivalries between shepherds and hunters for the loss of their dogs. The intense forest management with the removal of mature trees threatens the breeding sites of raptors and other birds like woodpeckers. There are few wind turbines in this site, but the number of planned wind farms is very high and this is a potentially high risk to raptors and vultures.
This site is included in the networks of the Special Protected Areas, the Sites of Community Importance and the Important Bird Areas.
SPA Koilada Filiouri
The site of Filiouri valley is located in north-east Greece next the border with Bulgaria. The Pomak villages spread in the site belong to the Arriana municipality. The site encompasses the catchment of Filiouri river with deep and steep valley.
The main vegetation consists of maquis with sparse stands of grazed oak forests. Beech forests with overripe trees are situated near the border with Bulgaria. Plenty of rocky outcrops inside the deep valleys form suitable nesting sites for raptors such as Golden Eagle, Peregrine and Egyptian Vulture. Besides the larger villages such as Kexros, Xloi, Ragada etc, many small villages surrounded by wheat fields interrupt the extensive forest, creating small “oases” contributed to the significant biodiversity of the area.
This is an important site for breeding and passage raptors and species associated with forest and scrub. Species of concern include Golden Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Imperial Eagle, Peregrine and Black Vulture. The whole area is included in the foraging area of Black Vultures who travel from Dadia National Park to forage in the pasturelands of this site. The rocky outcrops of Filouri River are confirmed as roosting sites of Black Vultures and Griffon Vultures. One territory of Egyptian vulture occurs in this site.
Livestock breeding is the main activity of the local communities who live in the traditional pomak villages. Despite the intensive exploitation of forests for the production of industrial wood and fire wood, there are still groups of mature oak and beech trees, especially in pastures on the ridges of the hills or the inaccessible slopes and streams.
The illegal use of poisoned baits for the control of foxes or wolves creates serious damage on scavenger raptors populations and territorial pairs of large eagles of the area. Locally, overgrazing has resulted to the degradation of forest and soil erosion. The majority of the wind farms which has been established in Thrace during the last decade are located in this site. Negative impact of these wind farms on vultures, raptors and bats has already been proved based on the monitored mortality. It is expected more risk for the survival of these species, especially of Black Vulture and Griffon Vulture, if the planned infrastructure of a larger number of wind farms will be established.
The Filiouri valley, is included in the networks of the Special Protected Areas, the Sites of Community Importance and the Important Bird Areas.
SPA Koilada Kompsatou
The Special Protected Area of Kompsatos valley is located in North East Greece, next to the border with Bulgaria. It belongs to the Iasmos municipality the nearest large village. Ruins of old small villages are found in the higher parts of the site. The Kompsatos river crosses the valley creating deep and steep slopes.
Landscape and biodiversity
This deep valley is surrounded by hills covered with deciduous broadleaved forest (mainly mature oak forest), scrubland and grassland. In some areas of the river, important habitats are present as dense riparian forest of willows and poplars or sandbanks adjoining meadows and small fields. Many cliffs are scattered on steep slopes with the most impressive of these the Thracian Meteora. These rocky formations are important nesting habitats for raptors and vultures as well as Black Stork. Hundreds of wild horses find refuge in this valley and in conjunction with the thousands of livestock animals maintain grasslands and open forests. Wolf is present in the area and form time to time provokes damage on the livestock.
Twenty eight species of diurnal raptors have been recorded of which species of concern include White-tailed Eagle, Griffon Vulture, Golden Eagle, Imperial Eagle, and Black Vulture. Their populations are restricted even though the natural food sources are abundant. Two pairs of Griffon Vultures and one pair of Egyptian Vulture still exist in the area.
The main human activity is livestock-breeding. In spring and summer, many shepherds are concentrated in the higher parts of the valley and the slopes are filled with livestock. In these pasturelands, oaks are mature, low trees with the characteristic shape caused by the long term pollarding or non-commercial pruning.
Intensive forest management is the other main activity and in some locations the oak forest has been replaced with coniferous plantations. Mountain climbing and hiking are a growing eco-tourist activity and an interesting network of mountain trails has been marked.
The illegal use of poisoned baits both by stock farmers and hunters has a direct effect on the population of scavenger raptors, which may even result in their disappearance from the area. Intensive forest management, with the removal of mature and dead trees from forests and the replacement of mature oak forests with coniferous plantations, results in the degradation of the landscape and of raptor and forest species habitats. Overgrazing also contributes to forest degradation and soil erosion. Potential threats are the plans for the construction of a large scale dam on the River Kompsatos, and the installation of wind farms.
The Kompsatos valley, is included in the networks of the Special Protected Areas, the Sites of Community Importance and the Important Bird Areas.
SPA South forest complex Evrou
This site is located in the south-eastern end of the Rodopi Mountain with few villages that belong to the Alexandroupolis municipality.
Landscape and biodiversity
It is characterized by low hills and sub-mountainous areas covered with deciduous forests with oaks, ashes, hornbeams and scrubland. Natural perennial oak forests had been replaced with pine reforestations 40 years ago. Most of plantations have been burnt in 2009 and 2011 and left in their natural regeneration without new reforestations. A natural forest with mature Black Pines is included in the southern part of the site, next to Delta of Evros which is an important nesting and roosting area for raptors. White-tailed Eagle nests here and together with the nest of Dadia National Park, are the unique two pairs in Evros region. Over 45 Spotted Eagles roost on the Black Pines during their wintering. Many cliffs occur in the site with the most impressive the ones of Avantas gorge. Rare plant species like Eriolobus trilobatus as well as endemic butterfly species have been recorded in this site.
This area is an important ecological corridor for raptors and other mammals between Delta of Evros and Dadia forest. This site includes the last hills of Rodopi Mountain to the Evros River which are an important migratory corridor for raptors and waterfowl. In the east part of this site there is a colony of 7–8 pairs of Griffon Vultures. Priority species include: White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Imperial eagle, Black Vulture, Griffon Vulture, Lesser-spotted Eagle, Spotted Eagle, Short-toed Eagle, Booted Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Eagle Owl and Black Stork. The Egyptian vulture is present here but it doesn’t nest.
Forestry, agriculture, livestock-breeding and mining comprises the main land uses. The forests are exploited for fire wood and industrial wood. Livestock breeding remained in low numbers around the villages. Traditional agriculture of small scale fields creates a farmland of high biodiversity.
Due to the intensive forest management the deciduous forests are very young with luck of mature trees. The forests are dense especially the scrubland due to the decrease of livestock. The illegal use of poisoned baits has been recorded mainly for foxes. Quarries for road building material extraction have been developed the last decade near the Griffon Vulture colonies. Military activity is particularly intense in this region and a pressure for a future extended field for military exercises is very strong.
This site is included in the networks of the Special Protected Areas and the Important Bird Areas.