Rewilding efforts in the Rhodope Mountains expand to a new site

25 April 2024

Rewilding in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria is about to take an exciting step forward, with the local rewilding team preparing to carry out a wide range of measures in a new area.

View to Murga. Image: Dessislava Kostadinova/Rewilding Rhodopes

Scaling up

Rewilding in Bulgaria’s Rhodope Mountains is stepping up a level, with the team expanding their efforts to a new area. The Rewilding Rhodopes team will oversee a range of measures at the 3800-hectare “Zhenda” site, which is part of the larger state-owned Zhenda forestry unit, located in the northwest of the 250,000-hectare rewilding landscape.

“We’re really excited with this new opportunity to carry out rewilding in the Rhodope Mountains, and to amplify the benefits that it offers to nature and local communities,” says Rewilding Rhodopes team leader Andreana Trifonova. “Our goal is to improve habitats, boost natural grazing, develop nature-based tourism, and support the natural regeneration of forest. In short, we want this part of Zhenda to become another rewilding showcase.”

Rewilding potential

The Zhenda site has significant rewilding potential. Characterised by mountainous terrain, with steep ridges and deep ravines, the elevation ranges from 450 to 1459 metres, culminating in Chilyaka Peak. Mild winters and hot summers mean the vegetation is diverse, with pure deciduous and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests primarily consisting of beech, sessile oak, hornbeam, black pine, and fir. There are several nature reserves and tourism landmarks in and around the site, which is criss-crossed by trails.

Zhenda is home to a diverse range of wildlife species. In terms of herbivores, red and fallow deer, chamois, and wild boar are all present, while predators include wolves, foxes, jackals and brown bears. The Rewilding Rhodopes team are planning to reintroduce European bison at the site, and to support the local populations of red deer and chamois.

The bigger picture

The rewilding of Zhenda aligns with the overall rewilding vision for the Rhodope Mountains, where the rewilding team have been carrying out efforts to recover nature for almost a decade. In collaboration with other NGOs, municipalities, hunting and forestry organisations,  and local communities, populations of a number of keystone species are in the process being restored, including fallow and red deer, European bison, Konik horses, and cinereous vultures. The Rewilding Rhodopes team are also supporting the remarkable comeback of the local griffon vulture population, which has increased from just three pairs in 1986 to 138 in 2024.

Image: Andreana Trifonova/Rewilding Rhodopes

This wildlife comeback is strengthening local food webs and the so-called circle of life, and enhancing the natural health, functionality, and resilience of the landscape. It is also delivering burgeoning socio-economic benefits to local communities through the growth of nature-based tourism, which is supported by partnerships with a range of stakeholders.

“Through our efforts, we want to provide as many nature-based economic opportunities as possible for local people,” says Andreana Trifonova. “In this way, rewilding provides hope for people, as well as nature. By scaling up our efforts in Zhenda, we are also scaling up hope too.”

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