The transnational experience exchange workshop of the SaveGREEN project took place in Bulgaria on 11-12 May 2022. The event was organised by the Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation and the Black Sea Network of NGOs in cooperation with the Executive Forest Agency and Southwestern State Enterprise.
The workshop, which took place both online and on-site at the Rila Hotel in Dupnitsa, was attended by 25 project partners from Austria, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, as well as relevant stakeholders and associate partners from the Ministry of Environment and Waters in Bulgaria, the Southwestern State Enterprise, the Road Infrastructure Agency, and the Municipality of Dupnitsa. The aim of the workshop was to provide opportunities for discussion and exchange of experience on proposed mitigation measures and solutions presented in a draft of the Cross-Sectoral Operational Plan (CSOP) for the pilot area of the Rila-Verila-Kraishte eco-corridor.
The pilot area, one of eight in which project activities are concentrated, is located in the Dupnitsa Valley, flanked by the Rila and Verila mountain ranges and the Kraishte region south-west of Sofia, and drained by the Struma River and its tributaries. You can learn more about the area here.
The first day of the workshop involved a detailed presentation of the pilot area. Petko Tzvetkov from Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation (BBF) and Andrey Kovachev from the Ministry of Environment and Waters described the natural features of Rila-Verila-Kraishte pilot area, and summarised the importance of Natura 2000 areas and priorities and objectives in providing ecological connectivity in Bulgaria. Vanya Kamenova and Rosen Mirchev from the Southwestern State Enterprise provided a review of forest and wildlife management practices in the area.
Nina Stoilova from Road Infrastructure Agency described the existing transport infrastructure of Section 1 of the Struma Motorway (Dolna Dikanya-Dupnitsa) and the implementation of defragmentation measures. Elena Tsingarska summed the conclusions of BBF experts who have monitored the bottleneck area: the results show that the construction of the motorway facilities – especially the overpass for large mammals and the non-specialised viaduct – have significant drawbacks. These conclusions were confirmed during a field trip to Section 1 at the end of the first day. The participants identified shortcomings of the facilities and discussed possible improvements.
The following day, BBF project coordinator Petko Tzvetkov presented the CSOP for the Rila-Verila-Kraishte pilot area. Project partners shared their insights on similar defragmentation measures in their home countries and suggested the following measures:
Raise the height and improve the maintenance of fences on both sides of the highway to prevent medium and large-sized predators and ungulates from breaching the barriers so easily.
Take measures to reduce noise pollution at the facilities, especially the non-specialised viaduct.
Reduce areas of excessive openness along the overpass and other facilities through additional afforestation and appropriate vegetation for wild animals.
“After monitoring and observing the facilities, our team’s proposed operational plan for the pilot area includes the urgent measures needed to ensure wildlife migration and ecological connectivity in this corridor,” said Tzvetkov. “The plan has been discussed and will be presented in its final form to institutions and local and national stakeholders as a SaveGREEN project output.”
The participants also visited Section 3 of Struma Motorway (Kresna Gorge), where alternative solutions are needed to minimise harmful impacts on the area’s rich store of biodiversity and natural features.
All in all, the project partners greatly appreciated the opportunity for fruitful exchange and the chance to see for themselves the natural beauty of the Rila-Verila-Kraishte pilot area.
“It was a very good that we were able to see the pilot area up close and to understand the local context,” said Rado Mot from the Zarand Associaion, Romania. “From what we saw and what we know already, there are many similarities between the pilot areas. We also have territories where there is a need to speed up the development of transport infrastructure. For us, the goal is to build this very important infrastructure in the right locations with the right technology, and to take the right approach to save biodiversity, and especially ecological connectivity.”
The experts and national institutions also debated the need for eco-corridors to be included at the design and construction stages of newly established transport infrastructure, the lack of legislation in most of the countries regarding ecological connectivity, and other important issues.
“Bulgaria hasn’t yet constructed all its motorways, and has the unique chance to acknowledge the need for ecological corridors from the very beginning and to plan things in a better way,” remarked Hildegard Meyer, a project manager from WWF Central and Eastern Europe. “Unlike most western European countries, where the problem is that we built our motorways ages ago in a time when there was little environmental concern, we’re now trying to rehabilitate these facilities to preserve biodiversity. But this is much harder to do and costs more than to do things the right way from the very beginning.”
The transnational workshop was the first one in a series of events and activities of the SaveGREEN project, which is funded by Interreg Danube Transnational Programme. The project partners will continue to work on the critical theme of ecological corridors in the Carpathians and other mountain ranges of the Danube region.