The Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court suspended the execution of Pirin National Park’s new management plan, which would have allowed construction in 66% and logging in 48% of the national park and World Heritage Site.
WWF-Bulgaria has been fighting to prohibit new logging and construction in Pirin National Park since November 2016, activities that would endanger many species that depend on the area’s old-growth forests. After nothing else proved effective, in March 2017 WWF-Bulgaria and the Association of Parks in Bulgaria (APB) filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Environment and Water’s decision to not conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment of the expansion plan.
On April 29, 2020, the Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) definitively ruled that the new management plan’s omission of environmental and Natura 2000 impact assessments is illegal. The court saga, running for three years now, has finally been won by the NGOs and the citizens that have been supporting them in Bulgaria and around the globe.
Pirin has exceptionally beautiful mountain scenery and glacial lakes, and is an example of a healthy, functioning Balkan uplands ecosystem. The natural coniferous forests shelter a 1,300 year-old endemic Bosnian pine tree (Baykusheva mura) – believed to be the oldest one on the Balkan peninsula. Pirin is home to brown bears, grey wolves, chamois and 159 bird species among which is the Eurasian three-toed woodpecker, the rarest woodpecker in Europe.
“The final decision of the Supreme Administrative Court marks a milestone for nature conservation and the rule of law in the country – not only because of the final outcome, but also by setting new standards and a new court practice in the field, which will positively impact protected areas and Natura 2000 sites in the country in the future,” says Vesselina Kavrakova, CEO of WWF-Bulgaria.
In 2016-2017, 125,000 people from all over the world sent messages to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov to stop the destruction of Pirin National Park. Pirin was also included in the World Heritage in Danger campaign. US singer, songwriter and director Jared Leto and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which supports initiatives for sustainable development, called on their many followers on Twitter to join WWF-Bulgaria’s campaign. In December 2018, thousands of Bulgarians protested on the streets to defend the country’s oldest national park against construction of new ski infrastructure and logging in some of the oldest forests of Europe.
A 2018 report, prepared for WWF by Dalberg Advisors revealed that Pirin National Park, one of Europe’s most important biodiversity hotspots, has suffered irreparable damage from the construction and expansion of Bansko Ski Resort. The report provides a roadmap for developing Pirin sustainably. The conclusions state that Pirin could serve as a blueprint for sustainable management of mountain ecosystems in Bulgaria and beyond, and its nature would be protected for current and future generations.
Located in south-west Bulgaria and covering a territory of ca. 40,000 ha, Pirin is one of the three national parks in Bulgaria that all together cover 1.5% of the country’s territory. It also overlaps with two EU Natura 2000 sites, and is one of the two Bulgarian Natural Heritage Sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. The dominant part of the park is diverse limestone mountain landscape 2,000 m above sea level.
The territory includes over 70 glacial lakes and a broad range of glacial landforms including many waterfalls, rocky screes and caves. The high mountain peaks and crags contrast with meadows and rivers. The National Park includes a range of endemic and relict species that are representative of Balkan Pleistocene flora. Pirin was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
However, in 2010, UNESCO excluded the ski areas above the towns of Bansko and Dobrinishte from the World Heritage Site, identifying them as “buffer zones” to the heritage site due to the damage and destruction already caused by construction around the Bansko ski zone. The installation of those facilities led to the clearance of more than 160 ha of forests, including 120- 300 year-old old-growth trees.