Europe and Central Asia

Bulgarian government condemned by Court for failing nature

By BirdLife Europe, 14 Jan 2016

According to a ruling at the European Court of Justice today, Bulgaria is failing to protect nature and putting threatened species at risk.

The country’s government hasn’t properly safeguarded a Natura 2000 site on the Kaliakra cape and adjacent coastal areas on the Black Sea, allowing a large number of developments to go ahead.

The region is part of the wintering grounds of the Red-breasted Goose, a globally threatened species, and it is on the migration route of thousands of birds, such as White Storks and Great White Pelicans.

Projects such as wind turbines, a golf course, spa and hotels have been approved and built in the area by Bulgarian authorities, despite the likelihood it would lead to significant disturbance of these protected species. As a result, the court has found Bulgaria to be breaching the EU’s Birds and Habitats Directives.

The Bulgarian government has also breached the Directives by failing to fully designate the Kaliakra area as a protected Natura 2000 site. Although the government had designated the coastline as part of the site, until recently it was not protecting the inland agricultural areas that are vital for internationally important bird populations.

And it’s not just a problem for Bulgaria – the effects of poor planning in this area can be felt more widely across Europe. For example, many of the storks seen in Berlin will have passed through Kaliakra on their migration.

Commenting on the court’s ruling, Wouter Langhout, BirdLife Europe’s EU Nature Policy Officer, told us: “With this judgment, the European Court of Justice sends a strong message to Bulgaria. Natura 2000 sites shouldn’t be bulldozed and turned into golf courses, and windfarms can’t threaten major migration routes of birds. Member States need to stop allowing such sites to be destroyed and develop renewable energy in a way that protects nature.”

BirdLife’s Partner in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), has been fighting the continued degradation and destruction of this amazing wildlife site for more than a decade.

Stoycho Stoychev, BSPB’s Conservation Director, said: “The judgment of the European Court of Justice reminds us that the Law should be respected and fully implemented. This judgment creates a loud and clear need for the Bulgarian government to take immediate action to remove impacts on the damaged Natura 2000 sites. It is also important that Natura 2000 sites all over the country are properly protected and the government should ensure that it does not allow damaging projects in Natura 2000 areas, but instead encourages sustainable development that is profitable both for nature and people.”

As a European Commission 'Fitness Check' of the Birds and Habitats Directives continues, the Kaliakra case demonstrates the importance of these laws. The EU should be able to act where national governments are failing. Failure to protect Kaliakra could undermine conservation efforts happening elsewhere. For example, projects in Romania at Lake Techirghiol work towards protecting the Red-breasted Goose, one of the species at risk from development in Kaliakra. The Eastern Corbières area of France is also a key location on a migratory route for White Storks, but changing land use there is affecting habitats.

In order to protect the Birds and Habitats laws, also known as the Nature Directives, from being reopened and potentially weakened, the Nature Alert campaign has been led by BirdLife and other environmental organisations. More than half a million people - a record-breaking number - responded to a public consultation on the issue last summer, with the overwhelming majority in favour of safeguarding the laws and improving their implementation.

More information on the Birds and Habitats Directives is available here.

The Court of Justice’s judgment is available to view here.