Europe and Central Asia
12 Jan 2015

BirdLife Bulgaria supports rewilding of Rhodope Mountains

Flight shots over the Arda river canyon, Madzharovo, Eastern Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria @ Staffan Widstrand - Rewilding Europe
By BirdLife Europe

The Rhodope Mountains, located southeast of Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, comprise a beautiful and wide mountain range known locally as the Mountains of Orpheus, reputed to be the birthplace of the mythical musician. According to legend, his music could charm not only wild and savage beasts but also the very rocks of the mountain and the trees in the forest.

Aside from the legends inspired by this beautiful landscape, these mountains are ecologically connected to extensive wild areas of Greece and to other Bulgarian mountain ranges, next to the famous Pirin and Rila National Parks. This geographical location makes the whole area one of Europe’s key natural hotspots with a huge potential for restoration. For this reason, the Rhodope Mountains have been chosen to become the seventh rewilding area within the Rewilding Europe initiative, which aims to make Europe a wilder continent with greater tolerance and encouragement of natural processes.

The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB BirdLife Partner) will take part in this rewilding project. Stoycho Stoychev, Conservation Director of BSPB, will be a member of the Rewilding Rhodopes team and together with Stefan Avramov, Rewilding Officer, will help to restore more than 100,000 hectares in the Eastern part of the Rhodopes Mountains. Chernoochene, Madzharovo, Studen Kladenets and Byala Reka have been chosen as the four key priority areas where the rewilding work will commence.

This is not the first time that BSPB has taken part in such a project. Between 2009 and 2014, the New Thracian Gold (NTG) project in the Eastern Rhodopes combined the expertise of conservation organisations including BSPB and the Dutch conservation organisation ARK Nature to encourage wilderness and biodiversity, organic farming practices and sustainable tourism. The experience gained from the NTG project will be applied to these new rewilding efforts from 2015 onwards.

According to Frans Schepers, Managing Director of Rewilding Europe, the process will take around 10 years and will bring back to the area key wildlife species such as fallow and red deer, horses, wolves, brown bears, several vulture species (black vulture Aegypius monachus, Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus and griffon vulture Gyps fulvus), a high number of raptor species and the Vulnerable European ground squirrel Spermophilus citellus.

With Rhodope Mountains as its seventh area, the Rewilding Europe project takes another step towards its target of establishing 10 magnificent rewilding areas across Europe by 2022.

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Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.