One third of Bulgaria is covered in forests, representing 3,8 million ha. About 55% of Bulgaria’s forests are included in the Natura 2000 network. With this in mind, it comes as no surprise that - during the process of establishing the network in Bulgaria - there were concerns raised on behalf of the forest owners/managers and even reluctance towards Nature 2000. Nature conservationists on the other hand were concerned about the quality and quantity of the network.
At the beginning of the process, there were opposing groups with different visions of how to ensure the protection of the Natura 2000 forest habitats. Conflicts flared up each time plans for timber use were adopted. Forestry enterprises were reluctant to limit their activities in Natura sites because of the consequent loss of revenue. Environmental organisations, on the other hand, saw that the lack of sufficient measures was leading to further biodiversity loss. The constant conflicts jeopardised any state action in favour of the protection of forest habitats in Natura 2000 sites.
To address this problem, the Executive Forest Agency in partnership with WWF Bulgaria, the Association of Parks in Bulgaria and the Balkani Wildlife Society carried out extensive surveys and GIS mapping to draw up an inventory of old growth forests in state-owned forest habitats within Natura 2000 across Bulgaria. A process of agreeing the ﬁnal list among interested stakeholders was carried out in the form of stakeholder’s consultations After a long process of exchange, discussions and reviews, interested stakeholders agreed on the final list.
In November 2016, an additional 109 300 ha of old-growth forests were designated for protection and excluded from harvesting, upon an Ordinance of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. This represents nearly 10% of each forest habitat type (25 out of 27 forest habitats occurring in Bulgaria) within the Natura 2000 network (145 Site of Community Importance (SCIs)), and translates into a 3% extension of the network. This is a significant result in the context of Bulgaria, considering that the forests protected in the forest reserves of the country represented only 79 000 ha. In 2015, the first agreed definition of old-growth forests was incorporated into national forest legislation.