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Legal action against Bulgaria over nature protection laws


28 Nov 2008


Climate & Environment
Health & Consumers

Legal action against Bulgaria over nature protection laws

European Commission opens legal procedure for insufficient protection of Black Sea coast
Brussels, 27 November 2008 – The European Commission took a strong stance today by
officially opening a legal infringement procedure [1] against Bulgaria for failing to
implement the EU Birds Directive [2]. The Bulgarian government has recently agreed to a
very large number of developments that are likely to do significant harm to the unique
Kaliakra Important Bird Area (IBA) site on the Black Sea coast, which until recently was
pristine coastal steppe land. [3]

Currently, more than 450 individual development projects are constructed or proposed on
the Kaliakra site, among them tourist complexes, golf courses and more than 200 wind
turbines [4]. The projects occupy nearly 30% of Kaliakra’s land territory, which represents an
area of 25 square kilometres.

BirdLife International [5] and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds BSPB/BirdLife
Bulgaria welcome the move by the European Commission and hope Bulgaria will now take
the necessary steps to save Kaliakra – to avoid a European Court case and ultimately a heavy

Konstantin Kreiser, EU Policy Manager at the BirdLife European Division comments:
“BirdLife is in favour of sustainable tourism – and we strongly support the development of
wind energy, but what we see happening at Kaliakra has nothing to do with strategic,
responsible planning. Investors and authorities should have learned by now that sound
assessments of environmental impacts and checking for alternative solutions is the best
guarantee for successful investments. A European Court case can bring huge delays and

The Kaliakra site is a very important place for many migratory birds breeding in Northern,
Central and Eastern Europe: more than two hundred thousand storks, cranes and raptors
pass this site every autumn and spring on their way to and from the Middle East and Africa.
Some of these birds are globally threatened like Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus, Saker Falcon
Falco cherrug and Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca. Thousands of geese, including the globally
endangered Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis spend the winter in the area. These birds
would be put at a high risk by the foreseen developments, because most of their foraging or
resting places would be lost. At the same time large parts of the important, Europe wide
protected, Black Sea coast steppe habitat , would be lost if the mentioned projects would be
realised. [6]

Irina Mateeva, EU Policy Officer of BSPB/BirdLife Bulgaria [7] explains: ”We are very
concerned about the ongoing uncontrolled destruction of unique natural sites along the
Black Sea coast and the fact that the Bulgarian government seems unwilling, or unable, to
reconcile nature conservation and economic development. This should also be in the interest
of anyone who cares about the well-being of people [8] and the long-term future of Bulgaria
as a tourism destination.“


For more information, please contact:
• Herlinde Herpoel, Media and Communication Manager at BirdLife International -
Tel: +32 494 542 844,
• Irina Mateeva, EU Policy Officer at BSPB / BirdLife Bulgaria – Tel: +359 878 599 360,
• Helen Byron, International Site Casework Officer at RSPB / BirdLife UK Tel: +44 7713
Notes for the editor:
[1] Article 226 of the EU Treaty gives the Commission powers to take legal action against a
Member State that is not respecting its obligations. In a first phase, the Commission opens an
infringement procedure and addresses a ‘Letter of Formal Notice’ to the Member State
concerned. In the light of the reply or absence of a reply, the Commission may address a
‘Reasoned Opinion’ or final written warning. If the Member State fails to comply, the
Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice. If a Member
States is condemned by the Court for infringing EU law, and if it still does not comply it risks
a high penalty imposed by the Court in a second procedure (Art.228 of the EU Treaty).
[2] The EU Birds and Habitats Directives require Member States to designate Natura 2000
sites to ensure the survival of the EU’s most threatened animal and plant species and their
habitats. The ‘Natura 2000’ network of the EU covers about 18% of the EU’s territory, and
aims to reconcile human activities with nature conservation. Natura 2000 sites are not
fenced-off areas, but encourage sustainable and nature-friendly land-use and business.
Together with the Habitats Directive, the Birds Directive forms the cornerstone of EU action
to address the decline of biodiversity, which in combination with climate change is seen as
the most pressing environmental problem of the 21st century. EU governments have
committed to halting the loss of wildlife by 2010, and to implementing its nature legislation.
[3] Kaliakra is one of the most important wildlife sites in Bulgaria: a bottle neck for
thousands of migratory birds travelling from Europe to Africa and the Middle East along the
‘Via Pontica’ one of the two most important “flyways” into and out of Europe. Because of its
importance for birds the site has been identified by BirdLife as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Part, but not all, of Kaliakra IBA has been proposed for designation as a Special Protection
Area (SPA) under the Birds Directive by the Bulgarian government and will thus become
part of the Natura 2000 network (see above).
Under the Birds Directive, Member States are obliged to designate all of the most suitable
sites as SPAs to conserve wild bird species. The designation of SPAs must be based on
objective, verifiable scientific criteria, the so called ornithological criteria. To assess whether
Member States have complied with their obligation to classify SPAs, the Commission uses
the best available ornithological information. Where the necessary scientific information is
lacking, national inventories of Important Bird Areas (IBAs), compiled by Birdlife
International, are used. While not legally binding, the IBA inventory is based on
internationally recognized scientific criteria. The Court of Justice has already acknowledged
its scientific value, and in cases where no equivalent scientific evidence is available, the IBA
inventory is a valid basis of reference in assessing whether Member States have classified a
sufficient number and size of territories as SPAs.
Every autumn considerable numbers of soaring birds – up to 200,000 storks, pelicans and
cranes and more than 10,000 birds of prey, including globally threatened species like the
Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus, the Saker Falcon Falco cherrug and the Imperial Eagle Aquila
heliaca – pass through Kaliakra.
Significant numbers of waterbirds overwinter in the area of Kaliakra, mainly geese, which
stay here between December and March. They overnight in the sea and every day they fly
over Kaliakra in order to feed in the inland arable lands. Often they land to feed in the arable
land in the limits of the Natura 2000 site. Regularly, the globally threatened Red-breasted
Goose Branta ruficollis also overwinters here, where they feed in arable fields together with
Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons.
[4] The development projects proposed or constructed on Kaliakra’s land territory are 28
wind farm projects and a large number of urbanization and leisure activities such as houses,
summer villages, tourist resorts, two golf courses and a speedway. Of these projects, 364
were either approved or proposed after 1 January 2007 when Bulgaria joined the EU.
[5] BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation NGOs working in more than 100
countries and territories that, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their
habitats and the issues and problems affecting them. BirdLife is represented in 42 European
countries and in all 27 Member States.
Sign up to BirdLife’s e-newsletter today to receive a monthly update on BirdLife’s activities on EU Policy
[6] One of the key impacts of the planned developments, including from wind farms is habitat
loss: around 1/5 of the Kaliakra site will be lost due to direct impacts. For large birds such as
storks, a key concern is that they are likely to hit wind turbines when leaving the site after
overnighting. BirdLife’s position on wind energy can be downloaded by clicking on the following
[7] BSPB is the BirdLife Partner in Bulgaria. Website:
[8] “Wellbeing through Wildlife in the EU”: This 2007 BirdLife publication with a foreword
of Commission President Barroso shows how long-term economic development relies on
environmental resources and functioning ecosystems, how access to green spaces improves
physical and mental health and how education in the natural environment benefits current
and future generations. The publication contains twenty-six case studies from across the EU
and is translated by BirdLife Partners in various languages. It can be downloaded at: (see bottom of page)