The European Commission is taking Bulgaria to the Court of Justice of the EU over its failure to protect unique habitats and important bird species in the Rila Mountains. The Bulgarian authorities have failed to widen the zone classified as a special protection area in order to provide adequate protection to endangered species of wild birds.
Rila, the highest mountain range of Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula, is among the most valuable areas in Bulgaria and in the EU for the conservation of 20 vulnerable bird species. Under the EU legislation on the conservation of wild birds (Directive 2009/147/EC), Member States are obliged to designate special protection areas for the conservation of species in danger of extinction, those vulnerable to specific changes in their habitat, or those considered rare or requiring particular attention.
Bulgaria has so far properly classified 72% of the zone as a special protection area. However, this does not cover significant parts of the habitats of 17 endangered bird species listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive, thus putting at risk the conservation of species such as Tengmalm's [Boreal's] owl (Aegolius funereus) and the Eurasian pygmy owl (Glaucidium passerinum), as well as the white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos), the three-toed woodpecker (Picoudes tridactilus), the hazel grouse (Bonasa bonasia) and the black woodpecker (Dryocopus martius).
Despite the Commission's reasoned opinion sent in October 2014 about the need to extend protection areas in the Rila Mountains, Bulgaria has not complied with this obligation. The Commission is, therefore, referring this case to the Court of Justice of the EU.
In January 2016, the Court ruled against Bulgaria (case C-141/14) in a similar case concerning the designation and protection of Kaliakra, another important area for protection of birds in the Southern Dobruja region of the northern Bulgarian Black Sea Coast.
In Europe, many species of wild birds are in decline, and markedly so in some cases. This decline disturbs the biological balance and is a serious threat to the natural environment. Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds aims to protect all species of wild birds that occur naturally in the Union. The Directive bans activities that directly threaten birds, such as the deliberate killing or capture, destruction of nests and removal of eggs, and associated activities such as trading in live or dead birds, with a few exceptions. It also places great emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered and migratory species, especially through the establishment of a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs).
For more information:
- On the key decisions in the July 2016 infringements package, see full MEMO/16/2491.