LIFE Project Cover Photo

Conservation of imperial eagle and saker falcon in key Natura 2000 sites in Bulgaria

Reference: LIFE07 NAT/BG/000068 | Acronym: BSPB LIFE+ SAVE THE RAPTORS



With its three bio-geographical regions and geographic position, Bulgaria is one of richest countries in Europe in terms of species and habitats. More than 30% of the country's territory is included in the Natura 2000 network. Nevertheless many species and habitats are threatened by rapid development throughout the country. Two such species are the imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca) and saker falcon (Falco cherrug). Both species are listed in Annex I of the Birds Directive and are classified as endangered. In Bulgaria the two species share the same habitats, open hilly grasslands (mainly for foraging), and are considered as "flagship species" for these areas. Both species severely declined over the period 1970-1990, mainly as a result of habitat loss and degradation, electrocution by overhead power-lines, and direct persecution. Many of the open hilly grasslands were being cultivated and this severely affected prey populations associated with these grasslands - in particular the souslik (Spermophilus citellus). When the project was launched, there were just 20 known nests of the imperial eagle in Bulgaria and none of the saker falcon.


The LIFE project aimed to:

  • Reduce the impact of direct persecution of the imperial eagle and saker falcon;
  • Reduce the impact of indirect threats to the imperial eagle and saker falcon;
  • Maintain and enhance habitat for the imperial eagle and saker falcon in Natura 2000 sites designated for these species;
  • Prevent further loss of imperial eagle and saker falcon nest sites and create new sites;
  • Ensure that best practice in imperial eagle and saker falcon conservation is mainstreamed into Natura 2000 site management;
  • Create positive attitudes to the imperial eagle and saker falcon among key stakeholders.
  • Expected results involved:

  • The Bulgarian population of saker falcon would be saved from extinction;
  • Imperial eagle breeding numbers would increase by at least 20% (four new occupied territories) in the project area and adjacent regions;
  • Average breeding success of imperial eagles in the project area would be maintained at not less than 1.1 fledglings per nesting pair during the project period;
  • Some 20 ha of key breeding habitat (imperial eagle nest sites) and 50 ha of key feeding habitat (souslik colonies) would be purchased by BSPB and managed for conservation of the imperial eagle and saker falcon;
  • The most dangerous power-line pylons within a 5 km radius of all imperial eagle nests were to be insulated to prevent accidental electrocution;
  • Key settlement areas of the imperial eagle in Bulgaria would be identified and basic conservation measures for them undertaken;
  • Species action plans for the imperial eagle and saker falcon would be approved by the Bulgarian government, thus ensuring sustainability of the conservation of both species;
  • A total area of 5 ha (10 plots) of imperial eagle breeding habitat (riverine forest with poplar trees) was to be restored;
  • Thirty artificial nests for imperial eagle and 80 artificial nests for saker falcon would be installed;
  • At least six local support groups were planned in order to assist conservation action for the imperial eagle and saker falcon.


    The beneficiary was not able to find active nests of saker falcons, despite sightings of single birds and even pairs. This confirmed that the number of this species is critically low in Bulgaria. However, the project was able to significantly raise the breeding success of imperial eagles. Nine new breeding pairs formed during the project, bringing the national breeding population up to 25 breeding pairs. This represented a 20% increase in population size of the imperial eagle during the project lifetime and a 30% increase in the breeding success of imperial eagles. After the installation of 37 artificial nests for imperial eagles, three of these nests were occupied by newly-formed pairs.

    Despite the project’s significant achievements in conservation imperial eagles, key threats to the birds prevail. The main threat identified for the raptor is electrocution by more than 5000 un-insulated electricity poles that were mapped by the project. A priority list of those poles posing most danger was identified (i.e. those close to imperial eagles' nests) and these were targeted by the project. Some 595 electricity network poles (49 km of power lines) were then insulated, which is almost three times the original target of 200. This work was completed within the planned budget and outcomes entirely eliminated the threat of electrocution in nesting territories of seven pairs of imperial eagles.

    Land acquisition followed by active management changes led to 61.60 ha of pastureland supporting colonies of the prey species European souslik and 14.32 ha of riverside forest habitat for the birds were also protected using similar methods. In addition, a new agri-environment measure supporting the imperial eagle was produced for Bulgaria’s Rural Development Programme, which will allow the restoration of over 240 ha of pastureland. Further land management inputs saw project results securing 200 ha of traditionally-managed pastures being grazed by sheep. Such actions are beneficial for both imperial eagles and saker falcons.

    New knowledge was gained from satellite telemetry about the imperial eagles’ migration routes, wintering grounds and main threats for the Bulgarian population. This crucial information will be used on domestic and international level to define measures needed for the species’ long-term conservation.

    Other project success factors included good cooperation that was established with the electricity company EVN. This led to the preparation of a proposal for continuation of the project activities through LIFE12 NAT/BG/000572 (LIFE for Safe Grid) that started in 2013. Outputs from the follow-up work will insulate dangerous electricity infrastructure in South-eastern Bulgaria, where the main imperial eagles' population is located.

    The project had also had a positive socio-economic effect in terms of providing jobs and hiring local people in a region with the highest unemployment in Bulgaria.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan/After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


    Reference: LIFE07 NAT/BG/000068
    Start Date: 01/01/2009
    End Date: 31/12/2013
    Total Budget: 2,045,756 €
    EU Contribution: 1,534,317 €
    Project Location:


    Coordinating Beneficiary: Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/ BirdLife Bulgaria
    Legal Status: NGO
    Address: Yavorov Complex; Blok 7; Entrance 4, ap.1, BG - 1111, Sofia, Bulgaria Balgarija
    Contact Person: Nada TOSHEVA
    Tel: +359 2 9715855

    LIFE Project Map



    • Birds


    • protected area
    • endangered species


    • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)


    • 0 - Non applicable (i.e.species project)


    • Falco cherrug
    • Aquila heliaca


    Type Code Name
    SPA BG0002005 Ponor (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0002021 Sakar (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0002053 Vrachanski Balkan (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0002054 Sredna Gora (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0002057 Besaparski ridove (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0002058 Sinite kamani - Grebenets (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0002059 Kamenski Bair (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0002066 Zapadna Strandzha (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0000494 Tsentralen Balkan (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0002071 Most Arda (DEPRECATED)


    Name Type
    Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/ BirdLife Bulgaria Coordinator
    Royal Society for the Protection of Birds/BirdLife, United Kingdom Participant
    MME/BirdLife, Hungary Participant
    Central Balkan National Park, Bulgaria Participant
    Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna, Bulgaria Participant