LIFE Project Cover Photo

Ensuring Conservation of Priority Bird Species and Coastal Habitats at the Bourgas Natura 2000 Wetland Sites

Reference: LIFE08 NAT/BG/000277 | Acronym: LIFE FOR THE BOURGAS LAKE



The coastal wetlands around the city of Burgas provide important breeding, wintering and migration habitats for a significant number of bird species. The area is an important migration stop over point for hundreds of thousands of birds flying on the East European migratory route, Via Pontica. The coastal wetlands are situated in very close proximity to the city of Burgas with parts of some of them actually part of the city. Burgas is a major port on the Black Sea coast and is also a summer tourist destination, which inevitably creates conservation problems. Disturbance to the species and habitats is high and many problems must be resolved in order to safeguard the long-term survival of the ecosystems. These coastal wetlands are the most significant breeding, wintering and staging sites in Bulgaria and in Europe for four globally endangered birds – pygmy cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus), Dalmatian pelican (Pelecanus crispus), white-headed duck (Oxyura leucocephala) and ferruginous duck (Aythya niroca) as well as the bittern (Botaurus stellaris) whose population in Europe is classified as “depleted”. Despite the wetlands being classified as Natura 2000 sites and some being protected under national legislation, major threats to these species persist – habitat change, disturbance, mortality by power lines, illegal killing, accidental net catching, industrial accidents etc.


The project LIFE FOR THE BURGAS LAKES aimed to enhance the management of a complex of coastal wetlands around the city of Burgas. The project’s main objectives were to:

  • Strengthen the strategic planning framework to secure the long-term conservation of Natura 2000 priority bird species and sustainable management of their habitats through the updating of the national action plan for the conservation of wetlands; revise the national action plans for pygmy cormorant, ferruginous duck and white-headed duck, and secure the approval by the government of Bulgaria; develop the first national Dalmatian pelican action plan, and formal approval by the Bulgarian government; development of the first national bittern action plan, and secure formal approval by the government of Bulgaria; and incorporate appropriate management prescriptions for priority species to be incorporated into SPA management plans;
  • Maintain and enhance feeding, breeding and roosting habitats for the five priority bird species through repair of the dike system at Atanassovsko Lake coastal lagoon to ensure favourable conditions for the priority species; deepen the target lagoons, Poda-Mandra and Atanassovsko Lake, to maintain their favourable conservation status; cut the reed to ensure favourable conservation status of bittern and ferruginous duck; and create of roosting sites for Dalmatian pelicans and pygmy cormorants at project sites;
  • Reduce the impact of direct and indirect threats on the five priority bird species through development of response plans for industrial accidents; identify electricity infrastructure that is potentially dangerous to priority species around Atanassovsko and Vaya Lakes; establish and implement a predator control system at Atanassovsko Lake Nature Reserve; develop and implement pilot mitigation measures to reduce disturbance and direct killing of priority species by illegal fishing and hunting activities and include them in Natura 2000 management plans; insulate and mark electrical infrastructure at Atanassovsko Lake and Vaya Lake to reduce electrocution and collision risk for priority species; recommend measures to mitigate key types of pollution in nesting/ feeding habitats of priority species;
  • Ensure the main streaming of best practice in the conservation of the five priority bird species into Natura 2000 site management through the introduction of a suitable system for monitoring priority species populations and site use;
  • Enhance public understanding of and support for the conservation of priority bird species, their habitats and the wider Natura 2000 sites that are crucial for their long-term protection through development and implementation of Project Communication Strategy & Action Plans; generation of a project audio-visual archive to resource all communication activities; development and maintaining of the project website for dissemination of project objectives, activities and results; preparation and dissemination of printed communications materials integrated with the project website to improve awareness of and support for the project; ensured effective national and international media coverage of the project; design and introduction of a contemporary interpretation programme for priority species and habitats; design and installation of information signboards at project Natura 2000 sites; improvement of the visitor infrastructure and interpretation facilities at the priority Natura 2000 sites; design and implementation of a programme of educational activities and a suite of educational materials to raise awareness in young audiences; undertaking of awareness-raising workshops with priority stakeholder groups; establishment and operation of local project support groups at the three focal Natura 2000 sites; organisation of annual student training camps to increase professional capacity on direct conservation techniques for priority species and production of a layman's report.


    The LIFE FOR THE BURGAS LAKES project restored 25 ha of habitats by deepening the lakes, Mandra-Poda and Atanasovsko Lakes SPAs, and improved an additional 18 ha by reed management. These actions had an immediate positive impact on the priority species by increasing the area of suitable habitat for the target species – at least 6-12 great bitterns, 12-50 pygmy cormorants, and 20-38 ferruginous ducks and potential breeding of at least 1-2 great bitterns and three pairs of ferruginous ducks. The project demonstrated pilot methods that can be used for the management of protected areas in the future.

    The project also established safe roosting grounds by constructing eight artificial islands and 10 roosts covering 332 m2. The new roosts can host up to 464 Dalmatian pelicans and 656 pygmy cormorants. Furthermore, securing 3.7 km (~29 600 m2) of dikes through the non-lethal control of ground predators helped restore additional key roosting sites. As a result, losses of target species due to predation by mammals were eliminated. The further restoration of 14.5 km of dikes and barriers helped maintain around 65 600 m2 of habitats suitable for resting, roosting and perching. The dikes have been especially instrumental in supporting large and important ground nesting colonies of threatened birds and resting grounds for White and Dalmatian pelicans.

    The deployment of a specially designed protocol to monitor and prevent poaching at the three project target SPAs resulted in reducing the number of registered poaching attempts by 55%. Mortality rates were further also decreased by erecting diverters and insulating power lines. Placing 796 diverters and insulating 60 poles at 8.8 km of high-priority power lines eliminated fatalities due to collision and electrocution.

    Despite the general success of the project, some of the project actions experienced difficulties. The reed cutting was implemented on 18 ha instead of the planned 48 ha due to the difficult terrain and the need to use specialised machinery instead of hand cutting as foreseen. The narrow gauge train operated by the Salinas was restored and started operating as tourist attraction, but legislative changes and stricter safety regulations no longer permit the train to be used in this way.

    Finally, the project created an innovative and successful model of cooperation among state agencies and NGOs for the effective enforcement of nature conservation legislation. With the approval of the Ministry of Environment and Water, controlled reed burning was successfully carried out for the first time, since a ban was put in the legislation. Six strategic management documents were drawn up and endorsed.

    The project results are sustainable: the Salinas will continue to operate the dykes and barriers for salt production, thus maintaining optimum conditions for biodiversity. BSPB will also continue to run the Poda Conservation Centre, organising different types of events for the public, and will continue the management of the Poda protected site. Further improvements to the condition of the Atanasovsko Lake are guaranteed through the Salt of LIFE project, which will run until 2018.

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


    Reference: LIFE08 NAT/BG/000277
    Start Date: 01/01/2010
    End Date: 31/12/2014
    Total Budget: 1,775,006 €
    EU Contribution: 1,331,254 €
    Project Location:


    Coordinating Beneficiary: Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds
    Legal Status: NGO
    Address: Yavorov Complex; Blok 71; Entrance 4, ap. 1, 1111, Sofia, Bulgaria Balgarija
    Contact Person: Nada TOSHEVA
    Tel: +35 92 9799500

    LIFE Project Map



    • Birds
    • Coastal


    • protected area
    • coastal area
    • wetland
    • management plan


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


    • 1150 - Coastal lagoons


    • Oxyura leucocephala
    • Aythya nyroca
    • Botaurus stellaris
    • Phalacrocorax pygmeus
    • Pelecanus crispus


    Type Code Name
    SPA BG0000270 Atanasovsko ezero (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0000271 Mandra - Poda (DEPRECATED)
    SPA BG0000273 Burgasko ezero (DEPRECATED)


    Name Type
    Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds Coordinator
    Royal Society for the Protection of Birds/BirdLife, United Kingdom Participant
    Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation Participant
    Municipality of Bourgas, Bulgaria Participant
    Chernomorski solnici JSC., Bulgaria Participant