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:
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).