The lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina) is classified as a globally threatened species. Bulgarias population of the lesser spotted eagle represents the southern tip of the species distribution, and thus its conservation status is important for its overall population range. Bulgarian habitats for the lesser spotted eagle also act as important parts of the birds migration route along the second largest flyway in Europe the Via Pontica.
The LIFE for Eagles Forests projects main objective was to support the long-term conservation status of the lesser spotted eagle by securing the protection and sustainable management of the forest habitats that are crucial for its existence. This goal was to be achieved by carrying out a series of actions in 16 Natura 2000 network sites, which will involve: strengthening the strategic planning framework that guides the conservation of the lesser spotted eagle and its key breeding andhunting grounds; maintaining and enhancing feeding, breeding and roosting habitats for the lesser spotted eagle through developing and deploying a model for sustainable forest management; reducing the detrimental effects of unintended disturbance and direct persecution of the lesser spotted eagle; and enhancing 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 existence.
The LIFE for Eagles Forests project inventoried and identified the breeding areas of lesser spotted eagle (Aquila pomarina) in 16 Natura 2000 sites (SPAs) in Bulgaria. About 90 pairs of eagles were found, with 73 active nests and 77 occupied territories. In Sakar, Dervent Hills and Western Strandja were the SPAs with the highest numbers of nests. A Lesser Spotted Eagle National Action Plan was prepared and endorsed by the relevant authorities in May 2019. However, the proposed implementation of the measures adopted and included in the EU 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme (sub-measure 15.1 for the lesser spotted eagle) was not started due to a lack of political will, which is beyond the responsibility of the project beneficiary.
The project team produced the first report on the distribution of lesser spotted eagle in Bulgaria. They established a Habitat Distribution Model for the species, incorporating information on known nests, land use, terrain and bioclimatic variables, to identify potential new areas of distribution (from unsuitable to optimum areas). The project also increased knowledge of the stop-over sites for migrating lesser spotted eagle in Bulgaria, using data from birds with satellite transmitters released in Germany, Romania and Hungary, on their way to wintering grounds in Africa. Ten of the most significant stop-over sites were located.
In addition to gaining new knowledge of lesser spotted eagle distribution, the project team recorded the presence of other bird species in the 16 Natura 2000 sites during their field research, including 91 nests of other birds of prey and black storks.
The projects work led to the amendment of existing forest inventory regulation to incorporate biodiversity concerns. Including biodiversity inventory methods within the work of forest inventory companies represents an innovative concept. The project team developed a methodology for the measurement of the quantity and characteristics of deadwood and biotope trees in forest ecosystems, which was adopted by the national Executive Forest Agency in October 2018. The projects feasibility study also showed the way towards an entirely digital national forest information system that will include the forest database, forest management plans, online tracking of timber transportation, online checking of felling permits, 24/7 monitoring, forest fires reporting and statistics, pests and diseases, old-growth forests, Natura 2000 forests, and zoning of forest ecosystem services. Through the management plans for forests in Natura 2000 sites, the biodiversity-friendly management inventory was being applied on a territory of 133 000 ha by the end of the project.
The projects monitoring methodologies were developed and implemented with a view to them becoming national. Good knowledge and know-how was established for forest management practices aiming for the conservation of lesser spotted eagle and other bird species of conservation importance. Over 190 professional foresters were trained in eagle conservation and the implementation of eagle-friendly forest management practices. The project led to the nomination of 17 forestry extension services in 16 Regional Forestry directorates and the Executive Forestry Agency, to ensure the better implementation of biodiversity-friendly forest management practices. The I protect the forests and eagles in Bulgaria campaign was aimed at tackling wildlife crime in the project areas, especially direct persecution of eagles. The project team also tested a model for the protection of nesting sites against direct destruction by timber harvesting and other threats, which regularly monitored and protected about 20 pairs of lesser spotted eagle.
The project contributes to the fourth thematic priority of the 7th EU Environment Action Programme, and the development and approval of the Lesser Spotted Eagle National Action plan directly supports the responsibility of Bulgaria to the EU Birds Directive and Habitats Directive.
Most of the project funds were invested in less-developed regions, such as Strandzha and Sakar, and in local communities. To support their development, the project worked in partnerships to diversify the incomes of forest practitioners, such as the promotion of Eagles Forests honeydew honey and other non-timber forest products, and wildlife tourism. Temporary or long-term employment was created for local people and companies in the project area.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).