European Natura 2000 Award
From a highly competitive shortlist, the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds’ innovative project to preserve the globally threatened imperial eagle was the winner of the Natura 2000 Award for conservation.
Electrocution by energy pylons is one of the greatest dangers facing the birds in the Sakar Special Protection Area, home to nearly half of Bulgaria’s eastern imperial eagle population. Between 2009 and 2013, 67 % of eaglets died in this way. With support from the LIFE programme, the BSPB worked with power company EVN AG to insulate 595 hazardous electricity poles spanning 59 km.
“The most important problem was establishing an environment of mutual trust and cooperation between the BSPB, as a nature conservation NGO, and the EVN, as a private company that operates the electric grid,” says BSPB Projects Director Svetoslav Spasov. “This was achieved thanks to a consistent, professional and committed attitude from both sides.”
As a result, no electrocuted eagles have been found in areas with insulated pylons, contributing to an observed increase of 25 % in the number of breeding pairs. “It is quite likely that the prize will be used to cover expenses for BSPB volunteers who will be guarding the nests during the next breeding season in 2015,” predicts Mr Spasov. “Nest guarding is a very efficient way to increase breeding success, but very few donors are willing to support it.” Bulgaria’s imperial eagle population is unique in the EU because it is the only one with a specific Anatolian gene.
Financial support is also needed for activities such as supplementary feeding and building artificial nests, as well as purchasing land. The project is covering an ever-wider area, drawing in new companies, and extending protection from electrocution and collision to more species, such as the Egyptian vulture, the Saker falcon and the Dalmatian pelican, in the south, south-east and north-east of Bulgaria.
“The award was highly appreciated by all the BSPB’s partners at national and international level,” says Mr Spasov. “It helped to raise the profile of the organisation and establish new and valuable contacts that will be helpful in future conservation initiatives and actions. The general knowledge of Bulgarians about the Natura 2000 network is not as good as we conservationists would like it to be,” he admits, adding that the wide national and local media coverage of the award should help to correct this. The BSPB is now planning a special event to promote its activities among local people in the region of Topolovgrad, “the town of eagles”.
Natura 2000 site Sakar, Bulgaria