LIFE + PROJECT “CONSERVATION OF IMPERIAL EAGLE AND SAKER FALCON IN KEY NATURA 2000 SITES IN BULGARIA” LIFE07/NAT/BG000068 Beneficiary: Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/BirdLife Bulgaria Project partners: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB/BirdLife United Kingdom), Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Soci- ety (MME/BirdLife Hungary), Directorate of Central Balkan National Park, Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna.

Budget: € 2 045 756; 75% (€ 1 534 317) are provided by the LIFE+ Pro- gramme of the EU.

Target territories of the project: 10 special protection areas, which are a part of the Natura 2000 network in Bulgaria – “Sakar”, “Zapadna Strand- zha”, “Sinite Kamani-Grebenets”, “Kamenski Bair”, “Centralen Balkan”, “Sredna Gora”, “Vrachanski Balkan”, “Most Arda”, “Besaparski Ridove”, and “Ponor”. Project duration: five years (2009-2013) Project manager: Svetoslav Spasov, BSPB Project team: Dr. Dimitar Demerdzhiev – Imperial Eagle conservation officer; Dimitar Gradinarov – Saker Falcon conservation officer; Nikolay Terziev – education officer; Teodora Petrova – communication officer; Maria Kiryakova – project administrator.

Contacts: Sofia 1111, Yavorov District, bl. 71, entr. 4, fl. 1; phone: 00359 2 97 99 500, fax: 00359 2 97 99 501, e-mail: BSPB is the BirdLife International partner for Bulgaria. BirdLife is the largest nature conservation organizations network in the world. The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds was founded in 1988. The mission of the organization is the conservation and protection of wild birds, of areas and habitats which are important to them, as well as of biodiversity as a whole. Through these the organization contributes to a sustainable approach in the use of natural resources and to the prosperity of people. Text authors: Teodora Petrova and Svetoslav Spasov Photographers: Svetoslav Spasov, Dimitar Gradinarov, Dimitar De- merdziev, Nicky Petkov, Emil Todorov, Ogus Altun, Peter Csonka, Yavor Iliev, Maria Kiryakova, Krassimir Svrakov, Marton Horvath, 140ideas, Nikolay Terziev, Simona Boneva, Andras Kovacs, Laszlo Novak Design: Ivelina Georgieva All rights reserved, BSPB © 2013 Abbreviations: BSPB – Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds; CITES – Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; EU – European Union; FWFF – Fund for the Wild Flora and Fauna; MME – Hungarian Ornithology Society/ BirdLife Hungary; PRD – Programme for Rural Development of the EU; RSPB – Royal Society for the Protection of Birds/ BirdLife UK ISBN 978-954-8310-24-6


CONTENTS: THE CHALLENGE Two globally threatened species can become extinct from the wildlife of Bulgaria 2 page REVEALING THE THREATS Satellite tagging and conservation activities for the Imperial Eagle and the Saker Falcon 4 page MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE PROJECT When nature conservation brings benefits to the species and habitats protection 6 page SOCIAL AND ECONOMICAL IMPACT OF THE PROJECT Benefits for the people and the local communities – today and tomorrow 7 page THE FUTURE We continue our work for the conservation of species 8 page


THE CHALLENGE set by pigeon keepers, poaching and illegal hunting, human disturbance, habitat degradation and destruction, and inadequate land management in protected areas within the Natura 2000 network.

Some of the threats to their existence are common for the two species; the project measures and actions are focused on the most serious and urgent of them. One of the main threats which led to the steep decline in the numbers of the population of the Imperial Eagle is electrocution on unprotected electricity network poles, human disturbance, the use of poisons and poisoned baits against predators, poaching (illegal hunting and nest robberies), habitat loss (breeding and hunting territories), insufficient public awareness and support for their conservation. According to the German ornithologist Paul Leverkühn in 1907 the population of the Imperial Eagle in Bulgaria numbered 1824 pairs.

At present the species is globally threatened and only 24 pairs breed in Bulgaria. The population declined by 99% over the past century, and only recently recovered from 3 pairs in 1994 to 24 pairs in 2013. The Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca*) is included in Appendix 1 of the Directive on birds, Appendix 1 of CITES and Appendix 2 of the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species and of the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. In Bulgaria the species is included in Appendices I and III of the Biodiversity Act and in the Bulgarian Red Data Book too.

The European population of the species has also reached significantly low numbers with estimates of between 1768 and 2229 pairs. The Imperial Eagle can be found in very few places in Europe; therefore the conservation and protection of its Bulgarian population is of importance at the continental level. The status of the Saker Falcon is even worse. The Saker is one of the most vulnerable birds in Bulgaria – it is on the verge of extinction. At present there are no registered nesting pairs in Bulgaria whereas in the past the species were widespread. However, for the duration of the project there have been 64 observations of the species during the breeding season.

This fact gives hope to us that in some of the territories the breeding of the species is still possible. Within the project further evidence of the main threats has been gathered and it includes: nest robberies, poisoned baits We have seen them in the centre of Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia – at Eagles’ Bridge. The statues of the majestic birds which guard the bridge are Imperial Eagles. Are the statues to become a memory of an extinct species or will we man- age to preserve the Imperials in Bulgarian wildlife?

71% OF BULGARIANS WOULD FEEL DEEPLY FRUSTRATED SHOULD THE IMPERIAL EAGLE AND THE SAKER FALCON BECOME EXTINCT* *Footnote: Data gathered by means of a nationally representative sociological survey carried out in 2009 as a part of the project *For simplicity the species is referred to as Imperial Eagle throughout this report © Dimitar Gradinarov |2


TWO GLOBALLY THREATENED SPECIES CAN BECOME EXTINCT FROM THE WILDLIFE OF BULGARIA Over the last century the population numbers of the Imperial Eagle in Bulgaria declined by 99%. The Saker Falcon faces extinction.

The Imperial Eagle Darik II was found shot near the town of Karnobat, © BSPB Saker Falcon, © Emil Todorov 3|


REVEALING THE THREATS ACTIVITIES AND RESULTS IN NUMBERS А series of activities were carried out as part of the project; their aim was to eliminate the threats for the Imperial Eagles. Below are some of the most important of them: We retrofitted 595 of the most dangerous power pylons in areas inhabited by Imperial Eagles – in partnership with EVN Bulgaria. BSPB and EVN Bulgaria signed a framework agreement for long-term cooperation aimed at finding a solution for the conflict between wild birds and the electricity network in South-West Bulgaria. More than 40 local volunteers received training and were involved in the nest guarding of 7 pairs of Imperial Eagle (a total of 34 nests of As part of the project a large-scale tracking study was carried out.

It was aimed at gaining a better understanding of the reasons for the high mortality rates among juvenile Imperial Eagles. In the period 2009-2013 25 young eagles were fitted with satellite transmitters; at present this is the largest programme for satellite tagging of juvenile Imperial Eagles in the world. The data gathered through the tracking revealed a lot about the species, the threats it faces, its wintering and breeding sites and – most importantly –the reasons for the high mortality rate among young birds. The data allowed better prioritization of the conservation actions for the species.

We were shocked to find out that 80% of the birds with satellite transmitters whose reasons of death are known died from electrocution by perching on unprotected power pylons. Imperial Eagles were guarded over the period 2009-2013). The guarding activity resulted in an increase of the nesting success of the Imperial Eagle by 30%. Weprovidedsupplementaryfeedingfor22pairsduringthebreeding season, which contributed to their better nesting success; some pairs even managed to raise 3 eaglets – a rarity among eagles. We provided supplementary feeding for 14 pairs during the autumn and winter seasons.

This enhanced their survival through the harsh winter months. The feeding also provided the eagles with pure, poison- free food, as in winter they often feed on carcasses and thus can fall victim to illegal poison baits.

The Eagle Saci, © Ogus Altun |4


SATELLITE TAGGING AND CONSERVATION ACTIVITIES FOR THE IMPERIAL EAGLE AND THE SAKER FALCON We installed 50 specially designed aluminum nesting boxes for Saker Falcons on high-power electricity pylons across the country. This activity was carried out with the cooperation of the National Electricity Company - Electricity System Operator, with which BSPB signed a memorandum for partnership. 30 more nest boxes for Saker Falcons were installed on trees in suitable areas. Currently there are no Saker Falcons registered nesting in the nest boxes but more than 90% were occupied by other raptors such as the Common Kestrel, the Long- legged Buzzard, and the Eurasian Hobby.

We built 36 artificial nests for Imperial Eagles, which can provide a home for newly formed young pairs. Three of these nests are already occupied by newly formed Imperial Eagle pairs which bred for the first time on them. Progressinthecollaborationwiththeinstitutionsfortheprevention of wildlife crimes. We organized 17 events and trainings; 11 of them had participants from abroad; we also coordinated two visits abroad for representatives of the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior and Customs Agency to exchange experience, as well as participation in the International Conference on Poisons in Spain.

The first results were achieved already with the arrest of some offenders who are now prosecuted. A new agri-ecological measure aimed at the conservation of the Imperial Eagle was developed. It concerns the restoration of tilled pastures and provides the farmers with compensation of 324 euro per hectare – one of the highest compensation rates. So far more than 20 farmers managing a total of 240 hectares of agricultural land have applied for the new measure; the compensation received allows them to manage their land as pastures, thus preserving the habitat of endangered species.

in a state which contributes to the conservation of the Imperial Eagle. National action plans for the conservation of the Imperial Eagle and the Saker Falcon in Bulgaria were approved. The plans highlight the most important actions for the conservation of the two globally threatened species of birds in Bulgaria for the next 10 years. International cooperation for the conservation of the Imperial Eagle and the Saker Falcon. As part of the project we established contact with partners from several countries along the migratory route for both species; joint actions were taken to diminish the threats and to build the capacity of organizations from Turkey, Africa and Eastern Europe.

The trans-boundary cooperation with neighboring Turkey for the conservation of the common population of the Imperial Eagle was a special priority task for BSPB, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Hungarian Ornithological and Nature Conservation Society (MME/BirdLife Hungary) and Doga Dernegi – BirdLife Turkey. We organized training courses for teachers which were attended by 390 teachers from 84 towns in different parts of the country. We published a Teacher’s Guide with a total print run of 1000 copies. The Guide was distributed during the trainings and at meetings with teachers and uploaded on the project web site.

During the project was established very good cooperation with the Ministry of Education and Science and its Regional Inspectorates.

We established beneficial connections with national and regional media; as a result the subject of the conservation of the Imperial Eagle gained national popularity. We organized 17 information meetings with 228 local farmers from key Natura 2000 sites. We also conducted more than 30 meetings with institutions representatives to discuss and implement the new policies for agriculture. The joint efforts of BSPB and the relevant institutions led to a change in the national standard 4.2. which regulates the preservation of land in a good agricultural and ecological state; the standard allowed up to 25% of trees and shrubs with mosaic distribution to be preserved, which in turn led to the conservation of hundreds of thousands of hectares of habitat for birds with a priority conservation status, including nesting and hunting habitats for the Imperial Eagle and the Saker Falcon.

In Sakar and in the Ponor region we established two model sheep farms with more than 700 sheep; the farms help the management of 200 hectares of pastureland as habitat for the European Souslik. The latter serves as an important food source for the Imperial Eagle and the Saker Falcon. We restored a high-mountain pen for sheep in Central Balkan National Park; also, 50 hectares of pastures were cleared of junipers. We planted 6000 poplar trees on a total area of 12.6 hectares in order to restore riverside forests which will provide nesting sites for the Imperial Eagle in the future.

We purchased land plots which are valuable for the conservation of the Imperial Eagle.

As part of the project BSPB managed to purchase 72,36 hectares of riverside forests and threatened pastures with souslik colonies. They were consigned for management to local farmers for free under the condition that the pastures are kept Map: BSPB 5|


MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE PROJECT WHEN CONSERVATION BRINGS ACTUAL BENEFITS TO THE SPECIES AND HABITAT CONSERVATION 20% increase in population size of the Imperial Eagle during the duration of the project; 30% increase in the breeding success of Imperial Eagles; 3 artificial nests for Imperial Eagles were occupied by newly formed pairs; 595 electricity network poles (49 km of power lines) were protected; thus the threat of electrocution in the nesting territories of 7 pairs of Imperial Eagles was eliminated entirely; 58,04 hectares of pastureland with European Souslik colonies and 14,32 hectares of riverside forests were protected by means of purchasing the land and changing its management.

The new agroecological measure for the Imperial Eagle of the Rural Development Programme will allow the restoration of over 240 hectares of pastureland; 200 hectares of pastures are managed in the traditional way with grazing herds of sheep which is beneficial for both Imperial Eagles and Saker Falcons; Satellite telemetry revealed the migration routes, the wintering grounds and the main threats for the Bulgarian population of Imperial Eagles.

Insulation of power poles, © Svetoslav Spasov © Nicky Petkov |6


SOCIAL AND ECONOMICAL IMPACT OF THE PROJECT partnerships for good practices exchange, the development of tour- istic opportunities and local economic growth, the promotion of the region and the creation of the local brand “Topolovgrad – the Town of Imperial Eagles”, and the foundation of a local event: the Festival of traditional local products in the town of Topolovgrad. The cause of nature and biodiversity conservation in general, and of the Imperial Eagle and the Saker Falcon in particular reached nearly 400 teachers and 40 experts from the Regional Inspectorates of Education via more than 30 meetings and trainings organized as part of the project.

More than 600 publications in national and regional media, including TV stations, radio stations, printed and online media. The media inter- est and the raising of the problems at the national level contribute to the building of a feeling of significance and self-confidence in local communities. The project for the conservation of the Imperial Eagle and the Saker Falcon contributed to other EU policies too. Project experts took part in the meetings of the Agriculture Task Force Group at BirdLife Inter- national for the development of a concept of a Common Agricultural Policy for the next programme period of 2014-2020.

Our work for the preservation of pastures and the planting of poplar trees contributed to the EU policy for the mitigation of climate changes, as well as for the implementation of the new Strategy for Biodiversity of the EU. The programme for protecting electric network poles developed as a part of the project contributes to the new EU policy for regulation of the electricity distribution network.

BENEFITS FOR THE PEOPLE AND THE LOCAL COMMUNITIES – TODAY AND TOMORROW An investment of €2 000 000 in the economy of Bulgaria; €1 500 000 of these were contributed by the EU. Short- or long-term employment for more than 150 people, mostly lo- cals from the regions Sakar and Zapadna Strandzha. More than 800 people involved in project activities as volunteers at the national and regional levels for the whole five-year period: local administration, supporters of BSPB, farmers, hunters, teachers, school students, media etc.

Expert assistance for administrative applications, knowledge exchange, capacity building and civil society development in local communities.

More than 200 farmers received expert assistance for their application for measures and projects under the Rural Develop- ment Programme, and more than 40 local entrepreneurs and farmers received individual consultations by experts working in the project. Significant direct investments in the local infrastructure were re- alized together with other direct benefits for the local communities. These include: hundreds of protected electric poles which improve the quality of the power supply service; thousands of trees planted; new sheep pens and cleared pastures in Central Balkan National Park; and many others.

Significant indirect investments in underdeveloped municipalities and in local communities were also realized. Among them are the Festival of traditional local products in Topolovgrad, © Nicky Petkov Poplars forestation, © Svetoslav Spasov 7|


THE FUTURE WE CONTINUE OUR WORK FOR THE CONSERVATION OF SPECIES BSPB AND THE PROJECT PARTNERS WILL CONTINUE THEIR WORK WITH THE INSTITUTIONS, NGOS AND THE ACADEMIC COMMUNITY IN TWO MAJOR STRATEGIC DIRECTIONS: Development and implementation of Management Plans for the Natura 2000 sites where the Imperial Eagle and the Saker Falcon are found; ImplementationoftheActionPlansfortheconservationofthetwospecies, which were developed during the project.

Saker Falcon, © Peter Csonka |8

© Svetoslav Spasov © Laszlo Novak 9|

You can also read