No arrangements have been put in place for the conservation of a large part of the protected areas from the NATURA 2000 network in Bulgaria

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23.12.2019

On the basis of its performance audit "Efficiency of the management of the NATURA 2000 network for the purpose of protecting the environment and the local population in the areas of the network" for the period 2016-2018, the Bulgarian National Audit Office has found that the management of the NATURA 2000 network for the purpose of protecting the environment and the local population is not yet effective.

1. The following shortcomings have been observed in the actions on the part of the Ministry of the Environment and Waters (MoEW) related to the establishment of the NATURA 2000 network, which have led to a significant delay in the implementation of the activities:

- shortcomings in the harmonisation of the national legislation and incomplete transposition of the requirements of Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora and of Directive 2009/147/EC on the conservation of wild birds;

- as at 31 July 2019, the Minister of the Environment and Waters has not issued orders to designate 211 protected areas out of a total of 341 approved sites in Bulgaria by the European Commission. This should have been done within six years of the approval but this time limit has already expired in respect of most areas without orders. Due to the delay of the designation orders in respect of the protected areas, no arrangements have been put in place for their conservation, which is why the European Commission has started an infringement procedure. A serious risk has been created of expending public financial resources in the future due to the failure to fulfil the objectives of the EU’s environmental policy.

As regards property owners falling within the scope of protected areas, in respect of which no designation orders have been issued, the object and purposes of the protected area, the total area, the inventory of properties as well as any prohibitions or limitations on activities, etc. are not clear. This poses a risk of taking actions, leading to the damage or destruction of habitats or species, and limits the possibility of obtaining compensation/investment payments for loss of profit and expenditure incurred;

- there is no strategic framework for a long-term policy. The Minister of the Environment and Waters has failed to prepare a National Biodiversity Conservation Strategy and a National Biodiversity Conservation Plan.

2. The network management organisation is not effective due to:

- the absence of an efficient communication and coordination mechanism between the participating authorities and national, regional and municipal actors, as well as the non-governmental sector;

- no reliable management information is ensured in the financing of the implementation of the measures to allow for an objective assessment and transparent accounting of the public expenses and the result from them.

The National Priority Action Framework (NPAF) for NATURA 2000 defines the necessary funding for implementation of the measures foreseen for the NATURA 2000 network of protected areas. The budget in euros of the National Priority Action Framework for NATURA 2000 for the period 2014-2020 is 1 584 636 583 EUR. Of these funds, 94% come from the European Structural and Investment Funds, 4% from other sources and 2% constitute national financing from the state budget.

3. The follow-up of the progress and the results achieved from the implementation of the measures and activities from the NPAF is significantly hindered since:

- the planned system for monitoring, control, completion and updating of the National Priority Action Framework for 2014-2020 has not been established, making it difficult to gather up-to-date and complete information on the implementation and impossible to measure and determine the expected progress of the network;

- there is no data on the species, birds and habitats with improved conservation status in Bulgaria and no data on the degree of conservation and improvement of biodiversity in the protected areas of the network;

- the status of the habitats and species in Bulgaria is not measured, which is to show the degree of conservation and improvement of the conservation status.

The MoEW has identified the lack of an efficient management mechanism for the NATURA 2000 network and the need to improve the regulatory framework.

The Minister of the Environment and Waters has been given nine recommendations, while the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry has received two recommendations; measures should be taken to implement them by 31 December 2020.

* * *

NATURA 2000 is a coherent European ecological network of protected areas throughout Europe — in order to ensure biodiversity and the long-term protection at a favourable status of specific plant and animal species and their habitats.

The sites in NATURA 2000 are defined in accordance with two main European Union (EU) Directives — known as the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. The network is established in all EU Member States and includes special protection areas designated by them in accordance with the two Directives.

NATURA 2000 is the world’s largest network of biodiversity-rich protected areas, which covers 1 % of the land area and 6% of the EU’s maritime territory.

The Directives provide protection for about 1 500 animal and plant species and approximately 200 rare habitat types.

In total, the protected areas from NATURA 2000 in Bulgaria are 341, covering 34.9% of the territory of the country.

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