2020 European Citizens Award goes to Bulgaria’s state forest managers
The special European Citizens’ Award 2020 went to the project of the Partnership for Protection of Bulgarian Old-Growth Forests, led by the Executive Forest Agency (EFA), the Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, WWF-Bulgaria, the Association of Parks in Bulgaria and the Balkan Wildlife Society.
The project helped to reconcile conflicting interests over the designation of forest-related Natura 2000 sites. The partners carried out extensive surveys and GIS mapping to draw up an inventory of old-growth forests in state-owned forests habitats. The final list of sites was agreed among interested stakeholders during a long process of exchanges and consultations. The process resulted in an additional 109,300 hectares of old-growth forests being designated for protection and excluded from harvesting. This represents nearly 10% of each forest habitat type (25 out of 27 forest habitats occurring in Bulgaria) within the Natura 2000 network (145 Site of Community Importance (SCIs)) and translates into a 3% extension of the network.
Granting the 2020 NATURA 2000 European Citizens’ Award to the project that aims at defining, designating and setting aside so-called Old-Growth Forests coincides with the inclusion of this topic into the objectives of the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2030 published by the Commission, on 20 May 2020, and the subsequent process launched within the framework of a sub-working group on forests and nature coordinated by DG ENV of the Commission.
Member States’ decisions on how to define, designate and manage their remaining old-growth forests is definitely closely observed by the European Commission and environmental non-governmental organizations, and could be used as precedents to make claims and demands for the strict protection of these areas. EUSTAFOR’s members are encouraged to study these particular cases and coordinate their views and positions, using EUSTAFOR as a platform.