Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains

One of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots

Rhodope Mountains is the only breeding area for griffon vultures in Bulgaria and it is also holds the most important breeding site for the black vulture on the Balkan peninsula.

The last remaining breeding colony of black vulture in South-eastern Europe is situated in the Dadia forest on the Greek side of the border and these huge birds regularly come over to the Bulgarian side of the mountain in search for food. Among the dozens of other raptor species can be mentioned Eastern imperial eagle, saker falcon, Levant sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon and several other eagles. The whole region is also a stronghold within Bulgaria for wolf, jackal, souslik and otter. The brown bear has begun to recolonise the Rhodopes in recent years and bear watching is already becoming a bookable tourism offer in the area.

Because of its location at the crossroads between the European and Asian continent, the impact of the Mediterranean, its pristine landscapes and the variety of habitats here in combination with the relatively small human disturbance, the Rhodope Mountains have a huge variety in species and habitats, and have become one of the bird watching hotspots in Europe.


Rewilding vision

For each rewilding area we developed an inspiring vision that shows our ambition for the next ten years. Together with our local partners we work to make this vision a reality.

What are we doing here?

Restoring food chains

Vultures are perhaps the most iconic examples of European scavengers; the sight of these majestic birds soaring overhead on thermals or feeding at a carcass can be truly captivating.

Thanks to reintroductions and species protection, threatened European vulture populations are slowly but steadily recovering. Yet as the occurrence of wild herbivore carcasses has declined, so these magnificent birds have become increasingly dependent on the carcasses of domesticated animals. Ever stricter veterinary regulations, however, mean this food source is also becoming increasingly unreliable.

Restoring natural food chains in the Rhodope Mountains is a flagship project of Rewilding Europe, supported by the European Commission through the LIFE project “Conservation of black and griffon vultures in the cross-border Rhodope mountains”. Our main focus (as in all our operational areas) is to help vultures and other scavenging species by boosting the availability of wild herbivore carcasses, thereby closing the circle of life. Together with local partners we are increasing the number of local ungulates through several annual red deer and fallow deer releases, with reintroduced animal behaviour monitored through the use of GPS collars.

In 2016 the first anti-poison dog unit also began patrolling the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area in Bulgaria, helping to protect vultures by establishing poison-free areas.

Boosting biodiversity through mosaic landscape creation

Together with partners, Rewilding Europe is creating space for natural processes like forest regeneration, free flowing rivers, herbivory and carnivory to impact ecosystems. Across the continent, the interaction of these processes leads to constantly evolving landscapes rather than fixed habitats – this dynamic is the key to preserving Europe’s rich biodiversity.

The work of Rewilding Europe and Rewilding Rhodopes is now seeing increasing numbers of keystone herbivores such as red and fallow deer, European bison and horses in the Rhodope Mountains rewilding area. Grazing trials with free-roaming wild horses will allow us to determine whether open habitats will stay open when this native herbivore is present in natural numbers.

The six bison reintroduced so far into Studen Kladenets Reserve have quickly established themselves as a major attraction for locals and visitors. They complement a free-ranging population of fallow deer, one of the largest in Europe, and red deer, reintroduced by the Rewilding Rhodopes team into the reserve.

Restoring Balkan steppe habitat

Through our efforts to restore steppe habitat by natural grazing we are also working with partners to increase populations of the endangered souslik (or European ground squirrel). Boosting populations through natural comeback and targeted reintroductions will also benefit globally threatened species like the Eastern Imperial eagle, saker falcon and the marbled polecat, which all prey on the squirrel.

The European souslik population is currently in serious decline due to habitat loss and is considered “vulnerable” by the IUCN. One of the current problems for the rodent is its strong dependence on steppe habitats managed by man, especially through livestock grazing. This makes it very vulnerable to socio-economic changes in rural areas, such as the ongoing abandonment of more traditional farming practices.

Adequate conservation and expansion оf existing souslik colonies in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria is now urgently needed. Preliminary estimations show that between 10 and 20 colonies may still exist, most consisting of no more a few dozen animals. Some of these colonies have already lost part of their habitat due to factors such as the tillage of land and construction of solar power facilities.

“This type of food chain is unique”

Stoycho Stoychev

Stoycho Stoychev
Team leader of Rhodope Mountains

How would you characterise your rewilding area?
Diversity, in one word. The Rhodope Mountains are located at one of Europe’s ecological crossroads, between Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean. The wildlife here varies from forest dwellers such as brown bear to the souslik (ground squirrel), which is a steppe animal. This is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with about 300 species recorded. The real highlight is birds of prey, with more than 30 species, including vultures. In our area vultures are part of a natural system that includes wild herbivores, predators and scavengers. This type of complete food chain – with fallow deer, wolf and three vulture species feeding on wolf kills – is unique in Europe.

What have the major achievements been in your rewilding area to date?
Fallow deer have been released at three new sites in collaboration with local hunters, while the red deer population now consists of more than twenty animals. The griffon vulture population is increasing, Egyptian vulture is stable, and we hope to welcome the back vulture soon as a new breeding bird!

Our main achievements

Image gallery

Team members

Stoycho Stoychev

Team leader

Stefan Avramov

Rewilding officer

Hristo Hristov

Rewilding officer

Dobromir Dobrev

Vulture expert

Nelly Naydenova

Communication Officer

Desislava Kostadinova

Administrative Coordinator

Zoritsa Stavreva

Enterprise Officer

Board members

Frank Zanderink
Petar Iankov
Doriana Milenkova

Partners

A dedicated entity was established in 2015, called Rewilding Rhodopes, a foundation registered in Bulgaria, who is the preferential partner for Rewilding Europe in this initiative. Both organisations signed a 5-year partnership agreement for the period 2015–2019, including a 5-year strategy.

Rewilding Rhodopes is working closely with the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) and the Union of Hunters and Fishermen of Bulgaria. The Studen Kladenets hunting reserve is a local partner.

The LIFE Vultures project (“Conservation of Black and Griffon vultures in the cross-border Rhodope Mountains, 2016–2020”) was developed by Rewilding Europe in partnership with Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation, Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds/Birdlife Bulgaria, WWF Greece, Vulture Conservation Foundation and Hellenic Ornithological Society/BirdLife Greece/BirdLife Greece.

Other important actors in the area that we work with are private businesses, regional councils, B&B owners and wildlife tour providers.

Contact

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