Rhodope Mountains rewilding area

  • Country:
  • Start year:
  • Location:
    Rhodope Mountains
  • Size (ha):
  • Area Type:
  • Type of protection:
    Natura 2000, Specially Protected Areas

The Rhodope Mountains, Bulgaria is besides being a raptor heaven for many species including griffon, Egyptian and black vultures as well as Eastern imperial eagle, also a place to roam for many other animal species like wolf, jackal and souslik. Its location in 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, make this area to be one of Europe’s biodiversity hotspots.

Arda river Canyon bend, Madzharovo, Eastern Rhodope mountains, Bulgaria


  • Habitat types: River and brook streambeds, low mountains, beech-oak forest, shrublands
  • Keystone species present: Wolf, brown bear: low number, red deer, wild boar, jackal, Griffon vulture, Egyptian vulture, Black vulture, Eastern imperial eagle
  • Fauna (mega) species present: Fallow deer, Konik horse, Chamois, Red fox, Otter, Souslik, Rhodopi short horn cattle, saker falcon, Levant sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon
  • Fauna species reintroduced: Reintroduction of wild living horses, wild living cattle, European bison, restocking of fallow deer and red deer. In direct collaboration with Hunting association and Hunting union.
  • Vegetation types present: Grasslands, open mosaic like forests, riverine systems, shrublands. So far there have been found around 2,000 species of vascular plants here, of which 37 are Balkan endemics – found only on the Balkan Peninsula, 22 of these are found only in Bulgaria, whereas Yurushka mullein (Verbascum juruk) occurs only in the Eastern Rhodopes. Over 20 plant species are relicts that have survived several glaciations and reached us from ancient times. Among them are the Rhodope haberlea (Haberlea rhodopensis) and “Rhodope mountain mother” (Lathraea rodopaea).


  • Description: The rewilding work here is now focusing on reintroducing and allowing nature’s own ways, the natural processes, to again play their important role. Especially the role of the wild herbivores, the carnivores and the scavengers.
  • Aim: Four priority areas will serve as inspiration for rewilding at the larger scale: Madzharovo, Byala Reka, Studen Kladenets and Chernoochene. In these core areas, non-intervention management and giving space to natural processes are pioneered towards a more natural landscape.
  • Vision: Making the Rhodope Mountains a much wilder place. For the benefit of nature and people.<br />
  • Accomplished in 10 years from now: By 2024, the Rhodope Mountains area, with its mosaic of open landscapes, oak and beech forests, grasslands and rivers, as well as rocky slopes and cliffs, has become one of the most exciting wild areas in South-Eastern Europe.
  • Uniqueness: Marvellous scenery. Unique bird, reptile and insect species. Highest diversity on butterflies, reptiles and raptors.
  • Results so far: During the New Thracian Gold project (2009-2014) many achievements have been made on which the rewilding work will build further, including:<br /> - Reintroduction of fallow deer, red deer, wild horses and European bison. Four wilderness areas in the Eastern Rhodopes are now partly managed through natural grazing by large herbivores<br /> - Development of three hides for wildlife photography tourism<br /> - Publishing several publications to promote the region include a travel map, nature travel guide book and Crossbill guidebook
  • Flagship species: Vulture
  • Other characteristics: Community involved, Eco tourism, Education, Other, Recreational activities, Research, Sale of sustainable products


  • Inspirational value: The Bulgarian team is devoted towards the people and the nature and has inspired others without telling what to do, all of them found their own way to act. Concrete help and lots of media attention made them believe that there is something special about their region. Having their B&B or animals on television or in the newspapers made them proud about themselves and about the project. In a couple of years the region became a growing popular destination in Bulgaria and abroad and has now thousands of visitors per year. So more people start to invest. Also hunting groups are inspired and open up their doors to tourists in the non-hunting season, and are motivated by the reintroduction of deer, bison and horses.
  • Experience you would like to share: Motivating local people, working on trust<br /> Working together with hunting associations<br /> Forming a good team<br /> Learning from reintroductions of several species like red and fallow deer, wild living horse, bison and wild living cattle.
  • Experience you would like to gain: How to attract more local and foreign tourists<br /> Catching wild animals


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