Interview with Dimitar Gradinarov from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) about raptor conservation in Bulgaria

Date of the interview: 09 October 2009

Bulgaria has a rich biodiversity and many European raptors species occur in this beautiful countriy, including endangred species like the Egyption Vulture, Eastern Imperial Eagle or Saker Falcon.
The Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) is working hard to protect raptors in Bulgaria. In this interview, Dimitar Gradinarov from the BSPB explains the situation of raptors in Bulgaria, what the BSPB is doing to protect them and how you can help.

Dimitar Gradinarov

Dimitar Gradinarov from the BSPB

Markus Jais: How many raptor species are there in Bulgaria?
Dimitar Gradinarov: Currently in Bulgaria you can observe 34 raptor species. Among them 22 are regularly breeding.

Markus Jais: How is the situation for vultures in Bulgaria?
Dimitar Gradinarov: All four European vultures have inhabited the country in the past. The Bearded Vulture became extinct in the mid 80-ies and the last breeding attempt of the Black Vulture was in 1993.
The Griffon Vulture currently has a stable population with a positive trend. This population is located in the Eastern Rhodopes and is part of a bigger group together with the vultures of Dadia National Park in Greece. This last season we had 48 breeding pairs and 38 successful fledglings. The feeding stations in this territory are also regularly visited by Black Vultures coming from Greece. This is also the most important territory for the Egyptian Vulture, there is the core group of the Bulgarian population – 21 breeding pairs from 31 in the whole country. Unfortunately there is a negative tendency for this species and the Bulgarian populations are shrinking – as an example in 2008 there were 35 successful fledglings and in 2009 only 25.

Markus Jais: How is the situation for eagles in Bulgaria?
Dimitar Gradinarov: In general the situation for eagles in Bulgaria is good – the populations are stable and some species show a slight increase in numbers.
The size of the population for Imperial Eagle is 25-30 pairs, Golden Eagle 150-170, Booted Eagle 100-150, Lesser Spotted Eagle 300-350, Short-toed Eagle 270-320 and White-tailed Eagle 10-15.

Short-toed Eagle

Short-toed Eagle, © Dimitar Gradinarov

Markus Jais: What are the main threats to raptors in Bulgaria?
Dimitar Gradinarov: The main threat is loss and degradation of the habitat. Other threats are ploughing of pastures and steppes populated by susliks and turning them into agricultural lands which are no more suitable for hunting territories of Imperial Eagle, Saker Falcon and other raptors.
Bad agricultural schemes and practices also decrease the quality of feeding territories.
Illegal shooting is still a big problem which concerns all raptors. There are cases of vultures and eagles being killed during carnivore poisoning campaigns. In the last few years there are cases of falcons and hawks purposefully poisoned by pigeon-lovers. Saker Falcons and Peregrine Falcons, as well other raptors are still victims of illegal thefts of eggs and chicks.
In some areas disturbance during the breeding season can be a very important factor.
New threats are the quickly growing wind farms, especially the ones situated along the migratory roads along the Black Sea coast which can affect not only the Bulgarian population of some raptor species but also birds from other European countries.
Recent studies in Bulgaria show that electrocution is an important threat. On 20.09.2009 BSPB Imperial Eagle team found a young Imperial Eagle fledged in 2009 and mounted with satellite transmitter dead under an electric pylon in Western Strandzha.

Markus Jais: What is BSPB doing to protect raptors?
Dimitar Gradinarov: Since its establishment raptor protection has been one of the main goals of BSPB. From 1988 we have been working on different raptor projects. In the beginning we started with the vulture conservation in the Eastern Rhodopes and the Imperial Eagles in Sakar Mts. and Western Strandzha Mts. Today we have a Nature Information Centre “Eastern Rhodopes” in the town of Madzarovo which manages the research, monitoring and feeding of the vultures, and it also coordinates different ecotourist and education activities. We achieved sustainable conditions for the vultures in the area as we managed to establish a network with the local people to provide carcasses and we also work on raising the awareness of the community to understand the benefits of well preserved nature and to enjoy a life in a unique place with very rich natural heritage. Currently we have a very active and professional Egyptian Vulture team which gains considerable amount of knowledge about the status of the species not only in Bulgaria, but also in the neighboring countries with the ambition to investigate the threats and dynamics of populations in the global range of the species.
We have an Imperial Eagle working group which has successfully improved the status of the species. There are different conservation activities such as nest guarding, artificial feeding, building of artificial nests, electric pylons insulation, monitoring and research exploring the ecology of the species with different methods including satellite telemetry. We also work to implement agroenvironmental practices for better management of the habitats. Today we have a stable and increasing population.
There are two Saker projects running right now in Bulgaria. “Save the Sakar project” funded by BBC Wildlife Fund and “Save the Raptors” Life+ project which includes the Imperial Eagle and Saker falcon as target species. For the last few years we did systematic observations in suitable habitats of pairs and single birds and we hope that with the Hungarian conservation activities and successful stabilization of the Central European population there is natural process of re-colonization and spreading of the European Saker population.
We work also on a Red Footed Falcon conservation project. BSPB started a serious work for the protection of the species during 2006 and this year we found a small nesting colony near Burgas, which is very optimistic for the future of the species in Bulgaria.

Markus Jais: Are there any reintroduction programs (or planned) for extinct species?
Dimitar Gradinarov: Currently there are no reintroduction programs executed by BSPB.
We are concentrated on projects which are connected with species which still exist and we work to save them by different and complex conservation activities such as: habitat management and protection, habitat improvement, direct conservation activities (vulture and eagle feeding, artificial nest installation (eagles and falcons), lowering the direct negative effects such as persecution, nest robbing, poisoning, electrocution (pylon insulation) and raising the awareness on national and local level.
Although in the future we do not exclude the potential need of reintroduction programs we thinк that this is the last step in raptor conservation.

Markus Jais: Is BSPB working with other organizations in Bulgaria and neighboring countries to protect raptors in Eastern Europe?
Dimitar Gradinarov: During the years we have worked together or with good coordination with all the organizations in Bulgaria that have an interest in raptor protection - Fund for Wild Flora and Fauna, Balkani Wildlife Society, Green Balkans, Bird of Prey Protection Society. We have a good connection with MME Hungary.
In the last few years we have learned a lot from MME particularly about the conservation of Imperial Eagle, Saker and Red Footed falcons. We worked together with HOS-BirdLife Greece, DD-BirdLife Turkey, and we also have connections with colleagues from Serbia, Macedonia and Romania.

Most of the Raptors are very mobile birds and some of them make long movements and long migrations and therefore protection will be unsuccessful without joined efforts of all countries not only in Europe but also worldwide.

Long-legged Buzzard

Long-legged Buzzard, © Dimitar Gradinarov

Markus Jais: How do you see the future for raptors in Bulgaria?
Dimitar Gradinarov: We are optimistic for the future of raptors in Bulgaria.
But at the same time there are new challenges and new threats, which can potentially have very negative impacts not only for the raptors but wildlife as a whole. We have to be fast and responsive in order to make the most appropriate conservation efforts.

Markus Jais: What needs to be done by the Bulgarian Government and the EU?
Dimitar Gradinarov: There are a lot of things that can be done by the government. In Bulgaria we still have some legislation gaps, and there is especially a great need of much better implementation of the existing legislation.
There is also a lack of potential in terms of human resources and professionals in the National parks and the regional structures of the MOEW (Ministry of Environment and Water) as well. A clever government is delegating the ‘small-’ and ‘middle-sized’ tasks to organizations and bodies, that proved themselves as capable and trustworthy, and concentrate the government structures on the ‘big’ issues – law enforcement, strategic projects, etc. There is quite a lot to be done in Bulgaria in this respect.
With clear task frames and appropriate funding, the government can use wisely the great potential of the Bulgarian NGOs.
The EU has to be more wildlife protection oriented even though the EU official politics are “Green” and “Environmentally friendly” and there is a constant talk for sustainable development projects, wildlife protection is still in the shadows and there are even some seriously negative effects of some of this so called “sustainable” projects.
A good example of this controversy are the projects for green energy such as the planned 5500 wind turbines on one of the most important migration flyways for almost all raptor species of Central and Eastern Europe and the Scandinavian countries - the area around the Cape Kaliakra. Similar is the case with the micro-water power stations, which can destroy natural habitats including some that are important raptor areas.
The wildlife and particularly raptors are the soul of the system and without them the sustainability will be pointless.

Markus Jais: How can people from Bulgaria and other European countries help? Can people who live in other European countries become a member of BSPB?
Dimitar Gradinarov: There are many ways for people to help and participate in different conservation activities and actions. For example they can take part in artificial nest mounting, monitoring of griffon vultures colony in Eastern Rhodopes, monitoring of nest boxes for falcons and transects for investigation of the electrocution in important areas for raptors. Some of those activities require special knowledge and experience, but there are other more accessible practices such as artificial nest building and nest guarding which can be done by inexperienced volunteers. The most important consequence of these efforts is that most of these volunteers in the long term are going to disseminate and advocate the needs of raptor protection and thus will raise the awareness among the general public.
Everybody who shares our love and responsibility for nature can become a BSPB member. We already have members from Germany, United Kingdom, Australia and USA. If you’d like to support and join us, please write to membership@bspb.org.

Markus Jais: Dimitar, thank you very much for the interview

Further Information

Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB)

Conservation of Imperial Eagle and Saker Falcon in Bulgaria