VII.2 Srebarna Nature Reserve (Bulgaria)
At its nineteenth session (Berlin, 1995) the Committee had requested the Bulgarian authorities to submit a threat mitigation status report to its twenty-second session in 1998. The Bulgarian authorities submitted the report requested by the Committee on Srebarna Nature Reserve, on 28 August 1998, and invited the Centre and IUCN to field a mission to verify the results of measures undertaken to mitigate threats to the integrity of Srebarna. A team consisting of one specialist each from IUCN and the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, and a consultant representing the Centre, visited Srebarna and Sofia, Bulgaria, from 1 to 6 October 1998.
The Committee reviewed a summary of the report submitted by the mission team, which included: (i) a brief description of Srebarna's World Heritage values; (ii) causes which led to the decline in Srebarna's ecology and state of conservation and its inclusion in the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992; (iii) principal findings concerning the results of rehabilitation measures implemented by the Bulgarian authorities; and (iv) proposals for recommendations to be made by the Committee to the State Party.
The Committee recalled that Srebarna Nature Reserve was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1983. This 602 ha. fresh water site on the flood plain of the Danube River was acknowledged to be of regional and global significance under criterion (iv) of the 1983 Operational Guidelines; i.e. geological and physiographic formations and precisely outlined areas which are habitats of species threatened by extinction, and of plant or animal species with extraordinary and universal value from the point of view of science, nature protection or natural beauty. The site was of particular significance as a nesting site for the Dalmatian pelican, ferruginous duck, the pygmy cormorant and corncrake.
Srebarna was disconnected from the Danube in 1949 by the construction of a dike between the lake and the river. Engineering efforts in 1979 to mitigate the impacts of the dike construction were not successful. Between 1985 and 1990, the adverse impacts of a protracted drought in the Balkan peninsula, and the cumulative impacts of historical and recent anthropogenic influences became more readily observable in the deteriorating ecological conditions of Srebarna. The latter causal agents and the regulation of annual Danube flood crests by the Romanian Iron Gates control structure led to decreasing inundation of Srebarna by the Danube waters. The introduction of modern agricultural practices (chemical fertilizers and insecticides) and the increase in domestic animal populations in the surrounding arable drainage area also led to net adverse results. These results include increased levels of dissolved nitrogen and phosphate, and sedimentation and turbidity, decreased water column and lake volume, increased primary productivity and significant changes in the structure of phytoplankton populations. An acceleration of eutrophication and the transition of Srebarna from a lake to a marsh, the decline of biodiversity (particularly fish species), the diminished use of the area by rare and threatened resident and migratory bird species, and reduced nesting success ratios of key breeding bird species of World Heritage significance was also noted. At its sixteenth session in 1992, the Committee included Srebarna Nature Reserve in the List of World Heritage in Danger; in 1993, Srebarna was placed on the Montreux Record, a register of sites in need of priority conservation action in the implementation of the Ramsar Convention.
In 1995, the Committee examined a state of conservation report from the State Party which indicated that a canal, linking the Danube and Srebarna for the first time since 1949, had been successfully established with bilateral assistance from the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and was operational with control structures. A permanent Reserve Administration had been established and intensive monitoring studies were ongoing. In 1996, the Committee examined a monitoring report prepared by the Ramsar Secretariat indicating that the new canal and water control structure were operational allowing water into Srebarna Lake. It also indicated that the Dalmatian pelican nesting colony had been re-established at levels higher than that found at the time of Srebarna's inscription on the World Heritage List in 1983. In 1997, a 35,000SF allocation from the Ramsar Small Grants Fund (1997), enabled the initiation of the preparation of a management plan for Srebarna.
The Committee was pleased to learn that the team that undertook the mission from 1 to 6 October 1998 had been able to observe continuing improvements in the state of conservation of Srebarna. The team concluded that significant affirmative actions and investments have been made by the Bulgarian authorities to investigate, analyse and mitigate threats to Srebarna's World Heritage values. In particular, the mission team noted the following positive results:
A. The re-establishment of an operational, seasonal connection between the Danube and the Srebarna Lake and surrounding wetlands has resulted in an increase in the water volume and water column, dilution and/or reduction of dissolved nitrogen and phosphate levels and lowered turbidity; phytoplankton populations have been re-established and their structure stabilised and fish species diversity had increased to pre-inscription (1983) levels;
B. The 1998 breeding success ratio of the nesting colony of Dalmatian pelicans significantly exceeded 1980s average population levels; 80 breeding pairs produced 99 successfully fledged chicks, registering a marked improvement over success ratios recorded for any period since Srebarna's recognition as World Heritage. The sixty breeding pairs of pygmy cormorant also reflect a similar significant key species response to more favourable ecological conditions now present. Other globally significant and rare water bird species including the corncrake and ferruginous duck, have also responded in a positive manner.
C. Administratively, significant legislation (Draft Protected Areas Act - No. 802-01-16) has been promulgated by the Ministry of Environment and Waters (MoEW), approved by the Council of Ministers, and is under a second review in the National Assembly. The intent of this legislation is to strengthen conservation in Bulgaria in general and harmonize Bulgarian protected area classification with international standards, including relevant European Union Directives. Elements of the draft legislation have a particular relevance to the continuing recognition of Srebarna, as a "strict" nature reserve where activities other than scientific research are excluded.
D. A small but competent staff has been established for the Srebarna Nature Reserve management and is currently cooperating well with the Academy of Science on ongoing monitoring activities; an automated weather recording facility is in place and will facilitate monitoring activities. Both management staff and Academy researchers appear on excellent terms with local community leadership that would be necessary to establish effective co-operation for the management of the buffer zone. Although the necessary integrated management planning process has been initiated, the final draft of the plan may still be 18 months away and does not appear to adequately involve public participation, or to address ethno-historical and socio-economic considerations. The plan outline may not necessarily translate into an action plan in its current form.
In the light of the significant improvements in the state of conservation of Srebarna, the Committee:
1. Commended the State Party for the efforts undertaken to restore Srebarna's environment and World Heritage values to 1983 standards;
2. Encouraged the State Party to accelerate the interdisciplinary management planning and threat mitigation efforts and continue to pursue intensive monitoring to assure continued ecological restoration so that the area may be removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger when it can be demonstrated that recovery appears sustainable;
3. Encouraged the State Party to seek the necessary cooperation with Romania to assure that the feeding areas and flyways for the Srebarna breeding Dalmatian pelican population are offered safe haven, and based on the terms of the World Heritage Convention (Article 6.3), to establish a more favourable hydraulic regime of the Danube River;
4. Encouraged the State Party to actively participate in regional and international scientific, and management exchanges to further benefit the management of all the Danube River wetland resources;
5. Encouraged the State Party to explore the ways and means to collaborate with other States Parties sharing resident and migratory bird species and populations to collectively consider a composite transboundary "Danube Wetland World Heritage Site", to link and embrace all suitable and qualified areas which collectively represent a globally significant and outstanding natural and cultural resource.
The Committee will consider removing Srebarna from the List of World Heritage in Danger upon the passage of the pending Draft Protected Areas Act (No. 802-01-16) or substantively similar conservation legislation, the satisfactory and timely completion of the Srebarna Management Plan together with the establishment of effective resource and buffer zone management regimes compatible with restoring and maintaining World Heritage values, and the provision of data to support indices of sustained World Heritage value recovery through to the year 2000. To this effect the Committee suggested that the State Party:
(i) involve the local community and NGO representation in the management planning process and in the formulation of specific co-operative actions which may be required in the management of the buffer zone and the adjacent Lake Srebarna drainage area;
(ii) consider acquiring additional scientific data and information including ethno-historical and palaeobotanical analysis of lake sediments prior to dredging activity, and to complete aerial-photographic records for management planning;
(iii) develop a Srebarna Action Plan establishing management and environmental education, interpretation priorities and requirements to supplement the Srebarna Management Plan as outlined; and
(iv) continue to participate in the implementation of activities that mutually support the objectives of the World Heritage Convention, Ramsar Convention, and the Man and the Biosphere Progamme (MAB).