Vratsa Karst Nature Reserve

Date of Submission: 10/10/2011
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Environment and Water
State, Province or Region:
Vratsa district, Vratsa municipality
Coordinates: N43 10 02.4; E23 35 20.6
Ref.: 5639
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Description

Vratsa Karst Nature Reserve covers an area of 1438.9 ha and includes the northern rocky slopes of the Vratsa Mountain, West Balkan Mountain Range. The Reserve contains an impressive, continuous 10 km long rocky outcrop with NW-SE direction, divided in the middle by the Vratsata Gorge and Leva River.

The territory includes a major karst region with exceptional natural beauty. Specific to the Reserve are the abundance of characteristic karts formations, which cover about quarter of the territory. The rest of the area is covered mainly by mixed deciduous forests of oak, hornbeam, flowering-ash, maple and less beach forests, and mountain pastures and meadows.

The Reserve was declared for the protection of interesting geomorphologic formations with a global significance - whirlpools, sinkholes, caves, gorges, vertical rock walls, abysses, etc. The Vratsa Karst Reserve is a typical example of three-layer karst formation with many attractive surface and underground forms with a spectacular concentration on small territory. There are 43 registered caves in the Reserve and many caves are yet to be discovered.

The "Vratsata" Gorge, in the reserve, is a geologic phenomenon with international significance. The vertical rock walls of the gorge reach 450m. These are the highest cliffs on the Balkans and the highest at this altitude in Europe. The highest seasonal waterfall in Bulgaria is found in the Vratsa Karst Reserve as well - the Skaklia waterfall, which is more than 140 m high.  

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Vratsa Karst Nature Reserve encompasses a unique karst massif with picturesque landscapes - a 10 km long   rock formation varying in altitude between 300 and 1400 m a.s.l. A rock massif of this scale, at this altitude is a very rare phenomenon worldwide.

The Vratsa Karst is a typical example of three-layer karst formation with very interesting surface and underground forms.  The Reserve hosts a unique complex of Mediterranean and sub Mediterranean plant species, that here grow far outside the Mediterranean basin borders. Many are Balkan and Bulgarian endemics.

The reserve is important for in-situ conservation of number of plant and animal species and their habitats. The international importance of the Reserve is dedicated to the conservation of chasmophytic vegetation and the bird species that nest on the cliffs. The caves of Vratsa Karst are home to 12 invertebrates that are local endemics and can not be seen any where else in the World. These species have outstanding value from the point of view of science and conservation.

Criteria:

(vii) The property includes unique karst massif with a spectacular landscapes:  rock walls, rock towers, abysses, caves that individually and collectively are admired by all.. A great diversity of colours is provided by the contrasts between the bare pale-coloured rock surfaces and the broadleaf forests and the mountain meadows and pastures below. The "Vratsata" Gorge is an astonishing rocky formation with the highest rocky walls on the Balkans - more than 400 m high.

(viii) Vratsa karst as a classical example of three-layer karst formation with the characteristic surface and underground forms contains an internationally important combination of earth science values especially for geology and geomorphology. The quality and concentration of highly varied limestone formations is notable  in a global context. The underground karst is very well developed with numerous caves, crevices and passages. There are 43 registered caves and numerous unregistered ones. .

(ix) The territory is rich in calciphilous and thermophilous plant species and it is representative in examples for the flora of the karst regions in Europe. The significant amount of calcareous rocks and cliffs in the Vratsa Mountains define the wide distribution of chasmophytic vegetation. As a rule, this vegetation prefers dry and sunny calcareous rocks. The Mediterranean and sub-Mediterranean plants growing on the calcareous rocks in the Vratsa Karst are marvelous examples for the evolution and adaptation of these species to their northern distribution far from the Mediterranean basin. Numerous relics can be found as well, which show the ancient origin of the flora of the reserve and the historical development of the ecosystems.

(x) The Reserve is characterized by significant species diversity, despite the small territory. More than 45 species of fungi and more than 80 species of lower and 560 species of vascular plants can be found here. One plant species is included in the IUCN Red Data List. Priority for conservation according to the Bern Convention and the EC Habitat Directive includes  1 species. Eleven species are included in the list of SITEC. The Bulgarian Red Data book (1984) includes 21 plant species that occur in the Reserve.

A population of Chamaecytisus kovacevii, included in the IUCN Red Data List is protected in the Reserve. The species is a Bulgarian endemic and is distributed scarcely in the country. Vratsa Karst Reserve provides for the protection of populations of critically endangered in Bulgaria Silene alpinа and the relict Centrantus kellereri. These species have only two localities each, in Bulgaria, and one of these sites is in the reserve.

The reserve is significant for in-situ conservation of the specific chasmophytic vegetation on calcareous rocky slopes and walls with high local species variation and high number of endemics.

Well developed underground karst formations - caves, abysses, and passages provides for the unique cave fauna. Highest significance for the bio-speleology includes the group of troglobionts. This group of cave dwellers consist of typical cave organisms that show a number of features that are characteristic for underground life forms.The representatives of this group are of great significance to the zoo-geography of the invertebrate fauna not only in Bulgaria, but on the Balkan Peninsular and the World .

In the Vratsa Karst Reserve, 15 invertebrates have global conservation significance. Three species are enlisted in the IUCN Red Data List and 12 are local endemics that can not be found anywhere else in the World. The protection of the reserve's cave invertebrate fauna is of exceptional importance due to its significant diversity, the high level of local and regional endemism, and the extreme vulnerability.

The Reserve protects in situ populations of a number of vertebrate species with global significance. The territory is internationally significant for the protection of the birds' species nesting on rocks. In addition 6 mammals included in the IUCN Red Data List and the CITES inhabit the Reserve. A total of 81 animal species have European significance - 23 invertebrates and 56 vertebrates, and 219 taxa are nationally significant.   

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The Vratsa Karst Nature Reserve is a protected area with the highest conservation level - strict nature reserve. The natural landscapes and processes that are essential to maintaining the property's values and integrity are in a good state of conservation. The territory is of adequate size to ensure the representation of the features and processes which convey the property's significance. The territory of the Reserve should be enlarged by 497,6 ha as has been proposed in the Reserve's  Management Plan, which will ensure the complete integrity of the property. 

For better protection of the reserve a buffer zone has been established with an area of 623 ha. Vratsa Karst Nature Reserve is situated in the Vratchanski Balkan Nature Park (30129,9 hа) and is a  Natura 2000 site. These designations augment the importance of this site for conservation.  

Comparison with other similar properties

Such massive rock formations in the altitude belt 300-1400 m of the temperate zone are very rare at  a global scale. The concentration of caves, abysses and other surface and underground karst formations is impressive for the size of this small territory. The invertebrate fauna in the caves of Vratsa Karst include unique species diversity and can not be seen any where else in the World.