Green Infrastructure in Bulgaria

1.  Policy Setting

  • The National Development Programme Bulgaria 2020 is the leading strategic and programming document detailing the objectives of the development policies of the country to 2020. While it does not refer to Green Infrastructure, it acknowledges that “the preserved nature in Bulgaria and the unique biodiversity are prerequisite not only for the provision of a supportive and healthy environment, but also for the development of perspective environmental industries – sustainable forms of tourism (ecological, balneal, SPA, etc.), organic farming, protection of lands with high natural value and protected areas, traditional farming, herbs-gathering, etc.”
  • The Environmental Protection Act (2002) sets up the basic principles of environmental law, such as: health protection; prevention of pollution; and conservation of biological diversity.
  • The Biological Diversity Act (BDA) was adopted in 2002. The law regulates the protection of habitats, of species of plants and animals and their biotopes, the elaboration of action plans, the gathering and the trade in them. The Act on Biological Diversity introduces in national practice the requirements of the Habitats and the Birds Directives, focused on preservation of habitat types and biotopes of plant and animal species. The Act on Biological Diversity envisages the establishment of a National Ecological Network including protected zones (Natura 2000 sites) and protected areas. The National Ecological Network shall include with priority the already identified CORINE sites, Ramsar sites, Important Plant Areas and Important Bird Areas.
  • Protected Areas Act (1998): According to the Protected Areas Act, protected areas are designated in order to preserve biodiversity and natural processes within the ecosystems and typical or remarkable geographic sites and landscapes (Art.4, Par.1, Protected Areas Act). The act specifies the following categories of protected areas (PA): reserve, national park, nature monument, maintained reserve, nature park, and protected site. The Protected Areas Act stipulates that development of plans to prepare protected areas management plans require the integration of biodiversity conservation with economic development with a participatory planning process.
  • The Spatial Development Act (Jan 2001, amend. SG. 49/13 Jun 2014includes a section on ‘Spatial development of green and forest areas’. Articles include for example: ‘The municipal council shall adopt an ordinance for construction and protection of the green system in the territory of the municipality.’; ‘Century-old or remarkable trees shall be announced protected and shall be entered into the register of Art. 113, par. 1 of the Biological Diversity Act. The trees announced to be protected shall be entered also in the register of par. 1.’
  • The National Action Plan for Conservation of Wetlands of High Significance in Bulgaria 2013–2022 sets protection, maintenance and restoration priorities as well as horizontal measures for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. The plan includes measures for spatial and functional re-connection of wetland habitats in line with the GI concept.
  • The National Prioritised Action Framework for NATURA 2000 (NPAF) is a strategic planning document that defines the funding needs and the conservation and development priorities for the protected sites under the NATURA 2000 network at national and regional level, facilitating their integration in the programs financed by EU financial instruments. Funding included in the programs for NATURA 2000 protected sites should be in accordance with the measures of the NPAF and their already identified sources of funding.
  • The National Ecological Network concept was set up with the adoption of the Biological Diversity Act 2002 in response to the requirements for establishing the Natura 2000 network in Bulgaria. However, it exceeds the scope of Natura 2000 as it includes all those areas identified as protected according to the 6 IUCN categories, including those of more local biodiversity significance. The National Ecological Network (incl. Protected Areas and Natura 2000 sites) covers around 37 % of the country’s territory, thus ensuring effective in situ conservation of biodiversity; however, the management plans of many of the protected areas and Natura 2000 sites have to be elaborated or updated (Republic of Bulgaria Ministry of Environment and Water, n.d.)

2.  Implementation of Green Infrastructure

  • The first Transboundary protected wetlands under the Ramsar Convention were announced in 2013, with shared management between Bulgaria and Romania. The Secretariat of the Ramsar Convention has recognized the following, already earlier listed Ramsar Sites, part of the Lower Danube Green Corridor, as Transboundary Ramsar Sites:
    • Lake Călărași (Iezerul Călărași) (RO) – Srebarna (BG)
    • Suhaia (RO) - Belene Islands Complex (BG)
    • Bistret (RO) - Ibisha Island (BG)

With the designation of these six important wetlands as Transboundary Ramsar sites, the governments of Bulgaria and Romania have declared their readiness and shared responsibility for joint coordinated management of these sites.  

  • LIFE Riparian Forests - Restoration and conservation of riparian forests habitat types in Natura 2000 sites and model areas in Bulgaria (09/2014 -02/2019). The project aims to improve the conservation status of priority habitat types, and improve the knowledge base and experience for the restoration and management of these habitats. 
  • Restoring ecological networks across transport corridors in Bulgaria (1 January 2006 to 31 December 2007, funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality and Wageningen University and Research Centre). The main objective of the project was to develop a long-term programme for defragmentation measures at transport corridors in Bulgaria in order to restore ecological networks and preserve biodiversity. This included: strengthening interinstitutional cooperation at the national and regional level on transport-ecology issues; improving implementation of transport-ecology issues in EIA statements and guidelines for the development and design of transport networks; institutionalizing the exchange of knowledge and best practices between experts from Bulgaria and other European countries to mitigate and compensate ecological impacts of the expansion of transport networks; raising political, administrative and public awareness on the impacts of habitat fragmentation due to transport corridors in Bulgaria (ECNC, n.d.).
  • GREEN: Growth, Responsibility, partnErship, Ecology, Nature (21.03.2017-20.03.2019, Interreg – IPA CBC). The project aims to contribute to enhancing the cooperation in environmental sustainable development in the cross-border area of Pinarhisar (Turkey) - Sredets (Bulgaria) through execution of small-scale investment activities in green infrastructure from both sides of the border.
  • The National Action Plan for Conservation of Wetlands of High Significance in Bulgaria 2013–2022 sets protection, maintenance and restoration priorities as well as horizontal measures for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. The plan includes measures for spatial and functional re-connection of wetland habitats in line with the Green Infrastructure concept. A number of local restoration initiatives are under way (EC, 2017).
  • The European Green Belt has a total length of over 12,500 km. It passes through eight biogeographic regions and touches 24 states. Along the Green Belt a lot of valuable landscapes can be found. Additionally, it serves as a refuge for numerous threatened species and habitats (European Green Belt, n.d.). The cross-border Rhodope Mountains are a unique landscape, with a very high biodiversity and a number of important Natura 2000 sites. Black vultures that breed in Greece forage in Bulgaria and griffon vultures that breed in Bulgaria feed in Greece (Vulture Conservation Foundation, 2016).
  • Wetland Ecosystem Services Mapping and Assessment in Bulgaria (WEMA) (€ 254,700 EEA grant) This project aims to provide the scientific basis for the assessment of ecosystem services of wetlands in Bulgaria, which are not directly associated with freshwater bodies, do not belong to the coastal marine areas and are situated outside NATURA2000 network. The project objectives include: (1) Identification and mapping of target wetlands on the territory of the entire country (2) Accumulation of data on abiotic heterogeneity and biotic diversity in the target wetlands (3) Assessment of ecological status and ecosystem services (detected or potential) of the targeted wetlands. The project outputs include: (1) Maps and descriptions of the target wetlands (2) Assessment of the current ecological state.
  • The city of Burgas participates in the Horizon 2020 project COproductioN with NaturE for City Transitioning, INnovation and Governance (CONNECTING) which aims to co-develop the policy and practices necessary to scale up urban resilience, innovation and governance via nature-based solutions. An open innovation ecosystem approach bringing together city governments, SMEs, academia and civic society will be used to co-produce usable and actionable knowledge in all cities.


3.  Mainstreaming Green Infrastructure


The EU Natura 2000 network is at the core of the EU's Green Infrastructure. Bulgaria has designated 233 Natura 2000 sites under the Habitats Directive (Sites of Community Importance/SCIs). Three of them are entirely marine sites, while 14 include marine sites in their territory. Bulgaria has also designated 119 Natura 2000 sites under the Birds Directive (Special Protection Areas/SPAs. In total, the SCIs and SPAs cover 4 105 306 ha  of Bulgaria's territory of which3 823 170 ha of land and 2 821.35 km2 of its marine territory. Bulgaria’s Natura 2000 network hosts 90 habitat types, 121 species other than birds, including 28 priority habitats and 8 priority species; 120 birds and 70 migratory birds (European Commission, 2017).

According to the BDA, in order to ensure the links between the special areas of conservation (Natura 2000 sites), the spatial-development plans, regional plans for the development of wooded areas, forestry plans and programmes and the national and regional programmes elaborated according to the procedure established by other acts, shall include measures and activities for conservation of the features of the landscape which, by virtue of their linear and continuous structure or their function as stepping stones, are essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of plant and animal populations and species. The principal features of the landscape are rivers and river banks and water-logged old river beds, natural marshes, lakes, wet meadows and other wetlands, caves, rock edges, faces and dunes, cols and other natural landforms linking separate mountains, field boundary markings, forest shelter belts, dry meadows and pastures, flood plains and riverside vegetation, forests located at an altitude not exceeding 500 metres above sea level. They are all elements of green infrastructure. 



Bulgarian forests provide about 85% of the water flow in the country or nearly 3.6 billion m3 of clear drinkable water. Over the last 5 years more than 500,000 ha of forests were damaged by forest fires. Most of them (about 80%) have not yet been restored (ClimateChangePost, 2017).

Illegal logging, erosion and land degradation pose challenges to Agroforestry (Kachova, n.d.)


Tourism and leisure

There are potential opportunities for integrating GI in the tourism sector, for example, Interreg project: INSiGHTS - INtegrated Slow, Green and Healthy Tourism Strategies (1.01.2017-30.06.2019) Budget - Overall: EUR2308170,55; ERDF Contribution: EUR1837406,12. As part of this project, 8 integrated sustainable tourism strategies will be developed by the partner regions on the basis of common guidelines which will be adaptable across the Danube region. Main results of INSiGHTS will be improved participatory governance frameworks tackling responsible green tourism development, and the generation of quality-driven green tourism packages, which will attract more eco-conscious visitors. Improving the environmental attitude of all players within the complex tourism ecosystem will lead to a better balance between protection and sustainable exploitation of local resources, reduce the ecological footprint of destinations and also contribute considerably to sustainable socio-economic development for the benefit of local communities.


4.  Financing Green Infrastructure

  • Priorities included in the National Prioritised Action Framework for NATURA 2000 (NPAF):  The development of  green infrastructure, green business and green tourism in the Natura 2000 network in Bulgaria have been identified as a priority under the Bulgarian NPAF for the programming period 2014-2020: “Priority 3: Sustainable use of ecosystem services for optimum public benefits, and other factors for socioeconomic development of regions” and “Priority 2: Sustainable management of protected areas of the NATURA 2000 network. Implementation of proper conservation activities.” Also within these priorities, specific measures and funding sources are defined for the implementation: 

Priority 3: Sustainable use of ecosystem services for optimum public benefits, and other factors for socioeconomic development of regions:

  • Value and use of the ecosystem services - by the end of the programming period,  ecosystem services are to be evaluated and conditions for their effective use are to be created.
  • Creating “green” jobs – within the programming period, the creation of sustainable green jobs is to be encouraged and supported.
  • Green business – within the programming period, the necessary conditions for encouraging the development of "green business", e.g. ecotourism, salt production in a traditional way, etc. are to be created.
  • Risk prevention - by the end of the programming period, the necessary conditions, including studies and research, to ensure effective risk management (of fires, floods, etc.) are to be created.
  • Climate change – by the end of the programming period, the preconditions for adaptation or mitigation to climate change are to be created, including vulnerability assessment of ecosystem services to climate change.
  • Overcoming fragmentation - by the end of the programming period, the base "green" infrastructure is to be built, in order to ensure ecological connectivity of NATURA 2000 protected sites.

Priority 2: Sustainable management of protected areas of the NATURA 2000 network”:

  • By the end of the programming  period, conservation activities directly related to the conservation of species and habitat types are to be taken and implemented, including their maintenance and restoration by applying  the ecosystem and regional approach.


Financing sources for the measures under the above mentioned priorities are mainly the Operational programmes under the existing Structural and Cohesion Funds for the 2014 – 2020 period (Operational Programme Environment 2014 – 2020, Rural Development Programme 2014 – 2020, Operational Programme Human Recourses Development, Operational Programme Innovations and Competitiveness 2014-2020), LIFE Programme 2014 – 2020, Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and Horizon 2020 Programme.

  • The LIFE+ Programme of the EU has funded 23 projects in Bulgaria on different topics, each of them including activities related to the promotion of biodiversity and its sustainable use.
  • There is an opportunity for GI funding through EEA grants BG03. In 2013, € 8,000,000.00 was granted to Bulgaria to fund projects under the biodiversity and ecosystem services programme. The programme is focused on activities relating to ecosystem services and biodiversity, including:
    -    Participative education of 240 volunteers in community based biodiversity monitoring;
    -    The development of four ecosystem assessment and ecosystem services valuation methodologies;
    -    Mapping and assessment of 100% of the non-Natura 2000 territory for a national ecosystems inventory pursuant to the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2020;
    -    One impact study conducted on specific ecosystem services and/or their relationship to climate change;
    -    Capacity building for national implementation of new legislation and practical implementation of legislative measures.
  • EU Structural Funds provide a potential source for GI funding. Calls for proposals have been accepted for projects related to “Identifying and complementing the establishment of marine Natura 2000 sites”. The eligible activities include: development/update of methodologies for mapping and for assessing conservation status of marine species and natural habitats; research, studies and mapping of marine natural habitats and species, development of documentation pursuant to art. 8 of the Biodiversity Act with proposals for new Natura 2000 sites or for amending the existing Natura 2000 sites, upgrade and update of the existing information system for Natura 2000 sites, etc. Projects should be focused in the marine territory of the Republic of Bulgaria. The maximum amount of the grant is BGN 11,734,980. The programme is funded by the European Union through the European Fund for Regional Development and by national funds. The deadline for submission of project proposals was 30 December 2016. The evaluation procedure is underway.


5.  Challenges and Opportunities for GI Development

5.1 Best practice/points of excellence

  • Lower Danube Green Corridor: floodplain restoration for flood protection (Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Moldova, 2014) In 2000, the governments of Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Moldova signed the Lower Danube Green Corridor Agreement to establish a green corridor along the entire length of the Lower Danube River (~1,000 km). The aim of the project was to reduce the risks of major flooding in areas with human settlements, restore and protect Green Infrastructure along the river is protected and restored, e.g., through natural wetlands, and reconnecting the river to its natural flooding areas. The expected earnings through ecosystem services (e.g., fisheries, tourism) are EUR 85.6 million per year. Each ha of restored floodplain is estimated to provide EUR 500 per year in ecosystem services, helping to diversify the livelihoods of local people (Trinomics et al., 2016).
  • New Thracian Gold Project: New Thracian Gold (NTG) is a Bulgarian-Dutch project, active in the period 2009-2014, aiming at the greener future for the Eastern Rhodopes. The main objective is to develop sustainable initiatives which promote and combine organic farming, nature conservation and ecotourism. Since 2014 the "New Thracian Gold" is the trade mark of the network of farmers and tourism entrepreneurs in the Eastern Rhodopes mountains.  The project was financed by the Dutch Postcode Lottery, the biggest charity lottery in the Netherlands. The New Thracian Gold project implements a unique approach combining three components:
    • Wilderness and biodiversity: The wilderness component aims at creating and preserving one of the best wilderness areas in Europe. The region’s nature still is relatively pure. Further degradation can be stopped by restoring essential ecological processes and promoting sustainable management and use of natural resources. Short term initiatives emphasize the key role for natural grazing and reintroduction of native, wild herbivores. The unique biodiversity of the Eastern Rhodopes is at stake and raising awareness and involvement of local people has highest priority. The beauty and grandeur of the landscape and nature create the green gold for ecotourism. Restoration and sustainable conservation of the unique wildlife of Eastern Rhodopes provides a basis for development of a greener economy in the region.
    • Organic agriculture: Organic farming in conjunction with ecotourism create jobs, raise life standards and reduce the depopulation of rural areas. The New Thracian Gold  achieves  this by investing in exchange of  experience and knowledge through training, seminars and demonstration farms.  Support is provided at various stages of organic land use. New Thracian Gold stimulates and promotes the sales of the unique eco-products.
    • Sustainable tourism: The Rhodopes have all the necessary prerequisites to become a favorite destination for ecotourism - stunning scenery, a great variety of flora and fauna, rich cultural heritage. Again, by investing in the exchange of experience and special trainings, the project helps local tourism initiatives which stimulate discovering the green gold.


5.2 Challenges/gaps/needs

5.3  Opportunities

Although Bulgaria is a relatively small country (110 994  sq. km), due to its highly varied climatic, geological, topographic and hydrologic conditions it is very rich in biological diversity – 26% of the total species described for Europe occur in its territory and represent more than 2% of the species in the world. Thus Bulgaria ranks among the countries with the greatest biological diversity in Europe (EC, 2017).

5.4  Benefits

6.  Knowledge Base

  • A project on Methodological Support for Ecosystem Services Mapping and Biophysical Valuation (MetESMap) is implemented under Programme BG03 “Biodiversity and ecosystem services” within the EEA FM (2009-2014). The project provides innovative research, a methodological link and guidance between diverse projects, also implemented under programme BG03, and stakeholder involvement to implement Action 5 of EU Biodiversity strategy to 2020. A main challenge is creating a uniform national approach and resolving methodological issues that will arise in the process of mapping ecosystems and their services.
    The partnership of the project combines Bulgarian and Norwegian expertise to provide the following outputs:
    1.    A national methodological framework on ecosystem state and services assessment, monitoring and in situ verification, verified by fieldwork and peer review by international and national stakeholders.
    2.    A group process of wide stakeholder involvement and inter-institutional cooperation to support the implementation and reporting on Action 5
    3.    Methodological coordination and support to the implemented under BG03 – open call BG03.02 projects and PDP1-IBBIS, ensuring comparability of results and outputs across these projects.
  • So far no national assessments have been made on the impact of biodiversity loss on ecosystem services. The Bulgarian EEA is implementing a project “Improving the Bulgarian Biodiversity Information system – IBBIS” a central topic of which is the development of a module within the National System for Biodiversity monitoring to accept the data bases from the 7 projects, implemented under BG03 – open call BG03.02, which are conducting the biophysical assessment of the ecosystems and the services they provide on the territory of Bulgaria, outside NATURA 2000 sites. Interaction with external relevant data basis is envisaged (Republic of Bulgaria Ministry of Environment and Water, n.d.).
  • Karlovo is one of the cities participating in the EnRoute project (Enhancing Resilience Of Urban Ecosystems through Green Infrastructure) in the framework of MAES, which runs from 2017 until 2018. The project aims to introduce the MAES approach into the local policy arena, with a view to contribute to the further deployment of GI in cities and in urban contexts. In the “city labs”, the URBAN-MAES framework will be implemented using local data and involving in the process the local stakeholders and focusing on specific issues (Maes et al. 2017).


7.  Further Resources and Publications

Link to Bulgarian spatial legislation with English translations -


8.  List of Consulted References

BG16M1OP002-3.002 “Identifying and complementing the establishment of marine Natura 2000 sites“

Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services EEA Grants Bulgaria (BG03)

Bulgarian Biodiversity Platform (n.d.) Accessed 05.04.2017:

Ceeweb (2017)

ClimateChangePost (2017)

ECNC (n.d) Restoring ecological networks across transport corridors in Bulgaria. Accessed 05.04.2017:

European Commission (2017) Environmental Implementation Report – Bulgaria.

European Green Belt (n.d.) European Green Belot Fact sheet European Green Belt – from Iron Curtain to Life Line. Accessed 24/04/2017:

Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (n.d.) accessed 07.04.2017:

GREEN: Growth, Responsibility, partnErship, Ecology, Nature Project website:

Information system on NATURA 2000 Network in Bulgaria 

INSiGHTS - INtegrated Slow, Green and Healthy Tourism Strategies project website, accesses 19.04.2017:

Kachova, V. (n.d.) Agroforestry in Bulgary. Accessed 19.04.2017:

LIFE Project Database (n.d.)."LIFE Riparian Forests - Restoration and conservation of riparian forests of habitat type in Natura 2000 sites and model areas in Bulgaria" Accessed 06.12.2016:

Maes, J., Zulian, G. and Thijssen, M. (2017). Inception report: EnROUTE. Final draft version (10 February 2017)

National Prioritised Action Framework for NATURA 2000 (NPAF) 2014 – 2020

Republic of Bulgaria  Ministry of Environment and Water (n.d.) Fifth National Report, Convention on Biological Diversity 2009 – 2013. Accessed 05.04.2017:

The National Development Programme: Bulgaria 2020

Trinomics, ALTERRA, Arcadis, Risk & Policy Analysis, STELLA Consulting, and Regional Environmental Centre (2016) 'Green infrastructure and climate adaptation, in Supporting the Implementation of Green Infrastructure, Final Report to the European Commission under Service Contract ENV.B.2/SER/2014/0012, Annex I.

Vulture Conservation Foundation (2016) New project for the conservation of black and griffon vultures in the Rhodope mountains (Bulgaria-Greece) launched. Accessed 24/04.2017: