Kongura Wilderness Candidate
The Kongura Strict Nature Reserve was created in 1988 and is embedded into the Belasitsa Nature Park. The Reserve is situated in the Belasitsa Mountains, about 45 km south of Blagoevgrad and is one of the most biodiverse area in Bulgaria.
Kongura Strict Nature Reserve protects an extensive area of old beech and sweet chestnut forests. In the past, the tree line was reduced by grazing and logging. However, due to the absence of these activities in the last years, the tree line is in the process of spontaneous restoration.
The territory is exclusive state property and is managed and protected by the Ministry of Environment and Water, through its Regional Inspectorate in Blagoevgrad.
The 450 ha Kongura Wilderness was subject to pre-Audit in autumn 2019 and meets the Bronze Wilderness Quality Standard. After finalising the Quick-Audit, there is a large potential to expand Kongura Wilderness to the size of approx. 1 300 ha and increase its Wilderness Quality Standard.
Biodiversity in the Kongura Wilderness is very large and unique. Most of the identified biotopes represent a unique example of the wild and spontaneously developing ecosystems. Within the territory of Kongura Wilderness, the forest is covering over 97% of the area and the rest are shrubs and small meadows in the vicinity of the tree line. The most dominant tree is the beech. The chestnut is found in the lower parts, below the beech belt. Shrub and grass ecosystems are predominantly located on the outskirts and higher parts, and are dominated by juniper, hawthorn and rose hip.
About 1 500 plant species have been found in this area, including endemic species of Bulgaria and the Balkans, and a number of species are also listed on IUCN Red List. The area is home to Albanian lily, karst lucerne and many others. The area is also rich in fauna and more that 130 species of birds have been identified in these biomes. The area also hosts wolf, fox and wild cat. Other common mammals are roe deer, wild boar and badger.
From a touristic point of view, the borders of the Wilderness can be explored on foot following several marked trails. These trails offer a variety of interesting activities such as hiking, wildlife watching, rare plants sightings and also exploration of unique rock formations.
The easiest access to Kongura Wilderness is to follow the forest road/trail along the western boundary. This option offers the opportunity to stay in one of mountain chalets Belasitsa or Kongur. In the recent years, the interest in mountain biking is increasing due to the good network of forest roads. Surrounding the Wilderness, there are opportunities to stay in villages, where local eco-tourism activities are quickly developing.
Ali Botush Wilderness Candidate
The Ali Botush Strict Nature Reserve was created in 1951 in the remote Slavyanka mountain range close to the Greek border. The aim was to protect the largest forests of Bosnian pine in the Balkan Peninsula. Ali Botush Strict Nature Reserve lies in a karstic area at altitudes between 1 140 and 2 212 m. The area is purely a forest reserve and the alpine zone, which has been intensively used in the past, is excluded. Because of this, the south border mainly follows the line between the mountain forest and alpine pastures.
For approx. the last 20 years the area is mostly abandoned and large areas without any signs of grazing provide a great example of spontaneous tree line restoration. This creates an opportunity for potential enlargement and creation of transboundary Wilderness in cooperation with Greece.
The 1 050 ha Ali Botush Wilderness was subject to a Pre-Audit in autumn 2019 and meets the Bronze Wilderness Quality Standard. After finalising the Quick-Audit, there is a large potential to expand Ali Botush Wilderness to the size of approx. 1 638 ha and increase its Wilderness Quality Standard.
Over the last several decades, Ali Botush Wilderness has been protecting a wide spectrum of mountain forest habitats and very rich flora and fauna. A wide variety of habitats are present along an elevation gradient.
The area contains plant species that are found both in Mediterranean evergreen forest biome and simultaneously also in temperate forest biome.
At the lowest elevation, forests are dominated by beech, hornbeam and sweet chestnut. Higher up, there is a coniferous belt with species like black pine and Bulgarian fir, as well as Bosnian pine which is climbing high up to the current tree line.
The area is home to over 1 500 vascular plants and more than 20 Bulgarian endemics species. The area provides a safe refuge for a number of larger mammals such as brown bear, wolf, chamois, roe deer, badger and golden jackal.
Ali Botush Wilderness is located in the remote roadless corner of Slavyanka mountain range. From a touristic point of view, only a part of the Wilderness can be explored on foot following two marked hiking trails leading to the remote and otherwise inaccessible mountains. After passing the Wilderness and reaching the tree line, the trails offer extraordinary panoramic view to the Wilderness and surrounding mountains particularly along the Bulgarian-Greek border. The trails offer a variety of interesting activities like hiking, wildlife watching, rare plants sightings and first and foremost exploration of a unique Bosnian pine forest. Also, there is a good system of information boards at the trailhead offering maps and basic information.
Velino Wilderness Candidate
Velino Wilderness joined the European Wilderness Network in 2018. It is embedded into the Sirente Velino Natural Park, Italy, which is situated in the Abruzzo Region of Central Italy. Velino Wilderness contains Apennine beech forests with alpine and subalpine calcareous grasslands, and several endemic plant species.
The Thayatal WILDForest is characterised by extraordinary scenery, being home to features such as rocky amphitheatres, cliffs and broadleaf mixed forest. The Thayatal WILDForest is and has been the key element and driving force behind the establishment of the transboundary Wilderness of the Podyjí National Park in Czech Republic and Thayatal National Park in Austria.