Milka WILDIsland – Candidate is embedded in Persina Nature Park. The Strict Nature Reserve Milka Island was established in 1948 at the total area of 39 ha and used to be a solitary reserve in the middle of Danube for many years. Together with the nearby Kitka Island, strictly protected since 1981, both islands are located within the boundaries of Persina Nature Park.
Persina Nature Park is the only Bulgarian nature park situated along the Bulgarian part of Danube river. The designation of this protected area aims at the conservation and restoration of Danube wetlands and islands. Milka and Kitka Islands are two strictly protected islands that are valuable for their unique floodplain forests under strict protection for several decades.
Milka WILDIsland was subject to Pre-Audit in autumn 2019 and meets the Bronze Wilderness Quality Standard. After the finalisation of the Quick-Audit for Milka WILDIsland, there is further potential to carry out the Quick-Audit of Kitka Island as well. In this case both islands could become important members of the European Wilderness Network.
Milka WILDIsland is located in the Danube River and is accessible only by boat. The island is entirely covered by natural riverine forest, consisting mainly of willow, poplar and elm. Forest formation is directly related to the river’s water regime. The high-water level heavily impacts particularly the spring vegetation. The riparian vegetation also consists of wild vine, hops and rare liana species. The island provides a good habitat for rare plant species, such as the yellow water rose and swamp ragweed.
Milka WILDIsland is an important bird breeding area for a number of aquatic bird species, such as cormorants and black-necked grebe. Moreover, it is a rare but characteristic habitat of the white-tailed eagle. There is also a rich diversity of mammals including black ferrets and river otters. Many amphibians and reptiles also inhabit the area, like the Balkan spadefoot and the water snake.
The Milka WILDIsland is not accessible to visitors, however, a number of islands in the vicinity, such as Persin Island, Shturetsa Island or Magaretsa Island provide a very unique experience. Persina Nature Park contains many bike and foot trails outside the Wilderness that enable visitors to discover the Danube river, forest and wetland ecosystems. There are designated routes for birdwatchers, hikers and bikers. A scenic route between the islands on boat or canoe provide the perfect combination of rowing and observing floodplain forests with characteristic birds. A special rare experience is observation of the white-tailed eagle – the symbol of the Persina Nature Park, which has a nesting place in this island complex. Additionally, there are many interesting cultural and historical sights in the surroundings.
Persinski blata Wilderness is situated inside of Persinski blata Reserve which is embedded in Persina Nature Park. The size of this Wilderness – Candidate is 1 450 ha. The 3 852 ha Persinski blata Reserve was created in 1981 with the objective to conserve a typical example of Danube marshes and its wildlife. The area consists of 4 separated but ecologically linked marshes and lakes. The reserve hosts large, mixed colonies of herons, spoonbills, cormorants and pelicans in the Bulgarian Danube basin.
The area of Persinski blata Wilderness was heavily drained during the soviet era but between 2002-2008, the first ever Bulgarian wetland restoration project was implemented here and the natural water regime was restored. However, due to Iron gate dam on the Danube River and constant fluctuation of the water level, 3 small water gates are still sporadically used to regulate the water inflow on the restored wetland.
The 1 450 ha Persinski blata Wilderness was subject to Pre-Audit in autumn 2019 and meets the Bronze Wilderness Quality Standard. There is a potential after the Quick-Audit to expand Persinski blata Wilderness to a size of approx. 3 500 ha and dramatically increase its Wilderness Quality Standard.
Persinski blata Reserve is a wetland of great international importance and a local hotspot for biodiversity that depends on spontaneous natural processes and ecosystem dynamics. The area is a very favourable habitat for birds. Colonies of many different bird species live here, including terns, herons, cormorants, gulls, wild ducks and geese. The area is particularly important as a safe nesting spot for extremely threatened species such as the Dalmatian pelican. Furthermore, black storks gather here in autumn and the mute swan nests here in summer. Additionally, there are also many rare and threatened plant species in the area, such as water chestnut, yellow floating-heart or frogbit.
Persina Nature Park and particularly Persinski blata Reserve offers many touristic opportunities. The park can be explored on foot, by bike, boat or with a kayak. It is a very important area for birds, as a huge diversity of birds that depend on water and wetlands live there.
Persinski blata Reserve has limited accessibility due to a currently operating prison on the Persin island territory. Due to specific conditions, there must be an accompanying guide appointed by the park administration. Therefore, also the accessibility of the Wilderness is strictly regulated. The best opportunity to experience Wilderness is on a bird watching trail across the Persin island that gives visitors a window into Wilderness. Additionally, there is also a lot of interesting cultural and historical heritage nearby Persina Nature Park.
Bistrishko Branishte Wilderness is embedded in Vitosha Nature Park. The Bistrishko Branishte Strict Reserve was established in 1934 and has the total area of 1 061 ha. Bistrishko Branishte is located on the north-eastern slope of Vitosha Nature Park in the vicinity of Sofia. The highest point in the reserve is 2 286 m above sea level and the lowest is 1 430 m above sea level.
Over 50% of the territory of Bistrishko Branishte Strict Reserve is covered by predominantly 100 to 120 years old spruce forest. The rest constitutes of meadows, rock formations and several stone rivers in the sub-alpine zone.
The territory is exclusive state property and is managed and protected by the Ministry of Environment and Water through its Sofia Regional Environmental Inspectorate.
The 500 ha Bistrishko Branishte Wilderness was subject to a Pre-Audit in autumn 2019 and meets the Bronze Wilderness Quality Standard. There is a potential after finalising the Quick-Audit to expand Bistrishko Branishte Wilderness to the size ca 1 000 ha and increase Wilderness Quality Standard.
Bistrishko Branishte Wilderness hosts a great biodiversity which includes a large number of endemic and relict species. There are hundreds of species of algae, close to 200 species of lichens and more than 500 mushroom species. Some of the most remarkable plant species present in the Wilderness are the globe flower, anemone and yellow gentian.
The Balkan endemics to be found here are the crocus and fairy flower among others. The Wilderness provides refuge to many animal species of European importance. Among them are the wolf, wild cat, brown bear and the pine marten, as well as the nutcracker, goldcrest, siskin, and some species of woodpeckers.
Bistrishko Branishte Wilderness attracts many tourists from Sofia and the adjacent villages. Visitors are encouraged to stay on marked trails and enjoy the extensive well-marked trail network for hiking and skiing. Vitosha Nature Park is also a place for practicing various extreme sports, such as alpinism, delta-gliding, para-gliding and mountain biking. These can be officially done outside of Bistrishko Branishte Wilderness.
Currently the Vitosha Nature Park puts a great emphasis on education in ecological awareness, therefore various educative programs are part of the park’s management plan.
Torfeno Branishte Wilderness is embedded in Vitosha Nature Park. The Torfeno Branishte Strict Reserve was established in 1935 with the aim of preserving 783 ha of the well-protected turf communities in the subalpine zone of Vitosha mountain. The strict conservation regime prohibits all management activities within the territory.
Torfeno Branishte Strict Reserve is the largest high-mountain peat complex in Bulgaria with hundreds of moss and algae species. The turf surface is up to 2 m thick, increasing annually by approx. 1 mm.
The territory is exclusive state property and is managed and protected by the Ministry of Environment and Water through its Sofia Regional Environmental Inspectorate.
The 350 ha Torfeno Branishte 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 big potential to expand Torfeno Branishte Wilderness to the size ca 700 ha and increase its Wilderness Quality Standard.
The peat complex of the Torfeno Branishte Wilderness lies on the northern slope of Vitosha mountain comprising the parts of Big Plateau and the Kapaklivets Plateau between the peaks of Cherni Vrah (2 290 m) and Ushite (1 906 m).
Over 300 species of moss and 500 species of algae occur in the peat reserve and several Balkan endemics can also be observed. There are also two insectivorous plants – Balkanian butterwort and common sundew, moreover, the unique globe flower, also known as Vitosha tulip can be observed. For avian representatives this zone is an important trophic base, especially for some representatives of falcons, which hunt on the ground.
The sub-Alpine zone is an important habitat for the endemic Balkan subspecies of the Balkan horned lark and the subspecies of alpine accentor.
The access of tourists to Torfeno Branishte Wilderness is only allowed on marked trails. Vitosha Nature Park, however, is the most visited protected area in Bulgaria with over 2.5 million visitors every year. Currently the overall length of paths and trails the park’s visitors can follow is over 300 km.
The tourist trails are well-marked with different colours according to the trails. In the open plateaus of Vitosha, metal poles signalise the way to go, thus supporting orientation during the winter months.
The Chervenata Stena Strict Nature Reserve was created in 1962 and is embedded into the Chervenata Stena Biosphere Reserve since 2017. The area is situated in the Rhodope Mountains, about 30 km south of Plovdiv and is one of the most biodiverse areas in Europe characterized by wide variety of landscape and an immense variety of plant and animal species.
Chervenata Stena Strict Nature Reserve is part of a karstic marble massif, characterized by steep slopes and deep ravines. The area represents an outstanding example of undisturbed old Sub-Mediterranean forest of black pine and silver fir and fragments of relict hornbeam.
The territory is exclusive state property and is managed and protected by the Ministry of Environment and Water, through its Regional Inspectorate in Plovdiv.
The 1 200 ha Chervenata Stena 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 Chervenata Stena Wilderness to the size ca 3 000 ha and in this way increase the Wilderness Quality Standard.
The Chervenata Stena Wilderness is an area with several decade-long protection of a wide spectrum of habitats. It is an area of great international importance and a local hotspot for biodiversity that depends on spontaneous natural processes and ecosystem dynamics. The area is not populated and the majority of historical human impact has been significantly self-restored. This leads to an abundance of plant and animal life. The area contains representatives of flora and fauna typical for this part of Rhodope Mountains with many relicts and paleoendemic species including large yellow lady’s slipper, spurge laurel daphne, common lilac and many more. Brown bear, wolf, red fox, wild boar, chamois and many more rare and protected animals are also found here.
From a touristic point of view, a part of Wilderness can be explored on foot following several marked trails (three are crossing the northern part of the Strict Nature Reserve and proposed Wilderness). These trails offer a variety of interesting activities like hiking, wildlife watching and rare plants sightings and exploring unique rock formations. There is a variety of interesting activities in the vicinity of the Wilderness within the territory Chervenata Stena Biosphere Park. The best way to explore the Wilderness is with a mountain guide that is passionate and knowledgeable about the area.
Mantaritza Strict Nature Reserve was created in 1968 with an aim to protect an outstanding example of old forest in the Western Rhodope mountains. The reserve protects an area of mixed forests that has been without any human impact since the reserve was established.
A unique feature of this reserve are the pristine broadleaf and conifer forests with very natural structure and a lot of deadwood. The area provides an important habitat for a number of flora and fauna species, particularly for western capercaillie.
The territory is exclusive state property and is managed and protected by the Ministry of Environment and Water, through its Regional Inspectorate in Pasardzik.
The 400 ha Mantaritza WILDForest 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 Mantaritza WILDForest to the size of 1 070 ha and increase its Wilderness Quality Standard.
Mantaritza WILDForest is mainly composed of three dominant tree species: spruce, beech and silver fir. Almost the entire area of the WILDForest is covered by old forest, unmanaged already for several decades. The WILDForest has very natural structure and its ongoing dynamic processes, such as spontaneous forest recovery, are very visible. The area can be considered as one of the best representative examples of this type of forest habitat in entire Bulgaria.
Mantaritza WILDForest is a very important area also for its rich diversity of fauna. Brown bear and wolf are present here, together with badger, wild cat and pine marten. Besides that, there are red deer and roe deer, as well as wild boar. Mantaritza WILDForest is also home to several rare bird species, such as various species of hawks or woodpeckers, for example the three-toed woodpecker, as well as pygmy owl, hazel grouse, black woodpecker and European crested tit.
There is a nice officially marked tourist trail going through the western part of the Mantaritza WILDForest. The trail is passing Mantaritza WILDForest in the length about 3 km and the time needed is 1,5 hours. The trail is offering a great experience to explore this attractive area, it is well marked and in a good condition.
The nearby town Rakitovo is a well-known mountain village offering various possibilities of outdoor recreation such as hiking, biking and birdwatching. Not far from Rakitovo is the famous cave Lepenitsa. The whole area is attractive tourist destination.
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.
The Rila Wilderness is embedded in the Rila National Park, the largest national park in Bulgaria. The park is located in the south-western part of the country. Rila Wilderness is one of the largest and most valuable Wilderness areas in Europe. It includes four large Wilderness areas – Parangalica, Central Rila Reserve, Ibar and Skakavitsa. Rila Wilderness covers a large part of the Rila mountain range with high peaks, deep valleys, forests and mountain pastures.
Central Balkan Wilderness
The 20,019 ha Central Balkan Wilderness is embedded in the Central Balkan National Park, Bulgaria. Central Balkan Wilderness is covering 28% of park territory and consist of the following 9 strict nature reserves: Boatin, Tsarichina, Kozya Stena, Steneto, Severen Dzendem, Peesti, Sokolna, Dzendema and Stara Reka. In Central Balkan Wilderness, a non-intervention management is applied as the underlying principle for Wilderness stewardship.