New report finds ski resort construction causing irreversible damage to Pirin World Heritage and Natura 2000 site | WWF

New report finds ski resort construction causing irreversible damage to Pirin World Heritage and Natura 2000 site

Posted on
29 January 2018
Roadmap for developing the mountain sustainably outlined
Sofia, Bulgaria (29 January 2018) – Pirin National Park in Bulgaria, one of Europe’s most important biodiversity hotspots and part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network, has suffered irreparable damage from the construction and expansion of Bansko ski resort, reveals a WWF report published today. The analysis finds that the ski resort, approved by Bulgaria’s government in 2000, has also compromised Pirin’s long-term economic value and delivered a mixed economic impact to date.
Amendments made to Pirin’s current management plan by Bulgaria’s government in December have now opened up to 48% of the park to construction activities. A new draft management plan, currently under dispute in court, would allow construction of ski infrastructure in an area 12.5 times bigger than the current area and logging in 60 per cent of the national park.
The report forcefully shows that these plans would cause irreversible damage to the World Heritage site and are based on a questionable business case.
Veselina Kavrakova, WWF-Bulgaria Country Head, said: “Ski development in pursuit of short-term gains has already taken a shocking toll on Pirin. This report brings its damaging impact on both nature and Pirin’s long-term economic value into sharp focus. Bulgaria’s government cannot simply press on with plans to allow the ski area to increase 12-fold. It must instead listen to its citizens who are calling for Pirin to be protected.”
WWF’s report, Slippery Slopes: Protecting Pirin from Unsustainable Ski Expansion and Logging,” highlights that, when building the current ski zones, the concessionaire constructed ski facilities on 60 per cent more national park territory than contracted. This construction caused irreversible damage to the national park. As a result, two areas lost the status of World Heritage Site and were labelled as ‘buffer zones’. 
Pirin is also protected under the EU Nature Directives. In 2008, Bulgarian NGOs sent a complaint to the European Commission regarding the ski developments, but the Commission concluded that “the envisaged project would not lead to significant adverse environmental effect because of its small scale”, and closed the case. Since then, old facilities were replaced with new ones which have a greater impact on the protected nature in the park. In 2010, additional information was sent to the Commission, triggering a new investigation, but no information has since been received on its status. It is important to note that the highly controversial new management plan for Pirin is financed by EU funds.
“The European Commission is supposed to be enforcing the EU nature laws that protect Pirin, but it has been dragging its feet. Urgent action is now needed to ensure that Pirin will not suffer from further destruction and biodiversity loss," said Sabien Leemans, Senior Biodiversity Policy Officer at the WWF European Policy Office in Brussels.
The provisions in the draft management plan now pose a potential further threat to Pirin’s important ecosystems. Ski infrastructure construction and widespread logging would seriously threaten the park’s wildlife by destroying, reducing and fragmenting natural habitats. The expansion would take place in some of the most pristine and valuable areas within the park, and would require cutting down old Macedonian and Bosnian pine trees. It is estimated that more than 3,000 hectares of forest would need to be felled to facilitate the planned expansion of ski areas.
WWF’s report provides a roadmap for developing Pirin sustainably, focusing on year-round (winter and summer) sustainable tourism and an income diversification strategy. The report features alternatives and business opportunities for Pirin outside the ski season.
“Sustainable economic development can better capture the long-term potential of the park and extend the tourism offering beyond skiing by developing year-round activities to attract more visitors outside the winter months,” concluded Veselina Kavrakova.
If successful, Pirin could serve as a blueprint for sustainable management of mountain ecosystems in Bulgaria and beyond, and its nature would be protected for current and future generations, the report says. Otherwise, Pirin could be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger as a consequence of the irreversible damage to its outstanding universal value.

Notes to Editors:
  • Slippery Slopes: Protecting Pirin from Unsustainable Ski Expansion and Logging was prepared for WWF by Dalberg Advisors.
  • Interviews available on request.
  • A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1983, Pirin is Europe’s best preserved home for iconic species such as the brown bears, grey wolves and the lesser spotted eagle. The changes to its current management plan were pushed through by Bulgaria’s government on 28 December after WWF and a coalition of NGOs filed a lawsuit against the government’s proposed new management plan. This surreptitious move has sparked weekly street protests in more than 20 cities in Bulgaria and dozens more around the world.
  • WWF’s campaign to protect Pirin from irreversible damage from ski infrastructure and commercial logging has so far been supported by more than 120,000 people 
For further information:
Konstantin Ivanov | WWF Danube-Carpathian  | +359 884 514 636
Scott Edwards | WWF International | | +44 7887 954116
Angelika Pullen | WWF European Policy Office | | +32 473 947 966