Nature

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Bulgaria is distinguished for its beautiful nature which has charmed everyone who has ever visited the country. Its territory is not that extensive at all, but being concentrated on such tiny space, natural landmarks are even more fascinating. The sublime mountains, age-old forests, lovely valleys, great plains, gorgeous rose valleys, curative hot springs and deep chilly caves, golden coastline and incredible sea-water make Bulgarian “the sleeping Beauty” of the Balkans. That is why Bulgaria takes pains to preserve its natural landmarks by turning vast areas of land into natural reserves and national parks. Hills and mountains are the predominant topographic features. Mountains take almost a quarter of the country’s territory and largely determine its relief.

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Pirin National Park

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Protection of the natural world is one of the country’s major concerns. Bulgaria has 2 natural sites inscribed on the World Heritage List: Pirin National Park (1983), and Srebarna Nature Reserve (1983); 49 protected territories, 17 biosphere reserves, 7 national parks, 82 reserves, 3055 protected natural sites, 63 protected plants and 419 protected animals. Bulgaria’s wide range of habitats ensures outstanding wildlife diversity and the country is becoming an increasingly popular destination for wildlife enthusiasts, photographers and movie makers. The higher plants number about 3500 species and include more than 400 Bulgarian and Balkan endemics and nearly 70 species of orchids. There are 27,000 species of invertebrate fauna, and more than 750 species of vertebrates: 410 birds, 207 fresh-water and Black Sea fish, 94 mammals, 20 amphibians and 35 reptiles, including the invasive specie Red-yeared slider (Trachemys scripta).

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Nature around the Tortoise centre

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Banya village, photo Marin Marinov, ApexVision

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The Centre is situated in Eminska Mountain where both tortoise species are still naturally represented. Eminska Mountain consists of 80,000 Ha bordered on the east by the Black Sea at Cape Emine. It is the easternmost tip of Bulgaria’s Stara Planina, or Eastern Balkan Range, and is a region of rolling hills and low mountains, cut through by deep ravines. There are inclines of as much as 46%, rising to 150-200m above the sea level. The area lies within the Black Sea coastal climatic zone with an average annual precipitation of 550-600 mm and an average annual temperature of 12 degrees C. There are no mineral resources nor industry, human population density is low, and the region remains undisturbed by resort construction. The Cape Emine region provides one of the last refuges for wildlife along the Bulgarian coast. Due to the diversity of avian species, the region is an official IBA (Important Bird Area). In addition to both tortoise species, many other reptile and amphibian species are present, including the European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), leading to the site’s designation as a Herpetologically Important Site. The site is also considered a Natura 2000 Protected Zone: Emine under the EU Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC and Emine-Irakli under the EU Bird Directive 79/409/EEC. In the eastern part of the region the Irakli Protected Area was declared under the Protected Areas Act. Its 42.3Ha area is inhabited by both species of tortoises. It was designated for the purpose of protecting typical coastal habitats of rare and endangered plant species including Pancratium maritimum, Stachys maritima, Euphorbia peplis, Lactuca tatarica, as well as a number of rare bird species. According to the biogeographical zoning of Bulgaria, Eminska Mountain belongs to the Black Sea biogeographical region.

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View from the balcony of the Tortoise Centre

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Vegetation consists of mixed broadleaf forests of oak, elm, ash, and hornbeam. Numerous rare and protected higher plant species of national, European and global conservation significance occur in the region, including endemic species. The concentration of rare, protected and endemic flora, including relictual species, is a good precondition for botanical excursions.
The fauna of the region is also distinguished by high diversity and concentration of species of conservational significance, mainly by Mediterranean species. Eminska Mountain is a significant biocorridor for the distribution of thermophilic reptilian and amphibian species including: Blotched Snake (Elaphe sauromates), European Ratsnake (Elaphe situla), European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis), Hermann’s Tortoise (Testudo hermanni), Spur-Thigh Tortoise (Testudo graeca), and European Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina bombina).
Populations of land tortoises have diminished significantly during recent decades because of intensive collection for food. Nevertheless, their habitats remain intact, with excellent conditions for the restoration of both species. Due to the high diversity of reptile and amphibian species, the region of Eminska Mountsain has been proposed as an “Important Herpetological Area.”

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Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)

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The avifauna of the region is also diverse and abounds with species of conservational significance, such as the Black Stork (Ciconia nigra), the Short-toed Eagle (Circaetus gallicus), the Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus), the Lesser Spotted Eagle (Aquila pomarina), the Osprey (Pandion haliaetus). Because of the National and European significance of the area as an Important Bird Area, the region has been declared a Protected Area, in accordance with the Birds Directive of the European Union.
Of mammals included in the Habitats Directive and occurring here is the European river Otter (Lutra lutra). Some of the other mammals that may be found here are the Wild Boar (Sus scrofa), the Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), the Fallow Deer (Dama dama), the Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), the Mouflon ((Ovis aries) – an acclimatized non-native species – the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), the European Hare (Lepus europaeis), the Beech Marten (Martes foina), the Least Weasel (Mustela nivalis), the European Wildcat (Felis silvestris), the European Badger (Meles meles), and the Southern white-breasted Hedgehog (Erinaceus concolor).

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European Badger (Meles meles)


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The ichthyofauna is also plentiful. Fishes included in the Habitats Directive which occur here are the Pontic shad (Alosa pontica), the Danube Shad (Alosa caspia nordmani), the Spined Loach (Cobitis taenia), and the Twaite Shad (Alosa fallax). Among other species the most interesting are the Big-scale Sand Smelt (Atherina boyeri), the Garfish (Belone belone), the Knout Goby (Mesogobius batrachocephalus),the Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus), the Ratan Goby (Neogobius ratan), the Common Stingray (Dasyatis pastinaca), the Thornback Ray (Raja clavata), and the Maned Seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus).
Many different habitats of high conservation significance are found in the region. Most of them are listed in the EU Habitats Directive (HD) 92/43/EEC. Therefore, special conservation measures are taken to protect them. The main habitats identified within the region are river and riparian habitats, forest habitats, estuaries, dunes, etc.
Most deciduous forests are thermophilous oak forest of the habitat type Pannonian-Balkanic turkey oak –sessile oak forests and less extensively habitat type Eastern white oak woods. At higher altitudes the ranges of the habitat types Western Pontic beech forests and Pannonic woods with Quercus petraea and Carpinus betulus predominate.
The riparian habitats are represented by habitat type Vegetated sea cliffs of the Mediterranean coasts with endemic Limonium spp. and almost throughout, by type Annual vegetation of drift lines. At the Irakli Beach area two types of habitat can be found – type White dunes and type Embryonic shifting dunes. The Vaya River snakes across the central part of the site. Along its stream, longose forest of two main types of habitats intertwine – type Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior and type Riparian mixed forests of Quercus robur, Ulmus laevis and Ulmus minor, Fraxinus excelsior or Fraxinus angustifolia, along the great rivers Ulmenion minoris.

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