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Chepan-Dragoman, Bulgaria

The Chepan-Dragoman Important Plant Area is near Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. A RAMSAR and NATURA 2000 site, it has a wide diversity of habitats and species. It comprises of two sites:

Dragoman Marshes: The only marshes of karst (limestone) origin in Bulgaria. The plants that grow here are very distinctive, thanks to groundwater that is nutrient-rich.

Chepan Hills: Adjacent to the Dragoman Marshes, the karst Chepan hills in the south-west foothills of the Balkan mountain range are home to some very special flora. Plants that grow on rocky slopes have to deal with an inhospitable environment: strong winds and full sunlight. There is no taller vegetation about to protect them. As such, these species have developed strong roots to hold onto the rocky soil and exploit as much as possible the water and nutrients available. In time, soil conditions develop that allow other species to grow here more easily.

What are the threats?

Discharge of sewage water from the nearby town in the marshes and a lack of water and land management (the latter from land abandonment) have led to a loss of diversity. Fed on a diet of increased organic material, reeds grow excessively, overwhelming and outcompeting the neighbouring flora. Likewise, shrubs and trees encroach upon the habitat, their spread unchecked. These changes impact on the ecosystem as a whole: less variety in plants leads to less variety in insects, fish, reptiles and mammals.

How is Natural Networks helping?

Logos of the Balkani Wildlife Society, Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation, Botanical Garden of Bulgaria.

 

Natural Networks volunteers have...

  • Cut and cleared reeds.
  • Set free open water patches in the marshes and allowed wetland plant diversity to increase.
  • Used the local Wetland Conservation Centre to raise awareness and manage the fragile site.

The cleared vegetation is used as fuel to heat several buildings in the village during the winter.

As a "grass roots" project, the Natural Networks team gave a presentation on European environmental legislation to volunteers, explaining High Nature Value farming and Natura 2000 policies. They urged volunteers to hold decision makers to account. The local municipality’s ecologist has been involved in all the project activities.

Plantlife has been working in partnership with the Balkani Wildlife Society, the Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation and the Botanical Garden of Bulgaria (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences).