Bulgaria is set to defy EU nature laws by building a motorway through a spectacular gorge regarded as one of the most valuable conservation sites in Europe.
The 17-kilometre Kresna Gorge is a stunning deep valley in southwestern Bulgaria that boasts more than 3,500 species of flora and fauna, including snakes, turtles and bats found nowhere else in Europe. Renowned for its golden eagles, griffon vultures, brown bears and wolves, this national treasure is also an important site for tourism and small-scale agriculture, providing vital support to the local economy.
But in the next month the Bulgarian government could begin work to route the major Struma motorway – linking Germany to Greece and financed by the EU – right through the middle of the gorge.
Despite an order from the European Commission calling for the motorway to be tunnelled so it bypasses the gorge, along with numerous studies citing the disastrous environmental impact, EU taxpayer's money could be used to fund a development that would have devastating consequences for the wildlife of this protected haven.
If the plan proceeds, the motorway would also pass 30 metres from a local school and the outlying homes of Kresna town, with noise and air pollution impacting on gardens, vineyards and local people. Small family-run businesses are likely to disappear.
Desislava Stoyanova, campaigner for Za Zemiata/Friends of the Earth Bulgaria, said:
"For the past 18 years we have campaigned to protect the magnificent Kresna Gorge, but the threat to our irreplaceable nature is now greater than ever. If construction is allowed to go ahead, it would have catastrophic consequences for the wildlife and local people that rely on this unique habitat."
"The road will devastate birds, bats, tortoises and large mammals, scarring the site with 11 bridges, 11 overpasses, seven dual tube tunnels, 59 mostly concrete fortification walls and 10 supported slopes. And it would destroy the local economy, forcing local businesses to close and causing people to leave their villages to find work."
According to reports, the Bulgarian Government has signed contracts to begin construction of two sections of the motorway right up to either end of the gorge, leaving just the 20km section in the Kresna Gorge as the last bottleneck of the motorway. If this plan continues, it would almost certainly prevent alternative solutions, confirming the final routing of the motorway right through the heart of the Kresna Gorge protected Natura 2000 site.
The EU’s nature laws however should forbid this – they say that all alternative solutions must be pursued before damage is allowed to occur to protected sites such as Kresna Gorge. Over half a million citizens, a record number, have recently called on the European Commission to save and better enforce these vital EU nature laws in response to a public consultation.
Robbie Blake, nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “The European Commission must take urgent action to ensure that no EU taxpayer euros are used to finance motorway construction through Kresna Gorge conservation area – a development that would be a crime against European nature, and that would damage the local community, as well as likely breach Europe’s vital nature protection laws. They must work with the Bulgarian government to pursue one of the alternative viable routes fast, as EU law requires, so that this catastrophic construction is prevented from happening.”