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New life for Bulgaria’s Dragoman marsh

Photo: Petko Tsvetkov

In the 20th century, the Dragoman marsh located 35 km from Sofia was almost ‎completely drained for agricultural purposes after the construction of drainage ‎canals and a pumping station in the area. Later, the natural landmark was ‎restored with European funding, and a Visitor Centre for tourists was built on ‎the site. Nowadays, the Dragoman marsh is part of the European ecological ‎network "Natura 2000", as well as the European Green Belt. But recently, the ‎wetland has faced another threat related to pollution, droughts, habitat loss, etc. ‎In addition, 2 years ago, a large fire destroyed part of its plant and animal ‎wealth. What happened after the fire? ‎
‎"Using satellite photos and other observations, we estimated that nearly 80% of ‎the dry winter vegetation was burned, also two thirds of the path for tourists ‎was burned - the one that gave access from the coast inland”, Petko Tsvetkov ‎from the wildlife association "Balkans" explains to BNR. “But then, in the ‎spring and summer, the vegetation largely recovered. With voluntary labor, ‎willows, poplars, and oak trees were planted in the area of the marsh, but they ‎survived the fire because they proved to be durable”.‎

The Balkani Wildlife Association works side by side with ‎the ‎international project WaterLANDS of WWF (World ‎Wide ‎Fund). In the next four years, the two organizations will carry ‎out ‎activities with the aim of speeding up the restoration process of the ‎‎wetland.‎
‎"The Dragoman marsh is the largest karst marsh in Bulgaria, which in the past ‎reached 450 hectares, and now it covers 350-400 hectares," says Peko ‎Tsvetkov. “We are talking about about 60% of the bird species that are found ‎in Bulgaria during one or another period of the year or more than 240 species. ‎It is home to the only known inland colony of Great Egret (Ardea alba) and ‎associated Gray Egrets (Ardea cinerea), Rusty Egrets (Ardea purpurea), Greater ‎and Lesser Water Bull (Botaurus stellaris) which love these reeds and find them ‎a favorable breeding ground. Thanks to the efforts of the Balkan Wildlife ‎Association and its cooperation with scientists, some insectivorous plant ‎species have been restored, as well as fish or the summer snowflake ‎‎(Leucojum) and other plants such as the snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria ‎meleagroides), which is a tender, tulip-like plant, the meadow violet (Viola ‎pumila) and other characteristic species of this territory.''‎

Ivan Hristov - water expert at WWF Bulgaria, explains about the main points ‎on which the WaterLANDS project will work:‎

‎"One of the big problems is the revegetation (over-vegetation) of these ‎wetlands, which is due to the entry of pollutants from agricultural lands, ‎wastewater or the so-called biogenic substances. This leads to the deterioration ‎of the condition of these habitats. Therefore, our first goal is mowing and other ‎management of this biomass to restore the ecosystem. The second is the ‎creation of buffer zones around this marsh, where the biogens, fertilizers, ‎pollutants, etc. in question can be captured. And the third, no less important ‎task is to restore part of the visitor infrastructure on the territory of the swamp ‎and to bring the natural landmark closer to people, as there is no way to protect ‎and care for something we do not know."‎

Read more about wetlands in Bulgaria:

Compiled by Veneta Nikolova (based on an interview of Ivan Hristov from BNR's Radio Sofia)

Photos: Petko Tsvetkov, Balkani Wildlife Association

Translated and published by Rositsa Petkova
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