In among bitterns and spadefoot toads

© Bruno Siegrist
The European Common Spadefoot Toad, a.k.a. Garlic Toad, is under strict protection according to the European Habitats Directive. © Bruno Siegrist

The Dragoman Marsh lies between karst hills and extensive wet meadows. This is fen country covering about 400 hectares or one and a half square miles in the European Green Belt near the Serbian border and only 40 kilometres northwest of Sofia, the capital. To the north of the marshland the long, bare ridge of the karst mountain, Chepan, rises to 1 200 metres at its highest point and is accessible to walkers along a number of trails.

A mosaic of diverse species
The country is varied in character and contains many endangered habitats of vulnerable species. Among these are specific species, characteristic of marsh and steppe, such as Ferruginous Duck, Bittern and Calandra Lark. For migrating birds such as Crane, White Stork, Blacktailed Godwit, Common Pochard and ducks of many other varieties the Marsh is a stop-over point in spring. Here, too, the European Common Spadefoot Toad, European Tree Frog and Horned Viper live alongside rare plants such as the endemic Urumoff tulip. And on the rugged, steeply falling cliffs of the Chepan mountain eagle owls, long-legged buzzards, falcons and ravens raise their broods.

Increasing pressure on the marshland through overuse
In the 20th century the Dragoman Marsh narrowly escaped catastrophe: it had almost dried out between 1930 to 1990, as a result of draining measures intended to make it suitable for agricultural use. After the political changes of the 90s draining was stopped and the plentiful rainfall in 2005 and 2006 has allowed the marchland to regain its original size of up to 400 hectares or one and a half square miles. Numerous formerly indigenous species such as Ferruginous Duck, Bittern or Purple Heron have repopulated the wetlands. But the danger is not yet banished: now the ecosystem is threatened by agricultural intensification and the eutrophication of the wetlands with untreated sewage from the little nearby town of Dragoman. Working with its local partners EuroNatur has been committed since October 1990 to giving better protection to the Dragoman Marsh, with the neighbouring wet meadows and the Chepan karst mountain to the north, to ensure the sustainable development of its diverse fauna and flora.  


What actions are EuroNatur and its partner organisations undertaking in Dragoman?

  • Creating a well-founded bank of knowledge: in cooperation with Sofia University we are collecting reliable data on fauna, flora, geology and extent of flooding in order to be able to develop appropriate measures for a management of the damp meadows compatible with nature.
  • Creating and implementing concepts for a sustainable use of the wet meadows.
  • Lobbying local decision makers such as community officers and mayors to win them over for supporting nature conservation measures.
  • Creating acceptance: the measures for nature conservation can only be successful with the backing and support of local people.
  • Building a centre for nature conservation with a broad range of environmental education measures such as, for example, an interactive exhibition and nature study walks through the Dragoman Marsh.

What we have achieved so far

  • In an exemplary manner all partners are acting in concert to contribute their experience and knowledge.
  • We have already been able to convince important decision makers in the municipality of Dragoman to adopt an alternative, energy-saving and economic path to sewage treatment.
  • The Nature Centre in Dragoman has blossomed to become an internationally frequented meeting point for the promotion of nature conservation.
  • The Forest Office in Dragoman has handed over a number of hectares of burned forestland to EuroNatur partner BWS to be reforested with oak appropriate to the habitat. Over 100 volunteers from Sofia took part in the planting of acorns in the autumn of 2009.

Partners: Balkani Wildlife Society (BWS), Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation (BBF), University of Sofia

Sponsoring: Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt (DBU), EuroNatur donors and sponsors


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