The Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation (BBF), Black Sea NGO Network (BSNN) and the South-West State Enterprise (SWSE) organised a field trip for regional and national media to present conclusions and recommendations based on the monitoring of wildlife crossing facilities along Lot 1 of the Struma Motorway, part of the SaveGREEN project pilot area in south-west Bulgaria.
The Rila-Verlia-Kraishte Corridor pilot area along the Struma Motorway, part of the Pan-European Corridor IV and Е79, is an EU priority project. Named after its surrounding mountain chains, the pilot area lies along a 16-kilometer stretch of motorway and comprises 15 large wildlife-crossing facilities.
Among these are an overpass for large mammals, an underpass for medium and small mammals, and a viaduct. There are also bridges with dry paths, and culverts designed as passages for amphibians. So-called rabbit fences and concrete guiding fences for amphibians are other mortality-reducing features. The facilities help to mitigate a bottleneck effect in a key problem area and improve the chances for successful migration of species and their long-term survival.
The overpass for bears and the underpass conditionally designated for wolves are two of the facilities subject to SaveGREEN monitoring activities. The size of the nearby viaduct due makes it a convenient location for animals to cross the motorway in safety.
Petko Tvetkov, BBF SaveGREEN Coordinator, explains that the main tasks of the project are to monitor some of the facilities, investigate the effectiveness of the mitigation measures, and to suggest improvements based on ideas from experts in consultation with local stakeholders from nearby towns and villages. He added that the project also aims to propose practical solutions to support the functionality of ecological corridors and natural migratory routes of species that often intersect with transport infrastructure.
Photo traps have been installed to register and document the passage of animals, and the passage of smaller animals (jackals, foxes, and squirrels) has been observed at the overpass. The team has also discovered that otters are using a neighbouring facility for passage.
Large animals have been observed only rarely, but red deer and a wild boar have been spotted near the highway. The underpass for wolves is one of the most intensively used facilities, and wild pigs, badgers and other wild animals have also been observed there. Data collected so far suggest that mostly young animals are passing through these facilities.
Experts suggest that the wildlife crossings still require some improvements, one of which is to plant bushes and low trees near the overpass so better replicate a natural environment. At the same time, the animals should not encounter difficult barriers and must be able to pass unhindered. Inspection of one of the facilities showed that the netting at fenced areas is not high and dense enough and must be firmly fixed to the ground to prevent smaller animals from falling or escaping onto the road.
SWSE is an associated strategic partner of the SaveGREEN project. Vanya Kamenova, Head of SWSE’s Programmes and Projects Department, cites game management as one of its main tasks, adding that SWSE experts can help designate natural ecological corridors and assist in the proper design of future highway construction.
The Rila-Verila-Kraishte Corridor pilot area can help to promote ecological corridors in Bulgaria by highlighting the reduced impact of well-designed transport infrastructure on biodiversity.
The SaveGREEN project partners have joined in efforts to expand the knowledge and capacity of experts, administrators, and the media in Bulgaria on the topic of ecological corridors and landscape connectivity and their relationship to biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation.
The SaveGREEN project is financed under the ‘Danube’ 2014-2020 Transnational Cooperation Programme. Project partners include nature protection organisations and institutions from Austria, Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. You can learn more about our project activities at: www.interreg-danube.eu/savegreen