Tagged with: Casework status: Open Casework type: Construction
Pied wheatear


Since 2007, more than 360 projects have been proposed for the area which will cause direct loss of almost all areas where red-breasted geese feed during winter.

Bulgaria became a member of the European Union in January 2007 bringing the country under the same environmental legislation that applies to other Member States.

This includes obligations under the Birds Directive to designate areas of European significance for birds as Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and then to protect them.

However, Bulgaria failed to fully designate its Important Bird Areas (IBAs) as SPAs and permitted uncontrolled developments on many of them. One of the most important is Kaliakra on the Black Sea coast. This site and the region hosts most of the global wintering population of endangered red-breasted goose and in spring and autumn is a stop-over site for tens of thousands of migratory birds.

The situation at Kaliakra was bleak

Hundreds of wind turbines were given permission to be build within the SPA and the area of the IBA excluded from the site. Some of the land was converted for orchards and in neighbouring Belite Skali SPA, a golf course and hotel development obliterated most of the habitats used by breeding and migrating birds.

Further north, consented wind energy projects threaten even more wintering geese feeding areas. These built and consented projects also threaten the tens of thousands of birds which fly through the area every year. 

These cases have been the subject of sustained work from the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB), supported by RSPB for over ten years. Our actions have now lead to the full designation of all but one of the IBAs previously not designated as SPA, including at Kaliakra.

New laws

Sustained pressure has forced the government to bring in new laws to limit the validity of consents to five years if they are not built. All new wind energy development in and around SPAs has been banned, and further wind energy development is now guided by a national plan, following a Strategic Environmental Assessment and sensitivity mapping process.

In January 2016 the judgement of the European Court of Justice condemned Bulgaria for failing to fully designate and protect Kaliakra and neighbouring sites. BSPB supported by RSPB will now work to ensure that the Bulgarian Government makes good the damage to these sites, while continuing to improve its regulation of development that might affect Natura 2000 sites more generally. 


Why is it worth fighting for?

Kaliakra is on the Black Sea coast and is on the route of the 'Via Pontica', one of the two most important migratory flyways in Europe.

Kaliakra contains one of the last remnants of the unique steppe habitats in the European Union and some of the largest coastal cliffs.

Thousands of birds travelling from Europe to Africa and the Middle East – including white storks and pallid harriers – stop at Kaliakra to roost or look for food, particularly when westerly winds are strong. The majority of the world population of the globally threatened red-breasted goose overwinters in the area and feeds on agricultural fields at the site, along with large populations of white-fronted geese. Some of the area was designated as an SPA, but other parts of the site that should qualify were excluded until being fully designated by the Bulgarian government after sustained pressure.

The open steppe habitat is home to breeding populations of stone-curlews, calandra and short-toed larks (the best place for them in Bulgaria) as well as rose-coloured starlings and four species of wheatears including almost all of the Bulgarian population of pied wheatears. Long-legged buzzards, Levant sparrowhawks and eagle owls also nest in the open areas.

The sea cliffs are home to the only nesting shags in Bulgaria and the marine areas of Kaliakra host the biggest flocks of yelkouan shearwaters in the country's coastal waters.

Kaliakra is of exceptional importance during migration and it is a typical bottleneck site funnelling migrant birds towards a critical sea crossing. It is located on the Via Pontica, the second biggest migration flyway in Europe. Every autumn considerable numbers of soaring birds pass through Kaliakra – up to 199,000 storks, pelicans and cranes and more than 10,000 birds of prey, including globally threatened species such as pallid harriers, saker falcons and Imperial eagles.

The whole territory of the Kaliakra SPA between Kavarna and Tyulenovo is used as a stopover site for migrating storks. Flocks of smaller birds as well as quail and the globally threatened corncrake stop here to roost and feed before continuing their migration. They migrate mainly during the night. During the autumn migration, more than 50,000 birds have been recorded during daylight hours of a single day, and the total number of birds migrating is likely to be more as most of the birds migrate at night.

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A view of the loch at Abernethy

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Pink footed geese Anser brachyrhyncus, in flight past wind turbines, Near Diepholz, Lower Saxony, Germany,

Our position

Kaliakra should be properly protected – including by proper application of the appropriate assessment requirements of the Habitats Directive during project planning.

The site has now been fully designated by the government due to pressure from the European Court Case.

We do not believe that further windfarms should be authorised in this highly sensitive site and in the surrounding region. We are pleased that the Bulgarian Government has now adopted a strategic plan for wind in Bulgaria, informed by Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and sensitivity map. Any further wind energy development in Bulgaria needs to be sited in conformity with this plan, and rigorously assessed.

We strongly support renewable energy provision, including windfarms, but these must be planned and developed in accordance with European legislation – the choice of location is key.

We are delighted with the judgement of the European Court of Justice in January 2016 that in failing to fully designate and protect this and neighbouring sites, Bulgaria is in breach of the Birds and Habitats Directives. We will now expect the European Commission to work with the Bulgarian Government to ensure that any damage to the sites is removed, or compensated for.

We continue to support BSPB in their work to bring the issue of windfarms on the Black Sea coast to the attention of the Bern Convention. In 2007 the Bern Convention adopted a strong recommendation that Bulgaria reconsider windfarm development in these sensitive locations, improve the quality of environmental assessments carried out to inform planning decisions on particular projects, and introduce a strategic approach to windfarm planning informed by Strategic Environmental Assessment. Some of this has now been achieved, but more is needed.

BSPB also provided the European Commission with information on breaches of the Habitats Directive in over a dozen other sites across Bulgaria, where inappropriate development has been given consent that will damage their unique habitats. This has led to an additional formal warning being issued by the EC against Bulgaria. 

All these complaints were produced with support from us. As well as bringing the case to the attention of the Commission and meeting with Commission officials, we worked to raise the profile of the case with MEPs - in summer 2008, more than 100 of our supporters wrote to their MEPs about Kaliakra, and again in December 2009.

We also support BSPB's national actions in this and associated cases (like Smin windfarm which impacts on feeding areas of red-breasted geese to the north of Kaliakra). This includes meeting ministers, officials and developers, participating in planning processes, taking national court cases and raising awareness in national media.

We are very pleased that in May 2011 the Bulgarian Government confirmed extensions to four of the six SPAs that we have been campaigning on. The full designation of Kaliakra now means that the only IBA in Bulgaria that still remains substantially unprotected is the Rila Mountains IBA. We will continue to press for the speedy full designation of this site.


  • January 2016
    The European Court of Justice releases its judgement of the Kaliakra case. Bulgaria is found in breach of the Birds, Habitats and EIA Directives on the four counts which the advocate general recommended. RSPB, BSPB and BirdLife all welcome the judgement, which should put massive pressure on Bulgaria to remove impacts on the sites and improve their development consents processes further.
  • September 2015
    Advocate General Kokott of the European Court of Justice released her formal opinion on the merits of the Kaliakra case. She suggests that Bulgaria should be found to be infringing the Birds, Habitats and EIA Directives on four counts, including the lack of full designation of the Kaliakra IBA as SPA, lack of protection of the designated Kaliakra and Belite Skali SPAs from damaging development and site deterioration, lack of protection of the undesignated parts of the Kaliakra IBA, and lack of cumulative impact assessment of damaging projects. The only part of the case she did not accept was damage to priority Steppe grassland habitats which were destroyed by accession of Bulgaria to the European Union in 2007.
  • May 2015
    The Kaliakra case is heard at the European Court of Justice. We now await a legal opinion from the court’s Advocate General as to what the court may conclude in September, with a judgement perhaps by the end of the year.
  • July 2014
    The Supreme Administrative Court in Bulgaria once more overturns the Environment Ministry’s quashing of the Smin windfarm consent. BSPB and the Environment Ministry appeal for one final time to the court.
  • October 2013
    The Bulgarian authorities agree to fully designate the Kaliakra Important Bird Area (IBA) as a Special Protection Area. This is an important step toward the long-term protection of the site, as previous to this only part of the IBA was covered by the SPA boundary, and so key feeding areas of wintering red-breasted goose were not protected.
  • October 2013
    In another success in an ongoing battle, the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water has unexpectedly found a way to once more rescind the consent for the Smin windfarm. Although this is still not the final word, it keeps alive BSPB's fight to stop this damaging development next to the key wintering site for globally threatened red-breasted geese. A new EIA must now be undertaken.
  • October 2013
    After five years, the infringement case against Bulgaria on the lack of full designation and protection for the Kaliakra site is finally referred to the European Court of Justice. This great result comes on the back of years of information provision and high-level lobbying by BSPB and RSPB. This puts extra pressure on the Bulgarian government to address the protection and restoration of this key site. The wheels of justice move slowly though – we don't expect a judgement for at least 18 months.
  • May 2013
    The Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court rejects the appeal by the Ministry of Environment and BSPB against the overturning of consent for the Smin wind farm project. This paves the way for this project to be built unhindered. As all national routes to try to stop this damaging development have now been exhausted, we now have to rely on the European Commission to take Bulgaria to court as a matter of urgency to stop these developments from degrading these internationally important sites for red-breasted geese.
  • January 2013
    The Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria overturns a decision by the Ministry of Environment to revoke the planning consents for the 90-turbine Smin wind farm, adjacent to the Durankulak Lake Special Protection Area. This project threatens to exclude red-breasted geese from a large part of their feeding areas, as well as increasing the risk of collision mortality. BSPB appeal with the Ministry of the Environment against the ruling.
  • August 2012
    The Bulgarian government approves the Strategic Environmental Assessment for their National Action Plan on Energy from Renewable Energy Sources 2011-2020 (NAPERES). This effectively bans further energy development from Natura 2000 sites, from buffer areas around selected sensitive sites, and from particularly sensitive regions – including Dobrudzha where the Kaliakra peninsula is situated. This is a very significant step by the government to get in control of the previously chaotic wind energy development that has damaged the Kaliakra area and threatened many more important sites. In addition, environmental legislation was amended so that development projects given consent over five years ago, but have never been implemented, will have their consents revoked. This potentially will remove the legacy of hundreds of damaging projects given permission before the accession of Bulgaria in to the EU in 2007. These actions are only as good as their implementation, however, so we will continue to monitor and urge the national and regional governments to ensure that these measures are enforced rigorously. Although very welcome, even if these measures are implemented properly, this still leaves those projects already operational, being built, or in the consents process which are/could be damaging to Natura 2000 sites. The infringement process at the European Commission against Bulgaria will therefore continue.
  • 21 June 2012
    The European Commission announces that it has issued a final legal warning (Reasoned Opinion) against the Bulgarian Government over its failure to fully designate, protect, and prevent deterioration of the Kaliakra Special Protection Area and Site of Community Importance, required under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. If the Bulgarian government does not address these issues, the Commission will refer the case to the European Court of Justice.
  • October 2011
    The European Commission issue a supplementary legal warning (letter of formal notice) to the Bulgarian government for not fully designating the Kaliakra site, for not protecting it properly from damaging development, and for allowing the site to deteriorate. The new warning also includes the Belite Skali Special Protection Area neighbouring Kaliakra, which has been largely destroyed by golf course and hotel development. This new warning strengthens the Commission's case and should hopefully lead to a speedier resolution of the problem, with full protection for Kaliakra and compensation or restoration provided for the damage wreaked to these special areas
  • May 2011
    BirdLife and BSPB staff meet Environment Commissioner Potocnik in Brussels and ask him to take personal action to protect Kaliakra and other sites. The Commissioner confirms that the Commission will take further action on the case. Meanwhile, the Bulgarian government confirms extensions to four Special Protection Areas which formed part of BSPB's complaint to the European Commission about lack of designation. This significant step forward is the result of the scientific arguments put forward for designation by BSPB. The extended sites will protect vital breeding grounds for rare woodland woodpecker and owl species, along with important areas for Egyptian vulture
  • September 2010
    RSPB staff meet with one of Environment Commissioner Potocnik's political advisors to press the case that the Bulgarian government is not doing enough, fast enough, to protect its most important nature sites from damage. She agrees that the Bulgarian cases are a priority in the EU
  • June 2010
    BSPB and RSPB staff meet the Director-General of the Environment Directorate in the European Commission to make the case for urgent action. He agrees that Kaliakra needs to be fully designated as a Special Protection Area
  • May 2010
    BSPB staff address the Petitions Committee of the European Parliament again and urge them to put further pressure on the Environment Commissioner and the Bulgarian Environment minister to ensure further actions are taken to protect Bulgaria’s bird sites. BSPB and RSPB staff meet officials at all levels of the Commission to make the case for action.
  • March 2010
    The European Commission sends an additional first formal written warning (Letter of Formal Notice) to Bulgaria, over breaches over the Habitats Directive through its systematic failure to protect over a dozen Special Protection Areas for birds, right across Bulgaria. This infringement was as a direct result of information provided by BSPB to the Commission
  • December 2009
    More than 100 RSPB members write to their MEPs, urging them to take action for Kaliakra and other Bulgarian sites. Six MEPs submit parliamentary questions to the Commission asking what they are doing to protect the sites. BSPB, supported by RSPB, attend another session of the European Parliament's Petitions Committee and urge MEPs to call for action on the cases - five MEPs from across Europe speak in the session to support our case. The Bulgarian Government, under pressure from the Commission, announces a moratorium on all new wind energy development until a Strategic Environmental Assessment of the impacts of this industry has been completed
  • October 2009
    The European Commission opens a 'horizontal' infringement case against Bulgaria due to a systematic failure to protect its Natura 2000 sites. This follows the submission of further information to the Commission by BSPB, supported by RSPB, that catalogues the hundreds of damaging projects being consented on Bulgarian protected areas
  • April 2009
    Kaliakra case discussed at the European Parliament Petition's Committee meeting
  • February 2009
    Kaliakra and Bulgaria are discussed at the European Parliaments Environment Committee Implementation session
  • November 2008
    European Commission open legal proceedings and send Bulgaria a first warning (Letter of Formal Notice) for its failure to implement the EU Birds Directive, by permitting a very large number of windfarm and tourist developments at Kaliakra Important Bird Area, without proper assessment of their environmental impacts
  • October 2008
    European Parliament Petition's Committee delegation visit Bulgaria and discuss various petitions, including Kaliakra
  • Summer 2008
    Over 100 of our supporters write to their members of the European parliament about Kaliakra, resulting in a number of Parliamentary Questions and letters to the Commission. We also support BSPB's involvement in a visit of the European Parliament's Petition's Committee to Bulgaria
  • June 2008
    European Commission open legal proceedings and send Bulgaria a first warning (Letter of Formal Notice) for its failure to properly designate six Bulgarian Important Bird Areas, including Kaliakra
  • May 2008
    BSPB send the Commission an update with information about further developments and damage at Kaliakra
  • February 2008
    BSPB submit a second complaint concerning the non-designation and damage to the Kaliakra site, which is supported by 12 other Bulgarian nature conservation organisations
  • December 2007
    The Bern Convention adopt a strong recommendation that Bulgaria reconsider windfarm development in these sensitive locations, improve the quality of environmental assessments carried out to inform planning decisions on particular projects, and introduce a strategic approach to windfarm planning informed by a strategic environmental assessment
  • September 2007
    BSPB submit a complaint to the European Commission about both Bulgaria's failure to designate Special Protection Areas, and the inadequate protection of those sites that should be designated
  • July 2007
    BSPB, as part of the Bulgarian non-governmental organisation coalition 'For Nature', submit a petition concerning the lack of protection of Bulgarian Natura 2000 sites, including Kaliakra, to the European Parliament. Thousands of people sign the petition
  • 2004
    We start supporting BSPB work to bring the case to the attention of the Bern Convention


This statement sets out the position of BSPB based on the project information disclosed in relation to the application by AES Geo Energy (AGE) for IFC and EBRD funding to support the project and updates the comments provided by BSPB in the preliminary position dated 17 July 2008. PDF, 336Kb

Final Statement of the BSPB on implementation of Saint Nikola Kavarna Windfarm

Further reading