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Important Bird Areas - Varna-Beloslav Lakes Complex

Varna-Beloslav Lakes Complex State: Varna
Area: 4681,81 ха
Ownership: state - 61%; municipality - 21%; private - 18%;

The Varna – Beloslav lake complex includes two lakes, Varna and Beloslav, connected by an artificial canal and located to the west of the city of Varna. Varna Lake is a coastal firth lake with natural origin. In the past it has been a freshwater basin with weak connection to Beloslav Lake to the west and low outflow towards the sea. In 1909 the first canal between Varna Lake and the sea was dug. Until 1923 Beloslav Lake was a closed freshwater firth, accepting the waters of the Provadiiska River. Later the development of several industrial complexes in the region necessitated the use of the two lakes for shipping, which led to the digging of two new canals – one connecting Varna Lake with the Black Sea and a second one, connecting the two lakes. The open water areas prevail in the complex. The broad connection with the Black Sea has resulted in the increased water salinity of both lakes, bringing the ecological conditions there close to those of the adjacent marine area. The northern part of Varna Lake (Kazashko Protected Area) and the western part of Beloslav Lake are occupied by reedbeds, dominated by Phragmites australis, Typha angustifolia and Shoenoplectus litoralis. The reedbeds in the western part of Beloslav Lake are quite extensive, gradually giving way to wet and swampy meadows. To the north of them there is a saline water basin with banks overgrown with Salicornia sp. and other halophyte vegetation.

Varna - Beloslav Lake Complex is a site of international importance for the wintering waterfowl. Every year more than 20,000 waterfowl of 64 species concentrate there. The complex territory supports 202 bird species, 59 of which are listed in the Red Data Book for Bulgaria (1985). Of the birds occurring there 91 species are of European conservation concern (SPEC) (BirdLife International, 2004), 7 of them being listed in category SPEC 1 as globally threatened, 21 in SPEC 2 and 63 in SPEC 3 as species threatened in Europe. The area provides suitable habitats for 70 species, included in Annex 2 of the Biodiversity Act, which need special conservation measures, of which 64 are listed also in Annex I of the Birds Directive. Beloslav lake hosts the fourth biggest breeding population of the Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta in the country, after those in Atanasovsko and Pomorie lakes and Poda Protected Area. The Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus breeds there in considerable numbers. The Varna – Beloslav Lake Complex is the only wetland between the Durankulak and Shabla lakes to the north and the Burgas lakes to the south, which are 200 km apart. Because of this it is exceptionally important for the birds during migration and is a bottleneck migration site for the White Stork Ciconia ciconia. In this period, as well as in winter, the complex is of global importance for the Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus. Since they do not freeze in winter, the lakes are preferred as a wintering site by different ducks, cormorants and other waterfowl. The Pochard Aythya ferina also forms concentrations of international importance. The globally threatened species which occur there are the Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus and Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca during migration, and the White-headed Duck Oxyura leucocephala in winter.

The Varna - Beloslav Lake Complex is situated next the third biggest city in Bulgaria – Varna, which is a big tourist and industrial centre. The wetland has a great social and economic importance for the region and the country. Since the end of 19th century industry has developed around the lakes. Nowadays within the wetland complex exist 5 industrial harbours, one military shipyard and, just outside the site, one civil shipyard, 2 yacht harbours, 1 huge thermal power station named “Varna”, part of Devnya Chemical Complex, one waste water treatment station of the town of Beloslav, and one glass-factory. In the west part of the wetland there are settling pools for sediment waste produced by Devnya Chemical Complex, in the north part there is a settling pool for ash from TPS “Varna”. Both lakes are serving as a fleeting canal for ships, a ferry line connects both parts of the town of Beloslav separated by a canal. Auto roads, rail ways and urban areas are present in the site as well. In east part of Varna Lake often regattas take place and Varna Lake is a hot spot for windsurfing as well. Angling is a popular recreation activity, especially there is a hot spot near the place where warm water from cooling system of TPS “Varna” is pouring out into Varna Lake and attracts big flocks of fish. In both lakes commercial fishing with both fixed and floating nets take place done by local villagers. The wetland is a place for hunting of waterfowl as well, including the hunting by motor boats. Some small scale agriculture (cereals, vegetables, vineyards, etc.) and livestock breeding is taking place within the site. Industrial and urban development are factors which have led to loss of habitats and species and to total and drastic ecological change of the wetland. Nowadays they are still the main threatening factors. They are the reasons for the heavy inorganic and organic pollution with all the ecological consequences of that (main pollution sources are chemical factories and other heavy industries, ships traffic, waste water treatment stations with insufficient operation). Future plans for industrial and infrastructure development (especially extension of harbours, new railways, new roads, submerged gas pipelines) and urbanization (extension of villages and establishment of -remained natural habitats. Another human induced factor is hunting, which is often done by illegal means and in the protected territories and of protected species thus threatening many waterbird species. Natural threats are presence of H2S in the bottom water layers (below 10 m depth) leading to absence of life and blooms of toxic alga Primnesium parvum (not recorded since 1963) which can lead to mass death of fish and invertebrates. The eutrophication of the wetland complex is high and considered to be a negative factor. In the freshwater parts of the complex aquatic vegetation is at advanced stage of succession and is therefore needed of proper management in favour of biodiversity. Significant part of the heavy industry in the area is just outside the site. Agriculture runoff is contributing to organic pollution of the wetland. Some upstream industries along Provadiyska River probably pollute the river itself and the lakes complex.

Legal protection:
So far 25% of the Varna - Beloslav Lakes Complex is protected by the national nature conservation law. In 1995 a part of the reedbed in north-east part of Varna Lake and a 200 m wide strip of the lake aquatory along the bank was designated as a protected area, category Protected Site, named “Kazashko” (totally 125.1 ha - 25.86 reedbed + 99.27 lake aquatory). There is no a management plan for the protected site. In 1997 it was designated as Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. In 1998 the area was designated also as CORINE Site because of its European value for threatened birds.

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