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Important Bird Areas - Orsoya Fish-ponds

Orsoya Fish-ponds State: Montana
Area: 475,46 ха
Ownership: state - 53%; municipality - 8%; private - 39%;

Fishponds overgrown with hygrophyte vegetation, occupying the place of the former Orsoysko Marsh, together with the flooded territories around it. The fishponds are located in North-west Bulgaria, between the villages of Orsoya and Dobri Dol, in close proximity to the Danube. They are separated from the adjacent wet meadows by dykes. The area includes also the tree and shrub vegetation along the riverbank. In spring, during the high Danube waters a big part of the Orsoya lowland is being flooded and the water stays until mid-summer. The main habitat is the fishponds, overgrown with marsh and swampy hygrophyte vegetation. The common reed Phragmites australis and the reed mace Typha angustifolia prevail (Bondev 1991). In the deep parts of the water pools Nymphoides peltata, Hydroharis morsus-ranae and more rarely Nymphaea alba occur. Open water pools, reedbeds, swampy meadows and dry hills, at places covered by artificial poplar cultures and hygrophyte grass formations, alternate around the fishponds. The Danube banks are occupied by riverine forests of willow Salix spp. and poplar Populus spp..

The extensive operation of fishponds through the years, existence of natural vegetation as well as the proximity of Danube river make the wetland one of the most important in the country for water birds. The area holds 177 bird species, 42 of which are included in Bulgaria’s Red Data Book (1985) and 53 are protected by the national legislation. Of the birds, occurring there 77 are of European conservation concern (SPEC) (BirdLife International, 2004), 5 of them being included in category SPEC 1 as globally threatened, 23 in category SPEC 2 and 49 in SPEC 3 as threatened in Europe. In total 45 bird species, included in Annex I of Birds Directive, as well as other migratory waterbirds, regularly occur in the fishponds. The area has global importance for the Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, both during the breeding season and during migration, and for the Pygmy Cormorant Phalacrocorax pygmeus during migration. The most numerous breeding population of the Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus in Bulgaria is to be found there. The fishponds are one of the most important sites in Bulgaria on European Union Level for the breeding Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus and Purple Heron Ardea purpurea. They are one of the few places in the country where the Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena and the Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis breed. Orsoya Fishponds are proposed to be included in the National Ecological Network for conservation of the habitats of a complex of 28 breeding birds and 4 more species, gathering in the region during migration.

Change of the management practice of the fishponds, including drying up the wetland over a long period – between September and April – as well as removal of natural vegetation in some parts are the main human activities, which have a negative impact on wetland habitats. Because of the small territory the area is sensitive to all kind of disturbance by human activities such as hunting, fishing during the breeding period, collection of plants and animals. The use of pesticides in surrounding arable land, deposit of waste, and extraction activities affect the quality of wetland habitats. Big investment projects related to international transport corridor No1 – Danube River will cause permanent change in the hydrological regime of the wetlands, as it is directly related to Danube.

Legal protection:
About 32% of the area of Orsoya fishponds (the fishponds themselves) has been under legal protection since 2001. The aim is to protect rare and threatened species of plants and animals. In 1998 the area was designated as Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. The same year it was designated also as CORINE Site because of its European value for habitats, rare and threatened plant and animal species, including birds. The proposed SPA is close to a proposed Special Protection Area in Romania.

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