Bulgaria has a very high diversity of wildlife species and habitats, much of which is associated with traditional or low intensity farming systems in marginal areas, where productivity is limited by altitude, soil productivity, slope and so on. These farming systems include large areas of semi-natural grasslands (most of the pasture is extensively-managed) and/or extensively-managed arable lands, most of which can also be found in the hilly and mountainous areas of the country.
|A shepherd from Byaga village on the path to the common pastures, Besaparski Hills areas; Y.Kazakova||HNV meadows with Gladiolus communis in Elena area of Stara planina mountain; Y.Kazakova|
HNV farming systems are also associated with mosaic landscapes of small scale arable plots and orchards, combined with semi-natural vegetation in the plains and lowlands. These areas are normally located near or in the villages, and are associated with the production of a variety of labour-intensive crops. Again, agro-chemicals are not normally used. Instead, manure is applied once or twice a year. These systems are sometimes also combined with production of honey.
For more on these farming systems in Bulgaria and other countries, see our book High Nature Value farming in Europe
|Combination of an orchard garden with beehives in Besaparski Hills; Y.Kazakova||Small scale family gardens in Elena area of Stara planina mountains; Y.Kazakova|
The importance of HNV farming in Bulgaria
In Bulgaria, it is estimated that at least a third of the agricultural land can be classified as High-Nature-Value farmland. The majority of it is semi-natural pastures and meadows both within and outside designated nature protection areas, including Natura 2000 zones. Mosaic landscapes of small scale arable plots and orchards are normally located near or in the villages.
HNV farmland in Bulgaria represents a diversity of ecosystems and landscapes ranging from the high sub-alpine pastures of the Stara Planina mountain ranges to the wet meadows of the Danube River and Black Sea coasts. All of them are characterized by very high floral diversity, and provide important habitat for other groups of species. This is reflected by the high share of HNV farmland in the total size of Important Birds Areas, Primary Butterfly Areas, Important Plant Areas, areas with viable tortoise populations resulting in a high share in Natura 2000 zones. Additionally, HNV grasslands are normally found in the water protection sanitary zones of the drinking water dams.
|Grasslands represent around half of the land in the water protection zone of Yovkovtsi dam; Y.Kazakova||HNV grasslands in Besaparski Hills Natura 2000 zone; G.Popgeorgiev, BSPB|
HNV farming systems are mostly represented by extensive livestock breeding and/or the production of a variety of labour-intensive crops in family farms. Spread throughout the country, HNV farming has important socio-economic and cultural values providing livelihoods and maintaining traditions in rural areas. Small scale farms account for almost 90% of the agricultural employment, and specialize in labour-intensive crops (vegetables, fruits and vineyards) and livestock (82% of the livestock are reared in such farms). They produce mainly for their own (and extended family) consumption and market only part of their output.
The challenges for HNV farming
There are around half a million hectars of HNV farmland in Natura 2000 zones in Bulgaria and even more outside them. But the pressures and challenges faced by them are equally high: on the one hand, there is the general problem of depopulation of rural areas, and on the other, there are the poor economic returns from small scale, extensive livestock breeding and labour-intensive crop production.
|HNV grasslands are often sold for development in more touristic areas; Y.Kazakova|
The understanding and recognition of the environmental, social, cultural and economic values of the HNV farming systems and the public goods provided by the farmers managing them is still either very low or non-existent.
In the period after accession to the EU in 2007, the Bulgarian legislation and CAP support measures did not favour such farming systems: (1) most of the HNV farmland was not eligible for CAP direct payments due to current definitions of grasslands eligibility; (2) the area managed by such farmers was under the national minimum threshold for support of 1 ha; (3) many farmers were using common grasslands, but they do not claim or receive payments; (4) small-scale farmers willing to sell products from the farm still need to make large-scale investments to meet the hygiene requirements.
In the new programming period, the hopes for improvement are modest: the minimum threshold for land eligibility is decreased to 0.5ha but there is still no clarity on the definition of permanent grassland. There is a special sub-programme for small farmers in the Bulgarian Rural Development Programme, but its budget (as at mid-2014) is so limited that it seems likely that it will be able to support even fewer farmers than were supported by the very unambitious Semi-subsistence measure in the previous RDP (2007-2013). Ministry officials have stated their willingness to improve the legislative base for small scale direct sales but this is yet to be translated into practice.