Sakar SPA

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Description

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A low-mountain region with rounded hilltops and comparatively open river valleys of the Maritsa and Tundzha tributaries, close to the state border with Turkey. The terrain altitude is between 50 and 856 m. On its territory there are about 30 small settlements, the town of Topolovgrad and a poorly developed road network.

Lower parts of the Sakar territory are occupied by farmland, which has replaced forests of Quercus pubescens and Quercus virgiliana. On about 15% of the area there are dispersed xerothermal grass associations, dominated by Dichantium ischaemum, Poa bulbosa, Chrisopogon grillus, etc., and, more rarely, meso-xerothermal vegetation. The shrubs of Paliurus spina-christi, mixed with Jasminum fruticans in combination and the xerothermal grass formations determine the comparatively high numbers of the Hare Lepus europeus and the Souslik Spermophilus citellus respectively.

The region also supports broadleaved forests of “open” type, composed of Quercus pubescens and Quercus virgiliana with Mediterranean elements, at places with secondary origin (Bondev 1991). Many of the riverbeds and valleys in the Sakar are still fringed by old trees of White Poplar, willow Salix sp., etc., which provide nesting conditions for the birds of prey.

The birds in the protected area

The area of Sakar currently supports 220 bird species, 59 of which are listed in the Red DataBook of Bulgaria. The area provides suitable habitats for 76 species, included in Annex 2 of the Biodiversity Act, which need special conservation measures. Sixty-eight of them are listed also in Annex I of the Birds Directive and more than half of them breed in the region in significant populations.

The surveys done within the project LIFE07/NAT/BG/000068 and the BBC Wildlife Fund project in 2007-2011 indicated possible breeding of the Saker Falcon in Sakar SPA. Extensive farming and the abundance of prey animals (including numerous Souslik) is good precondition for the area to support the species. Targeted studies during the period 2008 - 2013 confirmed that the area is important for the migration of the Saker Falcon and for a number of other raptor species. Significant part of the dangerous powerline network was insulated or put underground in the frame of LIFE FOR SAFE GRID project (LIFE12 NAT/BG/000572) dedicated to the Imperial eagle.

Sakar holds the biggest populations in the country of Imperial Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Booted Eagle, Black Kiteand Long-legged Buzzard.

It is one of the most important areas in the country on European Union scale for the species mentioned above, as well as for the Levant Sparrow hawk, the Tawny Pipit, Calandra Lark, Greater Short-toed Lark, Masked Shrike, Stone Curlew, Montagu`s Harrier, Syrian Woodpecker and the Olive-tree Warbler.

The Black Stork, the Grey-headed Woodpecker and the Red-Backed Shrike occur there with representative populations. With less numerous population other globally threatened species than the Imperial Eagle also breed in Sakar – the Corncrake.

Nine more threatened species occur there on migration – Pygmy Cormorant, Dalmatian Pelican, Ferroginous Duck, Pallid Harier, Spotted Eagle, Red-footed Falcon, Lesser Kestrel and Great Snipe.

Threats to the protected area

  • Intensive agriculture
    The SPA is sensitive to intensification of agriculture, forestry, as well as change of land use practices. A decrease in grazing followed by succession, as well as conversion of pastures to arable lands, causes loss of grasslands for birds, small mammals and reptiles. The pesticides used are dangerous for birds.
  • Fires
    The dry grasslands are particularly vulnerable to natural and artificial fires.
  • Human activities
    The forests are fragmented dispersed amongst open landscapes. The large share of the coppice forests, illegal cutting, firewood collection and afforestation with non-typical species reduce the quality of forests and directly affect the inhabitant species. The intensive removal of shrubs and trees affect the quality and structure of grasslands.