Campaigning for nature
Image: Daniel Petrescu
The Danube Delta is well known as one of Europe's premier wetlands and the Danube Delta Special Protection Area (SPA) is home to over 320 bird species. These include threatened species such as the dalmatian pelican and red-breasted goose.
Since Romania joined the EU in 2007, the precious Delta has been coming under increasing pressure from development – infrastructure projects, such as road upgrades, tourist complexes and badly-sited windfarms as well as unregulated hunting, fishing and tourism activities.
Unfortunately, the Romanian authorities are not adequately implementing the provisions of the EU nature Directives on site protection. This means that they cannot ensure that the habitats of the delta do not deteriorate, that bird species are not disturbed and that the planning of projects, which may affect the Delta SPA, follow proper procedures. Under the nature Directives, such projects should only proceed if they will not damage the site's integrity and if the proper procedures have been followed.
Badly controlled economic development and unregulated tourism, hunting, fishing and forestry activities have already reduced the areas of habitats and disturbed species protected by the Birds and Habitats Directives. For example, various species of waders such as collared pratincoles, stone-curlews and Kentish plovers, as well as other species of birds including, gull-billed terns, marsh harriers and Montagu’s harriers have been and continue to be affected in the Chituc and Sulina areas of the Natura 2000 site.
Projects currently of concern in the Delta include proposals by the Romanian Authorities to carry out works including road widening, the construction of tourist complexes in the Chituc Levee, Sulina and Sf. Gheorghe areas. These are areas with coastal sand dunes (a priority habitat protected under the Habitats Directive) and which are important for wintering and migrating birds. On the Chituc Levee over 250,000 birds, especially wildfowl, have been observed in a single day.
A proposed tourist development, which could cover a site of 1,200 hectares along 11.5 km of coastline close to Chituc Levee and sand extraction alongside unauthorised tourist development at Sulina beach in the southern part of the Delta add to the pressure. Additional risks include wind farm proposals located in potentially damaging locations.
The Danube Delta is the second largest delta in Europe and one of the biggest in the world. It is the only delta in the world entirely declared (in 1990) as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
Designated as a Ramsar site in 1990, it has the biggest area of compact reed beds on the planet. In the European Union it is designated as both a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a proposed Site of Community Importance (pSCI).
With 30 types of ecosystems and 5,300 flora and fauna species, the Danube Delta is a natural genetic bank with inestimable value for our global natural heritage (a fact which has been recognized by its inclusion in the World Heritage List under the World Cultural and Natural Heritage Convention).
The Razim-Sinoie lagoon complex is the part of the SPA/pSCI and the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve (DDBR) is the largest lagoon area in Romania covering 101,500 ha. This area is isolated from the Black Sea by beach ridges (levees) that divide the former lagoon into a mosaic of lakes and wetlands.
Over 320 bird species have been identified in the SPA/pSCI, 97 of which are listed in Annex I of Birds Directive, 151 under the Bonn Convention on migratory species and 17 are globally threatened species. The Danube Delta Natura 2000 site is important for hundreds of thousands of birds. During the migration period, about 130,000 to 250,000 birds can be seen each day, especially geese, ducks, gulls and waders.
Globally threatened species include: lesser white-fronted goose, imperial eagle, greater spotted eagle, ferruginous duck, red-breasted goose, pallid harrier, roller, saker falcon, lesser kestrel, red-footed falcon, great snipe, Mediterranean gull, slender-billed curlew, white-headed duck, Dalmatian pelican and Balearic shearwater.
A donation from you today will help us support SOR's work to protect the Danube Delta from inappropriate development projects and ensure its proper management and restoration.
To find out more about their work to protect this precious delta, please visit The Romanian Ornithological Society (SOR) website.
To avoid further damage we are urging the European Commission to investigate the situation as a matter of urgency and to take appropriate action to ensure that Romania adequately implements the requirements of the Birds and Habitats Directives including Article 6 of the Habitats Directive on site protection.
Since 2006, we have been supporting the post of Danube Delta Casework Officer at SOR, the Romanian BirdLife Partner. This role is critical in working with local people and those that influence what happens in the Danube Delta.
Through this work, we are able to influence plans for conservation and development activities that are compatible with the high natural value of the site. Monitoring potentially harmful developments and campaigning to stop them is another important part of the job.
We give advice and support to SOR to resist damaging developments. Much of this work involves bringing cases of lack of designation and protection of Natura 2000 sites (the most important sites in Europe for nature) to the attention of the European Commission (EC). Pressure at national level and from the EC can be enough to ensure proper protection of these important sites (such as at the Chituc Levee - see timeline). However, sometimes cases need to be taken all the way to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). There are currently three infringements cases open with the EC, based on SOR information. These relate to lack of protection of the Danube Delta and other Natura 2000 sites near the Black Sea coast in Romania. The case over the Sulina tourism development, which has destroyed precious priority dune habitats in the Delta, is at the final stages before being referred to the ECJ (see timeline).
The understanding of legal requirements for planning projects affecting Natura 2000 sites is currently very low in the Romanian Authorities, consequently in June 2009, with the support of RSPB, SOR organised a wind energy working group and ran training on appropriate assessment for a group of stakeholders including consultants and civil servants.
We start supporting the Danube Delta Casework Officer post at SOR, the Romanian Birdlife Partner
European Commission open legal proceedings and send Romania a first warning (Letter of Formal Notice) for its failure to properly designate Special Protection Areas (SPA) - of 130 Important Bird Areas originally proposed for SPA designation, 21 are totally excluded and 71 only partially designated
We help SOR prepare an online petition to raise the profile of the Chituc Levee road project
Along with SOR, we visit the European Commission to discuss the situation in the Delta
European Commission send Romania a second warning (Reasoned Opinion) in relation to the inadequate Special Protection Area designation
Following objections by SOR, a 39 turbine windfarm proposal near Bestepe, adjacent to the Danube Delta, is rejected by the Romanian authorities. The windfarm would have threatened wintering geese and migrating raptors, storks and pelicans , whose populations are protected by the Danube Delta Special Protection Area
With our support, SOR organize a wind energy working group and run training on appropriate assessment for a group of stakeholders including consultants and civil servants
European Commission refer the site designation infringment to the European Court of Justice
The Romanian Senate rejects a draft law that would have brought protection of the Danube Delta in line with European Directives. SOR continue to campaign to get this vital piece of legislation passed
The European Commission send a first written warning to Romania (Letter of Formal Notice) over the damaging tourism development at Sulina on the Black Sea coast of the Danube Delta, following a complaint by SOR. The development is destroying irreplaceable priority dune habitats
Following information provided by SOR, the European Commission send a first written warning (Letter of Formal Notice) to the Romanian government over the Greci windfarm, sited in the Macin Mountains west of the Danube Delta. The windfarm threatens rare raptors such as Levant sparrowhawk, golden eagle and short-toed eagle that migrate over the site in their thousands, and also rare steppe habitats that host numerous wildflowers. This is just one of dozens of windfarm projects in the Dobrogea (Black Sea) region of Romania either within, or adjacent to designated nature conservation sites. SOR also provide further detailed information to the European Commission on the rare dune habitats being destroyed at the Sulina tourist development on the Black Sea Coast.
Following provision of information by SOR, the European Commission initiates investigations into the potential cumulative impacts of wind energy projects in the Black Sea region of Romania. SOR documented plans for over 2300 wind turbines in Tulcia and Constanta counties, some already built and operational. These effectively surround the internationally important nature areas for birds in the Black Sea Dobrogea region, such as the Danube Delta. This massive scale of wind energy development has the potential to disrupt migrating birds, cut individual sites off from one another and act as a significant collision threat. So far wind energy projects have been allowed to develop with no strategic planning of where the most suitable sites for them should be - something which SOR is encouraging the Romanian Government to undertake as a matter of urgency
The European Commission issues a final warning ('reasoned opinion') to the Romanian Government to put right the damage caused by the Sulina tourism development on the Danube Delta Black Sea coast. The breach in European nature law is focused on damage to protected priority dune habitats by chalets and restaurant developments. The Romanian Government has two months to comply, or face the possibility of the case being referred to the European Court of Justice. See BirdLife news story under 'Useful links'.
The Romanian President confirms a new law for the Danube Delta. SOR has been lobbying for this law since 2007, and its adoption is a great success. It strengthens the protection and management of the Delta and brings it in line with EU nature directives. 18 areas of the Delta will be strictly protected, with only research, education and eco-tourism allowed within their confines. A management plan will ensure that the species for which the site is protected will achieve or remain in a favourable conservation status. The Danube Delta administration will also have new powers to regulate sustainable fishing in the Delta, and objectives to facilitate the restoration of 60,000 ha of unused agricultural polders and fishponds.
The European Commission sends a 'supplementary reasoned opinion' to the Romanian government over the Sulina tourism development. If the Romanian government fails to act on this final warning, we will be pressing the Commission to refer the case to the European Court of Justice.
A new law which would have allowed hunting within the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve is rejected by the Romanian President, leading to an amended version being passed by the senate with much stronger limitations. This is a significant victory for SOR who lobbied strongly to maintain the existing strict limitations on hunting within this key international wetland.
An RSPB-funded training contract allows SOR to train civil servants from six regional Environmental Protection Agencies in how to properly conduct 'Appropriate Assessments' on development projects that affect the Danube Delta and other Natura 2000 sites along the Danube river. Application of EU law by local authorities is a continuing problem, so we hope this training, along with an online guide and ongoing liaison with the authorities will start to improve decision-making affecting internationally protected sites.