Effects from the fire in Dragoman Marsh and next steps

The fire in the night of January 22nd, 2020 destroyed about 80% of the vegetation in Dragoman Marsh. The fire affected such a great area because of lack of water in the wetland and strong winds. The water levels are probably the lowest since the wetland’s restoration in the 1990s.

Are there any “good news”?

  • There was a mid-winter water birds census in the begining of January. The volunteer birdwatchers didn’t register any water birds in the Dragoman marsh area, most probably due to the lack of water. However, if there were any birds in the marsh during the fire, they managed to fly away.
  • The fire occurred before the mating and nesting season has started. If the distater happened in the spring, the fire would have destroyed nests, eggs and nestlings of the water birds.
  • The fire didn’t affect buildings and didn’t stretch to the bush and tree vegetation over Chepan mountain.
  • There are isolated islands of reeds that survived due to the frozen water around them. Luckily, in the Eastern part of the wetland there is some vegetation left unaffected by the fire.

Enough with the “positive” facts.

  • Amphibians, reptiles, invertebrate animals and probably small mammals have died in the fire trap.
  • The ashes in the water will invoke eutrophication process. It means water in the wetland will be overly enriched with nutrients which will induce growth of vegetation and decrease of oxygen level. Fish in the Marsh might disappear.
  • It isn’t clear if there is enough reed vegetation left for the herons to nest again in the wetland.
  • Currently, we can’t estimate the effects on the population of birds, whose all-year round habitat is the Dragoman Marsh. An example of such birds is the Bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus).
  • The fire destroyed or heavily damaged all the visitor’s infrastructure, which BALKANI Wildlife Society has built and maintained with volunteer support and donations since 2005. The wooden path and the birdwatching tower are there to make the wetland more accessible and to allow for kids and adults to explore and expirience the area. Thousands of students from Sofia and the region have walked over the path to the water lillies (Nymphaea alba) and have learned to appreciate the wetland and its value for the biodiversity.
  • Aldomirovsko marsh, located about 3km from the Dragoman marsh, has dried out in 2019 due to low levels of precipations and pumping of water for the construction of “Europe” highway.
  • In the last couple of days other wetlands have been set on fire – i.e., Orlovo Marsh, part of the Durankulak lake. So far, there is noone punished for setting wetlands on fire.
Bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus)

What lies ahead for the Dragoman Marsh?

There were fires before in the wetland area. There will probably be more in future. The wetland vegetation will recover with new reeds growing already in June.

The main problem is that the fire happens in one of the driest winters. The lack of water and vegetation mean that there are no suitable conditions for the migratory birds to take rest and find food. Mating and nesting are out of question as well.

Тherefore, the most important factor now is the increased level of snowfalls or rainfalls which will allow the water in the wetland to recover. More water with small islands of vegetation and new reeds growing will allow for some migratory birds to nest in the area.

The recovery of life in Dragoman Marsh depends mostly on the weather conditions and BALKANI Wildlife Society will follow closely the situation, the water levels and the return of wildlife.

Is nature the only factor we can count on?

The answer: NO. For many years there is a huge problem with the waste water of the town of Dragoman. At the moment, it discharges directly in the wetland with no purification system. The marsh has a certain capacity to purify the water but it comes at the cost of eutriphication. The process leads to excessive growth of vegetation, contamination of the water and decreased oxygen levels.

Water purifcation system is vital in such a critical moment for the wildlife in Dragoman marsh. Such a facility will guarantee a flow of clean water in the wetland directly helping the recovering process. We insist on a permanent solution for the waste water in the town of Dragoman and the construction of a water purification facility, an action that will improve the environment for people, animals and plants.

Biodiversity monitoring in the region

Estimating the effects on flora and fauna in the area is impossible immediately after the fire. A regular biodiversity monitoring and research needs to take place. With certainty we can say that the fire has positive effects for certain species and negative for others.

BALKANI Wildlife Society together with volunteers and supporters plans to monitor the bird population in the region, the population of the reintroduced insectivorous waterwheel plant (Aldrovanda vesiculosa), the invertebrate animals, amphibians, and reptiles.

Waterwheel plant (aldrovanda vesiculosa)

The repair of visitor’s infrastructure

BALKANI Wildlife Society will do everything in our powers to repair the wooden path in the wetland. We started a donation campaign “To repair the damage of the Dragoman marsh fire” in Platformata.bg. Clients of the Bulgarian mobile operators (A1, Telenor, Vivacom) can donate money via SMS with text DMS DRAGOMAN to 17 777. You can donate via PayPal, E-Pay or to our bank account in BGN or EUR.

Afforestation and fish stocking actions

Based on weather conditions and trends in biodiversity populations, there might be a need to organize actions for afforestations and to stock the wetland with fish. You can count on us to organize volunteer actions if such activities are needed.

What does BALKANI Wildlife Society require?

  1. Fire Investigation to clarify how the fire started and who is responsible.
  2. Indictability and heavy fines for criems against nature.
  3. Dragoman Marsh to be designated as a protected site according to the Law on Protected Areas. Protected areas have clear regimes of what is allowed and prohibited. BALKANI Wildlife society, supported by the Municipality of Dragoman has submitted the documents in 2005. However, the Ministry of Environment and Waters hasn’t taken a decision yet. Currently the wetland falls within the Nature 2000 protected zone following the EU Birds Directive. The marsh is designated as international important wetland area according to the Ramsar convention on wetlands. However, there is no real protection by the state.
  4. Designation of Nature 2000 protected zone following the EU Habitat Directive. The Bualgarian government has obligations to do so, but is falling short on exxecuting them.
  5. Construction of water purification facility for the waste water of the town of Dragoman. The facility will guarantee a flow of clean water in the wetland.
  6. Design of a standard reaction procedure for the institutions in cases of fires within wetlands. Once safety of people has been guaranteed, there needs to be a procedure on how to reduce the damage on nature.

Who is responsble for the fire?

BALKANI Wildlife society doesn’t have an answer to this question. However, the wetland in on fire for the second time in the last 6 months. There were more fires in the years before that including the Aldomirovsko marsh.

We expect the responsible institutions to do their job and to investigate the reasons for the fire. BALKANI Wildlife Society will follow closely!