Srebarna Nature Reserve


The Srebarna Nature Reserve is a freshwater lake adjacent to the Danube and extending over 600 ha. It is the breeding ground of almost 100 species of birds, many of which are rare or endangered. Some 80 other bird species migrate and seek refuge there every winter. Among the most interesting bird species are the Dalmatian Pelican, Great Egret, Night Heron, Purple Heron, Glossy Ibis and White Spoonbill.

Srebarna Lake was the first wetland in Bulgaria to receive legal protection status and also the first to achieve international recognition. The lake was designated as reserve in 1948 to protect the diversity of birds it hosts. In 1985 it was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List of Natural Properties. Srebarna Lake is also protected as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention and as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. In 1989 the lake was designated as an lmportant Bird Area by BirdLife International. Its values are also recognised and protected at the European level. The property is also included in two Natura 2000 sites: the Srebarna Special Protection Area and Ludogorie-Srebarna Special Area of Conservation.

Today the Nature Reserve is exclusive state property, and the adjoining land tracts are private property or municipal property.

The dominant plant here is the Reed (Phragmites australis), which occupies about two-thirds (400 ha) of the Reserve's total surface area. The second widest spread plant species after the Reed is the Lesser Reedmace (Typha angustifolia), and it is more abundant than the Great Reedmace (Typha latifolia).

Of all 139 vascular plant species hosted by the Reserve, 11 are rare or endangered. Some 19 fish species occurred in the lake until 1948. There are 21 reptile and amphibian species, and 41 mammal species. The avifauna is the most diverse animal kingdom group found in and around the Srebarna Reserve: a total of 223 bird species. The nesting colony of Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) is the pearl of the Reserve. The number of breeding pairs in the colony varied from 29 to 127 in the 1950-1980 period.

Lake Srebarna is a good example that illustrates the importance of the connection between a river and its adjoining wetlands. In the past, every year the high water removed tons of nutrients, organic matter, and even whole islands of floating reed from the lake. After the construction of a protective dike between the lake and the Danube in 1948, conditions in Srebarna deteriorated sharply. The lake started ageing, or, in ecological terms, succession accelerated. Gradually, the lake filled with organic mud and became shallower, the open water surface decreased, and a large number of fish and bird species disappeared.

The first attempt at a partial reconnection to the Danube dates to 1963. The protective dike was provided with a connecting lock, which however was removed shortly afterwards. In 1979, a part of the highest western section of the dike was removed, enabling the Danube to enter the reserve during extremely high water. This is a major positive step, but it is not sufficient, because in this way there is a link to the Danube only once every few years, and it is mostly one-way: from the Danube to Srebarna. The problems continued to worsen. In 1993 the reserve was about to be removed from the UNESCO World Heritage List.  

A linking canal with a lock, constructed in 1994, enabled the “artificial respiration” of Srebarna. Thanks to this canal, water from the Danube can now flow into the lake every year. It slows down the ageing but does not resolve the problem. As long as the natural two-way flow of water between the Danube and the lake is hindered, the Srebarna Reserve will continue to disappear.


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WWF staff

Occupation: WWF staff
Location: Bulgaria


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Srebarna Nature Reserve | UNESCO World Heritage | Bulgaria | wetland restoration | Lower Danube