Rewilding Rhodopes Foundation
The project aims to stimulate locals, tourists and stakeholders to preserve and protect the nature of the Eastern Rhodopes, through well-designed signage, an interactive app and website, multiple workshops, and training activities. The region faces issues related to litter and inappropriate behaviour from visitors, impacting the wildlife of the area. As one of the last biodiversity hotspots in Europe, we want to inspire people to care for the Eastern Rhodopes and act as guardians of the region.
The Eastern Rhodopes, Bulgaria
Communities and tourists visiting the Eastern Rhodopes are often unaware of the damage they can cause to the natural capital. The flora and fauna of the Eastern Rhodopes are comprised of many rare and endangered species which are unfamiliar to most people. In multiple places, the natural landscape is polluted with litter, while irresponsible behaviour from visitors, whilst camping and hiking, negatively impacts the lives of animals. There also isn’t adequate information and good infrastructure that would facilitate visitors to act more sustainably. Local businesses also do not present responsibility in adopting environmentally friendly practices in their work. Therefore, this project aims to tackle the negligent behaviour of locals and visitors when they engage with natural landscapes.
Visitors of the Eastern Rhodopes would be addressed by newly installed signage on key points of contact and through digital infrastructure that would make it easy to act appropriately in nature.
Through workshops and community forums a spirit of responsibility and care for nature would be stimulated in locals. The plan is to engage local schools and through different activities foster a better understanding in young generations about the pollution challenges that the region faces. The project website would foster a dialogue between municipalities and citizens, and help authorities to identify pressing issues.
Through consultations and training of local entrepreneurs, we would strive to introduce sustainable practices among the business community and reduce their environmental impact.
1. Identify “critical points” which suffer from litter pollution and inappropriate visitor behaviour. Contact municipalities and obtain permission to place signage.
2. Design and place visually attractive and informative signage
3. Create a website to communicate progress and encourage participation. Citizens could identify sites that are polluted and then submit/vote for solutions. The most popular and pressing proposals will be presented through our already established contacts to each respective municipality.
4. Develop a mobile app that is connected with the signage. The app should act as a digital “code of conduct” and provide suggestions for better behaviour. The app would contain a map of the rubbish bins in the area, so people can have easy access to waste disposal and recycling.
5. Organise five training seminars (e.g. reducing plastic consumption, circular economy) for local businesses and develop together with them a “code of conduct” brochure, which will be distributed on their premises.
6. Organise five workshops for primary school students, focused on engagement with the topic of sustainable behaviour in nature. Hold five educational days out, where students will help in remapping hiking trails.
7. Organise four community forums focused on exploring the challenges that the region faces in terms of pollution and preventive actions that need to be taken.
The main objective and what is hoped to be achieved is to reduce litter in the Eastern Rhodopes, improve visitor behaviour and protect the natural capital of the region. After the completion of the project, there should be a substantial reduction in litter pollution as well as a decrease in cases of noise pollution and tourist misbehaviour. Recycling in the region should also improve as communities would now have a better understanding of the process. An important indicator for the success of the campaign would be the number of businesses that adopt environmentally-friendly initiatives.
Overall, the most important aspect would be to create an environmental spirit in the local communities and stimulate citizens to take responsibility for protecting Eastern Rhodopes’ natural landscape.
The years of work in the area have proven that periodically organised voluntary clean-up events are just a temporary solution. Through knowledge-building on effective methods to protect the region’s nature, we aim to empower the local community to take responsibility in guarding the Eastern Rhodopes. Familiarising local business with best practices on reducing their environmental input, would also trigger a larger conservation spirit and cooperation. The newly installed signage would raise awareness among the visitors of the region on how to behave in nature and the environmental impacts of irresponsible behaviour. As the project promotes citizen engagement in issues related to pollution, it will also help municipalities and improve the communication between locals and authorities.
The Rewilding Rhodopes team has been active since 2009 in the region and, throughout the years, has established good relationships with key stakeholders and local communities. The team leader Stoycho Stoev, together with Stefan Avramov, are two of Bulgaria’s main nature conservation leaders. The team is working on the restoration of the ecological processes in the area, while also fostering a nature-based economy. The focus has been on reintroducing herbivores and maintaining stable or increasing populations of vultures. However, the presence of plastic and litter is quite harmful, as often animals end up consuming that. As mentioned, voluntary clean-up initiatives are not a viable solution, and a more long-term approach is required.
Funding requested from Civic Europe
Travel costs- 2 000 EUR
Business trainings (five in total)- 3 000 EUR
Communify forums (four in total)- 2 400 EUR
Five workshops with primary school children and five days out remapping hiking trails- 6 000 EUR
Web application & project website- 12 000 EUR
Designing, constructing and placing interpretive signage (5 in total)- 5 000 EUR
Promotion (online & offline materials)- 4 000 EUR
Accounting- 500 EUR
Personnel (project management, administration, communication, PR)- 18 000 EUR
Every comment, piece of feedback and advice is more than welcomed! If someone has a suggestion about an additional component or a different approach in improving people’s behaviour in nature, please do not hesitate to share it. Thank you for reading our proposal!