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2019 Whitley Award
Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds
Nikolai Petkov Bulgaria Wetland
Wetlands on the brink: conserving the Red-breasted Goose


The coastal lakes of Shabla and Durankulak provide critical habitat for 260 bird species. In the winter, migratory water birds congregate in the thousands, placing the lakes among the most important stop over sites along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Despite this, mounting infrastructure development and economic growth in the area pose a significant challenge for conservationists who aim to ensure the protection of these wetlands while meeting human needs.


For 15 years, Nikolai and his team at the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds have worked to champion the conservation of the globally threatened Red-breasted Goose, a flagship species for these precious sites. By engaging with farmers to develop an agri-environment payment scheme, they have reduced conflict and persecution of geese due to crop damage and have boosted perceptions of conservation as an opportunity to bring value to the region.


Nikolai is working alongside local institutions to improve understanding and enforcement of environmental legislation to address illegal hunting and fishing in the region. Together with his team, he will provide a strong and informed voice for the integration of conservation into the imminent Shabla municipality development plan. Through extensive community outreach, he will build local pride in the region’s wildlife, creating an incentive for its conservation.

NIKOLAI’s project will:

  • Address threats to the red-breasted goose from intentional and accidental hunting.
  • Ensure that conservation values are accounted for in the Shabla municipality development plan.
  • Reduce disturbance to roosting red-breasted geese caused by illegal fishing.
  • Build local pride in the area’s natural heritage through promotion of bird watching ecotourism.

Why it matters:

  • Shabla and Durankulak Lakes are declared wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
  • 42% of the bird species found at Durankulak are of European conservation concern.
  • The number of Red-breasted Geese has nearly halved since 1990. In cold winters, the two lakes have been known to support the species’ entire global population.

“Now, we want to replicate this work and find similar solutions to this in other countries along the flyway.”

Image credits: Daniel Mitev; BSPB