EU / Serbia: Are They Both Leading Us Up The Environmental Garden Path ?

Stara Planina, Serbia – Update – 02/08/2011.

As a result of our involvement over quite some period relating to flora and fauna protection campaigning at Stara Planina, Serbia; we were informed by the EU that the issue would be raised with the Serbian government at a meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, in April 2011.

The wording that we were provided with on 31/07/2011 is:

Dear Mr. Johnson,

On behalf of Mr. Hxxxxx, I would like to inform you that we have raised the issue of Stara Planina during the meeting with the Serbian authorities in April 2011. However, due to the heavy agenda and the limited time available for the discussions, it was agreed that information will be submitted to the Commission in writing.

We will keep you informed once we have received more information from the Serbian authorities.

Best regards,


We consider this is unacceptable and that with such an important environmental issue, time should have been made available at the April Belgrade meeting to discuss Stara Planina much further.

Not happy with the response, SAV founder Mark Johnson has now responded to the EU, asking that copies of the official Serbian government response about Stara Planina be provided to him by 22/08/2011.  As the EU appears unable to define any deadlines on this specific issue for the Serbian government to respond, we are now attempting to set deadlines with the EU, who in turn need to act urgently and get a response from the Serbian government this month.

A copy of the mail from MJ to the EU can be viewed below:

Dear Mxxxxx;

I thank you for your mail of 29 July, as shown below.

“The main role of the European Commission’s Environment Directorate-General (DG) is to initiate and define new environmental legislation and to ensure that agreed measures are put into practice in the EU Member States”.

From the site of Janez Potočnik – European Commissioner for the Environment –

Despite what you say and with all the good intentions; I find your response completely unacceptable.

The information which I personally was provided with on 30 March 2011 by Mr. Hxxxxx declared:

“The Commission is aware of the situation of the Stara Planina and we are addressing this issue in the context of the EU enlargement process. In this context and in order to receive updated information from the Serbian government, we are going to raise the question on the situation of the Stara Planina site at the next EU – Serbia Sub-Committee Meeting that will take place early April in Belgrade. I will be able afterwards to come back to you with more information”.

Your mail of 29 July can provide me with no further information other than to say that you have left the issue of Serbian flora and fauna destruction in Serbia with those who are performing Serbian flora and fauna destruction – namely the Serbian government.

If my experience of attempting to deal with the Serbian government over environmental / animal welfare issues during the past 7 years has taught me anything, it is simply that Serbian government officials are xxxxxxxx and will do everything in their power to avoid having to respond to you, me, anyone, about Stara Planina until all the destruction has been done; flora / fauna species have been depleted and certain Serbian officials have money rolling in.

The EU is supposed to be fighting to stop environmental destruction at facilities such  as Stara Planina.  What we see as a result of your last meeting in Belgrade appears to be another ‘back burner job’ with the Serbian authorities setting the agenda and dictating to you when you will be getting a response about the environmental destruction that they are doing at Stara Planina.  I guess that is very much a case of the Serbian government telling you what you wish to hear in order that the EU Accession door is kept wide open for their membership in the near future.  Animals and plant species coming a very poor second.

If anyone, either you (the EU) or the Serbian government, does care about environmental destruction in Serbia at locations such as Stara Planina, then can I suggest that your time limited discussions should have been extended to consider such issues as environmental destruction in Serbia.  Possibly you will learn to allocate more time for your next Serbian meeting so that Serbian environmental issues, which so many exiasting EU citizens have big concerns about, can actually be addressed and sorted out there and then, rather than simply being jotted down on notes, and responsibility for further actions being put back in the hands of  politicians – those running Serbia.

Please look at the photographs I am attaching and take time to ask yourself – is this something which should be left with officials on the back burner of meetings with the EU ? – more continued destruction until the next important EU / Serbia meeting ? – then to be put off once again ? – I suggest not.  Obviously you feel differently.  So what power to the ‘EU man’ on issues such as this ?

Lets say that if I have not had further response from the Serbian government and also yourselves on the issue of Stara Planinna by Monday 22nd August, I will be informing all global supporters to my site that the EU has left the issue of Stara Planina environmental destruction in the hands of those who are responsible for this exact thing; a bent and corrupt Serbian government.

I hope and very much trust that you will inform the Serbian authorities that the issue of environmental destruction (by them) at Stara Planina is still being monitored by EU NGO’s, and that every attempt to expose the environmental destruction at this facility will continue to a global audience.  Can I suggest that you provide me with a written copy of the Serbian government response on Stara Planina by Monday 22nd August, as I have no faith in being led up the written / verbal path that some future meeting of yours in Belgrade sometime in the distant future is going to do anything to halt the killing of species of wild animals and plants in the SP sector of Serbia.

I very much look forward to your / Serbian government response by Monday 22nd August; otherwise it will then be necessary to make public, to EU government and international press, the failings which have taken place at the Belgrade meeting of April 2011.

If there is no response by the Serbian government on the issue of Stara Planina by 22 August in relation to the April Belgrade meeting; then I consider this a failure by all parties concerned. 5 months is long enough for the Serbian authorities to respond;

I very much suggest that they do and that you and Commissioner Potocnik ask them to act; and quickly.

Regards – Mark Johnson.

Founder ‘Serbian Animals Vioce

Kent, England, Uk, EU.


Copy to

Janez Potočnik is the European Commissioner for the Environment; who declares on his site:

“The Directorate-General for the Environment is one of the more than 40 Directorates-General and services that make up the European Commission. Commonly referred to as DG Environment, the objective of the Directorate-General is to protect, preserve and improve the environment for present and future generations. To achieve this it proposes policies that ensure a high level of environmental protection in the European Union and that preserve the quality of life of EU citizens.

The DG makes sure that Member States correctly apply EU environmental law. In doing so it investigates complaints made by citizens and non-governmental organisations and can take legal action if it is deems that EU law has been infringed. In certain cases DG Environment represents the European Union in environmental matters at international meetings such as the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity”.

Further Information on the flora and fauna in the SP region of Serbia:

The Serbian Government proclaimed in 1997 Stara Planina as a Nature Park, enjoying the First Category of Protection – as of utmost importance for the country. 

Stara Planina also has the status of a significant International region. It is on the list for International Important Birds, on the list for International Important Plant Areas, on the list of Prime Butterfly Areas in Europe, on the preliminary list of Cross-border Biosphere Reserve under UNESCO protection (Man and Biosphere, UNESCO), on the list of Important Ramsar Sites (peat meadows), on the Emerald list (sites significant for conserving the European ecological network), and also on the list of cross-border protected region placed in the European programme Green Belt (IUCN), on the list of ProGEO geological heritage sites under The European Association for the Conservation of the Geological Heritage.

There are 344 moss species on Mt. Stara Planina. Among them are numerous species which are supposed to be protected by various international and Serbian laws. Species that live on decaying wood and peat meadows are very threatened. One great danger for these species are the hydro-geological works, because of great changes in the water balance of their habitat. Under great threat is Buxbaumia viridis, which is protected within the Bern Convention and Habitat Directive in the whole of Europe, because of habitat destruction (wet tree trunks) which is threatened because of the forest destruction.

With ski-centre construction on the Jabucko ravniste, the peat meadow and water usage from Dojkino vrelo peat meadow, two most important peat meadows will be destroyed. This is a direct threat for all peat meadow associated moss species.

Diversity of flora in the Serbian part of the Stara Planina mountain (the other half is in Bulgaria) with at least 1195 growing plant species, of which 116 (9,7% from all recorded species) are locally or regionally endemic. Endemics are the most threatened category and also the most important floristic elements for the biodiversity. An example of the danger of wild tourism development is seen in the near extinction of Winged Bell (Campanula calycialata) which grew only on Stara planina.  One part of this fragile population was destroyed during the first phases of the project.

On Stara Planina grow 9 species from the World Red List,

42 species are on the  European Red List of which 4 are CRITICALLY endangered, 3 species from the Habitat Directive (Gentiana lutea), 45 species from the CITES list (41 species of orchids), 179 species with the regional IUCN threat status, 14 species from the National Red List and 153 species from that are protected in various ways by the Serbian national legislature. Also, 21 plant species are LOCALLY CRITICALLY endangered (IUCN YUCR)

From the Decree on the Protection of Natural Rarities (Official Gazette of Republic of Serbia: No. 50/93) 40 species are present and therefore IT IS ILLEGAL to damage and destroy their habitat. The Bern Convention also protects 2 species growing on the mountain.  Peat meadows are habitats for dozens of endemic plant species. On the peat meadows of Stara Planina, grow about  50-70 endemic species on average, one of the most important is Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), a very rare and very threatened insectivorous plant species which became extinct in other parts of Serbia. It should be remembered that mountain peat meadows today represent the most scarce and threatened World ecosystems. According to IUCN categorization, they are specified among fragile (very sensitive) ecosystems, in which the smallest changes of abiotic and biotic factors are CRITICAL (the disappearance of only 1-2 species can result in total COLLAPSE of the system.). 

Construction of ski tracks (which involves both logging and bulldozing activites) on fragile steep slopes will unavoidably begin a process of erosion; this has already happened on some parts of the mountain where development was illegally started.

On Stara Planina live 136 species of butterflies, of which 3 are protected by the Bern Convention, 4 are declared as national rarities by the Decree on the Protection of Natural Rarities by IUCN categorization.

Of the butterflies that live on Stara Planina, THERE ARE 6 ENDANGERED SPECIES.

From the European conservation concern, there are 14 species recorded which are crucially dependent on peat meadow vegetation – and at least three of the species are living on the territory of the planned mega ski resort (Babin zub, Midzor, Topli Do).

Considering fish fauna of the mountain (26 species), the most important is Brown Trout In addition, in the cold mountain rivers lives the Golden Loach (Sabanejewia aurata) which is under protection by the Decree on the Protection of Natural Rarities. Also, the Bern Convention issues protection of six fish species which also live in the streams and rivers of Stara Planina Mt.

With the use of mountain springs as water sources for the demands of proposed tourist accommodation facilities, severe damage to the current water balance is expected, and the resulting effects on aquatic animals will be extremely harmful. Numerous streams and small rivers that are fragile ecosystems will also be threatened by pollution from effluent and drainage.

On Stara Planina live 18 species of amphibians and reptiles, of which 10 are protected under the Bern Convention, while 8 are protected by the Decree on the Protection of Natural Rarities. It is almost certain that many species will be lost if  and when the works proceed.

So far, 206 bird species are recorded on Stara Planina. From that number, 140 bird species are protected by the Bern Convention, but some of them have ALREADY BECOME EXTINCT recently on Mt. Stara Planina due to human activity.

Localities are under consideration for development which will endanger nesting / bird species which have bred there in the recent past and which are currently protected by both the Bern Convention and the Decree on the Protection of Natural Rarities.

It is of great importance for every one of the above flora and fauna species that THEIR HABITAT REMAINS PRESERVED, and is not ruined by government ploitical ignorance of environmental legislation.

There are some 60 species of mammals on Stara Planina, among which some are very rare, including the Snow Vole (Chionomys nivalis), also an extremely rare living fossil of Tertiary origin which lives on the highest slopes of the mountain; it is directly threatened by the ski resort.

Together with Snow Vole, under the Decree on the Protection of Natural Rarities, an additional 19 mammal species and their habitat are protected. Under the direct threat of habitat destruction are the Lynx (Lynx lynx), Marbled Polecat Vormela peregusna, Mole Rat (Spalax leucodon), Suslik (Spermophilus citellus), Water Shrew (Neomys fodiens) and the Southern Water Shrew (Neomys anomalus). The Bern Convention, Apendix II is protecting 6 species: Suslik (S. citellus) Brown Bear (Ursus arctos), Marbled Polecat (Vormela peregusna), Grey Wolf (Canis lupus), Wild Cat (Felis silvestris) and Otter (Lutra lutra), while Apendix III also protects an additional 12 species.

Only the Grey Wolf and Wild Cat in Serbia are not protected by law and sadly enough, considered as game animals by Serbian hunters who have a love for the destruction of nature. Animals detailed above, especially those from Apendix II, are now seriously threatened with habitat destruction from the building and future existence of the ski resort.

According to many scientific findings, this kind of tourism is likely to be unsustainable due to climate change (higher warming temperatures and lower snow yield), strong competition in the region and diversity destruction which will take result.

It is vigorously recommended that an alternative of rural (agro / eco and ethnic) tourism should be developed and made profitable on a sustainable basis without  any major habitat destruction.

This would require less investment and would benefit and preserve the local communities. This kind of tourism would very much improve the quality of life of local people by enabling them to find additional outlets for their food and craft products and local services.

Eco-tourism has been previously recommended by IUCN as the only acceptable kind of tourism development of this region. Also the World Bank is now working on a project with local communities to improve ecological management of Stara Planina Nature Park (142,000 ha), biodiversity and sustainable natural resource-use incorporated in a major agricultural and rural development program, for example including c.30,000 ha of grasslands under sustainable grazing.

Spain: Bullfighting Now Protected Under Ministry Of Culture In Spain – Your Chance To Vote In A Poll.

Bullfighting Now Protected Under Ministry Of Culture In Spain (POLL)


Bullfighting in Spain, so fundamental to the country’s identity but so vehemently opposed by many of its citizens, won a victory this week with a reclassification that will make it more difficult to ban.

The Guardian reports that the government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has announced that the controversial sport will now be regulated under the Ministry of Culture instead of the Ministry of the Interior. This move will afford greater protection against regional governments and animal rights groups that have sought to see the corrida outlawed.

After Catalonia implemented a regional ban last year, the conservative Popular Party and others supported the change in classifying the sport, which has now been recognized by the Ministry of Culture as “an artistic discipline and cultural product” of the Kingdom of Spain.

The sport, or art, which has seen its audience decline over the past several decades, remains perhaps the most emblematic symbol of Spain. Ernest Hemingway believed bullfights were “of great tragic interest,” and devoted his book, Death In The Afternoon, to discussing the traditions and values of the bullfighting community. The figure of the bull has long been involved in various aspects of Spanish culture, getting its chance at comeuppance during the Running of the Bulls and appearing throughout the works of Spain’s most famous artist, Pablo Picasso.

Does the cruelty outweigh the tradition, or vice versa? Vote for your opinion in the poll below.

To vote ‘Its barbaric’, go to:

Quick Poll

Should bullfighting be banned in Spain?

Top of Form

Of course! It’s barbaric.

Of course not! It’s part of what makes Spain Spain.

Other: I’ll explain in the comments below.