Land use (Bulgaria)
Why should we care about this issue
Soils are subject to a number of degradation processes and threats such as erosion, pollution, sealing, reductions in the variety of species and organic substances, salinization, acidification, compaction, flooding and subsidence. A combination of these may lead to climate change, aridity or desertification.
Soil, a vital part of the ecosystem, is characterised by its versatility. It has productive, buffering, bearing and filtering qualities; it is a resource; a habitat for biological species; an environment for preserving genetic resources; a conserver of human historical and cultural heritage and a means for maintaining the ecological balance of the ecosystem. This environmental component is a finite and practically irreplaceable natural resource, which is why it is necessary to restrict harmful impacts and protect and use it responsibly.
Soils are subject to a number of degradation processes and threats such as erosion, pollution, sealing, reductions in the variety of species and organic substances, salinization, acidification, compaction, flooding and subsidence. A combination of these may lead to climate change, aridity or desertification. Pollution leads to a deterioration in food and drinking water and represents a basic threat to human health. The most widespread forms of soil damage are contamination by heavy metals and diverse forms of degradation such as erosion, acidification and salinization.
The state and impacts
From 1990-2006 the structure of land use by class remained relatively unchanged, although there was a strong trend towards urban expansion in certain localities: e.g. tourism in coastal and high mountain areas and mining in areas rich in underground resources.
Fullscreen image Original link
Fullscreen image Original link
Figure 1. Area distribution by classes of land cover
Figure 2. Changes in land cover. Level I as defined in CORINE Land Cover
Bulgaria's farmlands cover some 51.2 % of the country's area, compared to 42.67 % for forests and 4.9 % for urban areas. From 1990-2006 the structure of land use by class remained relatively unchanged, although there was a strong trend towards urban expansion in certain localities: e.g. tourism in coastal and high mountain areas and mining in areas rich in underground resources. To date, transport infrastructure development has had greater impact on biodiversity than on the soil (http://eea.government.bg/eng).
The state of the soil is assessed under the National Soils Monitoring Programme on the basis of a 16 х 16 km network comprising 407 points and the monitoring of a set of indicators: presence of heavy metals, stable organic polluters, carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus.
Monitoring during the period 2004-2007 led to the conclusion that Bulgaria's soils are ecologically sound, both with regard to nutrient components, organic matter reserves, heavy metal and metalloid pollution. Median values are above the accepted mean reserve values and below maximum concentrations. Breaches of maximum concentrations (MAC) have occurred at only 4 % of the network points. There are no MAC breaches in relation to mercury and no stable organic pollutants have been registered. Between 2004 and 2007, measured content was several times lower than MAC (over 80 % of measured values are below the discovery threshold for the method).
Major sources of local soil pollution are: industrial processes, mining, waste storage, incidental spillages and stores of absolute pesticides. To date there has been insufficient study of local soil pollution, compared with diffused pollution. There are 1 438 registered areas of possible pollution at the preliminary review stage.
Soil erosion is the basic process caused by both natural and climate factors and human activity: incorrect treatment, overgrazing, deforestation, fires, etc. In recent years, the monitoring of erosion processes has seen a slight trend towards reduction, both as regards area affected and mean annual soil loss. Around 2.11 % of Bulgaria's total surface area is at very great risk of water erosion, at average intensities of 10-15 t/ha/y. A high erosion risk exists for 4.59 % of the country's land (average intensities of 5-10 t/ha/y). The mean annual erosion intensity varies, depending on the type of land use, from 8 t/y (perennial plants) to 48 t/y (crops). In recent years, wind weathering has also affected a relatively constant area (3 818 980 ha in 2007) and caused soil erosion of around 300 t/ha/y.
The proportion of acidic soils is approximately 1.5 million hectares, or 11 % of farmland. Around 500 000 hectares of this has acidity levels which are toxic to most farm crops.
The total area of salinated soils is assessed as 33 310.027 hectares. Depending on the contents and type of water-soluble salts, salinated soils are typically classified as solonez, solonchak and solonez-solonchak (14 186.047 hectares). Mildly salinated soils or soils salinated in profile depth (solonchak and solonez) are more common, amounting to some 19 123.98 hectares.
 Reserves – biogenic element content
 Mean reserves – optimum content
 Maximum permissible concentrations of soil pollutants relate to the content of harmful substances in soils which, when exceeded in a given type of land use, entail risks to the environment and human health (Order No 3, Darzhaven Vestnik Official Gazette, Issue 71 of 2008
 USLE assessment
 WEQ assessment
The key drivers and pressures
Land with changed use has increased from 600 hectares in 2000 to 4 442 hectares in 2007. There is concern that the use of valuable national land, particularly forests, is being changed.
Figure 3. Land with changed use (ha).
Figure 4. Changes in soil sealing compared to population change in Bulgaria.
Land with changed use has increased from 600 hectares in 2000 to 4 442 hectares in 2007. There is concern that the use of valuable national land, particularly forests, is being changed. Despite a very restrictive regime, including a moratorium on change of forest land use, in practice changes of use are still taking place, threatening the loss of a valuable resource and rich biodiversity (http://www.mzh.government.bg).
In recent years, soil sealing has been assessed as causing a significant soil destruction threat. It affects soil beneath urban, industrial and infrastructural developments. In Bulgaria, this means some 4.9 % of the land area (over 560 000 hectares), although the proportion is much higher in some areas. The situation is more acute in coastal areas and resort communities where development is proceeding apace. It is expected that in coming years the process will accelerate even further as a result of infrastructure projects currently being planned (http://eea.government.bg/eng).
Subsidence causes a great deal of damage to infrastructure and the landscape across Bulgaria. The phenomenon is mostly seen in spring, after the snows melt, or following intensive rainfall. Instances have been registered in areas where no research has taken place and therefore no soil retention measures have been taken. From 2000-2007, some 1 502 subsidence areas were registered, covering an area of 24 349 hectares, and the trend is increasing (http://www.mrrb.government.bg).
According to ExEA data, natural resource production areas in Bulgaria amount to 271 100 hectares. Prospecting, production and the primary processing of natural resources have seriously affected some 30 936 hectares of land, rendering it irretrievably damaged. Only 10 362.7 hectares have been recovered, mostly through afforestation. The impact is most evident in opencast mining or quarrying and the primary processing of resources. Soils and landscapes are damaged extensively, with the soil, surface/ground waters and air subject to pollution. A serious problem in production and primary processing of underground resources is the generation of enormous amounts of waste (earth and rock slag). The possibilities for reusing this waste are limited, mainly because of the lack of suitable technology, consumer interest or economic regulation (http://eea.government.bg/eng).
The 2020 outlook
No scenarios have been developed to date and no major changes are anticipated for 2020.
No scenarios have been developed to date and no major changes are anticipated for 2020, however no significant alteration is expected in the proportions of areas and their long-term use. It is hoped that it will be possible to develop organic farming (by increasing the area under cultivation to reach average European levels); minimise farmland lying fallow due to a lack of interest by farmers and restrict irregular development in coastal and mountains resorts.
Existing and planned responses
Measures governing the conservation of soil function and sustainable use of soils have been established in the Soils Act. Long-term policy on soil conservation and sustainable use is set out in the National Action Programme.
Soil damage results from unsustainable and environmentally-harmful production practices in all economic sectors. To prevent such practices, it is necessary to implement a long-term policy, have an appropriate legislative base and significant financial backing.
Measures governing the conservation of soil function and sustainable use of soils have been established in the Soils Act. Long-term policy on soil conservation and sustainable use is set out in the National Action Programme for the Sustainable Management of Soil and the Prevention of Desertification which combines the efforts of central and local government, the public, farmers, manufacturers, researchers and non-governmental organisations (http://www.moew.government.bg, http://www.unccd-slm.org).
The National Development Programme for Rural Regions 2007-2013 introduced a set of subsidies and compensatory measures for the conservation of soils. The emphasis of the Programme is not on soil use but on the introduction of farming and forestry practices to mitigate negative environmental impact (http://www.mzh.government.bg).
Significant resources is being allocated to work on preventing subsidence, landslips and overdevelopment. Efforts are focusing on extending urban parkland and stimulating the use or afforestation of unproductive farmland and fallow forest land (http://www.mrrb.government.bg).
The Environment Executive Agency (ExEA): http://eea.government.bg/eng.
The National Statistics Institute (NSI): http://www.nsi.bg.
The Ministry of the Environment and Waters (MoEW): http://www.moew.government.bg.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food (MoAF): http://www.mzh.government.bg.
The Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works (MRDPW): http://www.mrrb.government.bg.
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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