The West Stara Planina (West Balkan) mountains are situated on the border between Bulgaria and Serbia and Montenegro. The project area covers approximately 4,000 square kilometres with 200,000 inhabitants on both sides of the border. It runs through four municipalities, in Bulgaria — Belogradchik, Berkovitza, Chiprovtzi and Chuprene — and four municipalities in Serbia and Montenegro — Dimitrovgrad, Zajecar, Knjazevac and Pirot
Shared natural resources
West Stara Planina is known for its rich biological and geological diversity, as well as its cultural heritage. In Serbia and Montenegro, a nature park has been established which comprises the whole territory of the mountain. In Bulgaria.
In 1996 the ministries of Bulgaria and what was then Yugoslavia signed a memorandum to create a transboundary Peace Park, and a nature park was designated in Serbia.
The WSP region is a marginal area for both Serbia and Montenegro and Bulgaria, and the Bulgarian part is considered a priority for development under the Action Plan for Regional Development. There is no significant industry in the region and a high percentage of the population is on social aid, which puts pressure on the natural resources of the mountain. The area is characterised as a “less favoured area.” There is a significant threat of abandonment, and the landscape is in need of maintenance. The population of West Stara Planina has been dropping and ageing for decades.
Most households in Bulgaria have a single source of income, many rely on social policy (pensions and social aid) and some rely on help from abroad. The economy in Bulgaria is characterised by fruit (berries) production, small-scale owners and more abandoned land than in Serbia. People own more land than in Bulgaria on average, there is more use of agricultural machinery, and agricultural production is decreasing.
Both sides suffer from trade/marketing problems. There is also a lack of cooperatives and state support (policy), and a degradation of human-dependent resources. There is some potential for beekeeping to provide additional income.
There is strong interest in the development of ecotourism and significant potential for it. Currently, visitors are transitory and are mostly attracted by:
- natural areas and landscapes;
- cultural monuments and religious sites (monasteries, churches, traditional architecture); and
- crafts (carpetry, icons, knitting), products (kashkaval, urda, belmuz, maslo), and traditional lifestyles.