A dream comes true
Having purchased seven head of cattle, the Ark Foundation - Stichting Ark - together with a few Bulgarian partners started a grazing project in the Rhodope Mountains. ARK came to know this forgotten area in southwest Bulgaria better in the year 2000. Thanks to extensive grazing, nature has richly developed. The grazing project proved to be essential for an ecosystem that may well be Europe's richest. The key to maintaining this area was the acquisition of the very rare Rhodope cattle. Even the local population can profit from this nature project by the arrival of tourists that appreciate this great area and the rare cattle. Below is a specification of ARK's activities.
You need large herbivores if you want to start a natural grazing project. In Bulgaria they were found in a primitive cattle breed, the Rhodope Shorthorn. This breed has roamed this mountainous countryside for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years. The harsh conditions - solid mountainsides, snows in winter, draughts in summer and, not of secondary importance, the limited budget of the farmers made the animals adapt themselves to their natural circumstances. But Bulgaria wants to make headway, and cattle are logically selected by their milk or meat production. This successful project was concluded in 2004: funded by the PinMatra Fund of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Food Safety. It is hoped that financers will be found to continue the project to preserve the cattle.
Dinner for vultures
The Bulgarian population regard cattle mainly as milk and meat producers. However, cattle have by nature a completely different role in the ecosystem: their grazing creates variation in the landscape: short, grassy pastures merge into brushwood to be followed by vast forests. This is an ideal habitat for insects, small mammals and reptiles, which are in turn food for songbirds and raptors that can be found in abundance here. If the cattle were not slaughtered for human consumption, the last part would have closed the circle: they would be food for scavengers like vultures. These impressive birds have become sparse in Bulgaria but can now survive on dead cattle.
New economics and tourism
The account we gave about natural grazing and ecological circles may sound nice, but the actual practice is unruly, and cattle are mainly held for their production of milk and meat. Especially in Bulgaria, people are poorly off and it seems naive to start such a nature project. But right now, large groups of rural residents come up to town to earn some money. Not only is this project an addition to nature development, it is also aimed at offering the rural population an alternative economic basis. We want to draw the attention of Europeans to the fact that here they can still find tranquillity, lots of space, with wild vultures and free-roaming cattle. Visiting this area will make it for the local population (economically) attractive to protect their nature.