The engine for the New Thracian Gold initiative was the Dutch foundation ARK Nature who are the pioneers in the rewilding of the nature in Europe. ARK specializes in nature development projects in close cooperation with local communities in order to create an economic engine. Their innovative approach is solution-oriented and aims at developing large nature areas together with local partner organizations. Finally, the aim is these areas to become nature tourism destinations, to generate millions of euros in revenues and to offer many opportunities for sustainable regional development.
The New Thracian gold project was initiated by ARK Nature and implemented in partnership with 5 Bulgarian organizations /Friends of Rhodopi Cows, Bulgarian Biodiversity Foundation, Gabi Tours&Consulting, Taofes and Avalon Bulgaria/. Every one of them being responsible for the development of the three main arrows of the project – wilderness, organic farming and eco-tourism. Altogether working for the sustainable green future of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains.
The area of the Eastern Rhodopes was chosen because it is a bridge between Europe and Asia and features a unique combination of diverse nature, Thracian relicts and mixture of local communities with their authentic folklore. The mountains form the wild home, one of the most bio-diverse areas of Europe, including vultures, eagles and wolves, many reptile species and loads of butterflies what forms already a great basis for developing ecotourism activities. Right next to this there is a lot of abandoned land to be developed into a wild nature area. So, ARK, in cooperation with the Bulgarian organizations, invested in the nature by reintroducing native species who lived here centuries ago like the Konik (Tarpan) horses and the European bisons and extended the autochthonous herds of the Rhodope shorthorn cattle and Karakachan horses, as well as brought back the Red deer to the nature of the Rhodopes.
The Bulgarian organizations acted locally with the local communities and regional authorities by investing in training courses, share of experience trips, seminars, tourism facilities and infrastructure. We stimulated the development of new tourism products and organic farms. We did a lot of marketing of the area and tourism activities in order to create a sustainable travel experience in some of the Europe’s most remote places.
So, at the end of the project in 2014 we created an informal network and build partnerships between the local community, NGO’s, and authorities. Now more than 50 network partners in the Rhodopes mountains collaborate in order to become a friendly, hospitable and popular destination for nature tourism.
The reintroduction of large animals back to the nature actually helped to preserve globally threatened species. Developing grazing areas into tourism destinations resulted to benefits both for local people and nature. Nature benefits directly from the grazing of the animals, but also from the awareness of the community that this is their green future, because only pure nature attracts ecotourists. Local people benefit from the nature by developing small businesses and generating incomes. Thus the New Thracian Gold provided the basis for a new nature based economy in Bulgaria, but also contributes to rewilding the nature not only on Bulgarian but also on a European biodiversity scale.