The nature park "Vratsa Balkan"

The nature park "Vratsa Balkan" was declared at the end of 1989 and covers an area of 28,848 hectares, which ranks it second among nature parks in Bulgaria. Since October 1993 it was declared a protected site of the international importance.

The territory includes Vratsa Mountain and the array of Lakatnishki rocks. The park covers parts of three districts - Vratsa, Sofia and Montana, five municipalities - Vratsa, Mezdra, Svoge, Varshets and Krivodol and twenty-one territories.

Within the park is located the reserve "Vratsa Karst" - 1 438.9 hectares, declared a territory of international importance for biodiversity conservation. Declared by Order № 854 of 10.08.1983 of the Committee on Environmental Protection and in 1993 by Order № 988 of 11.04.2001 was declared a protected nature site of international importance. According to the categorization of the International Union for Conservation of Nature , the reserve relates to Category I - strict reserve. The reserve was declared in order to preserve the picturesque and distinctive local karst terrain with various geomorphological formations, unique cave fauna, rich plant diversity and conservation significant plant species. It occupies the northeastern part of the nature park "Vratsa Balkan". Mainly northern rocky slopes near Bazovski and part of Stresher. Almost continuous rock cliff northwest - southeast, which cuts almost in the middle of the gorge, lake Leva and passes on to the road. Zgorigrad and Ledenika. The management of the reserve is under separate management plan.

The nature park "Vratsa Balkan" has a very high biological and landscape diversity. It identified more than 1,050 species of vascular plants, which is about 1/3 of the flora of Bulgaria and 230 species of vertebrates. The flora and fauna of the park is characterized by a high degree of endemism and the presence of many relict species. Most of the species are of high conservation value. Included in the Red Book of Bulgaria are 56 species of, wich categorized as "rare" are 48 species and category "endangered" - 8 species. Within the Nature Park have been identified 16 habitats listed in the directive 92/43 of (CEC). Annex 3 of the Law to conserve the diversity of 2002 included 37 species, while the list of the medicinal plants fall within the 363 species found in the park. With international protection status are 30 species of vascular plants. Extremely valuable for science are the autochthonous ecosystems, consisting of beech forests, walnut, juniper and others. Here are established 78 trees and shrubs and 36 grass communities.

Tree vegetation is zoned into two: 700 m - oak, over 700 meters to 1300 meters - beech. It is represented by formations of beech (31.8%), durmast (11.2%), Turkey oak (4.1%), oriental hornbeam (27.2%), the hornbeam (4.8%) and the hairy oak (0.4%).From the grass species there are tsilenska fescue, yellow yarrow, cocksfoot and the brome. Formations of some vascular plants are included in the Red Book of Bulgaria: Kelererov tsentrantus, juniper, Alpine campion. Rare for Bulgaria predglatsialen relic laurel, laurel and the olive like Low laurel is common only in Vratsa Mountain and  the Middle Rhodopes. Some of the rare and endangered plant species: winter snowdrop, Fiber zhaltuga, underdeveloped limodorum, butterfly orchis, wood anemone, peony Vitosha.

So far within the territory of the GOP Vratsa Balkan are established 11 species of amphibians and 15 species of reptiles, some of which are salamanders, great crested newts, common newts ,tree frogs, brown toads, different species of tortoises, green lizards, vipers and others.

So far over 180 species of birds, 157 species are protected by the the Biodiversity Act, 38 species of which are included in the Red Book of Bulgaria, and over 170 species are of European conservation significance. Two species of birds whose subspecies are endemic to the Balkans - Balkan lark and Alpine Accentor. Vratsa Balkan is an important nesting place for 120 species: black stork, white-tailed buzzard, golden eagle, common kestrel, green woodpecker, skylark, colorful rock thrush, red-backed shrike, blackbird, missel and others. The area of the park is one of the most important and representative areas for Bulgaria rock-nesting birds. Some of the European bird migration routes passes through the park - "VIA ARISTOTELIS".

From a total of 36 species of mammals, 9 are protected at a national level (Red Book of Bulgaria), 20 European and 9 at a global level, some of which are, the hedgehog, the badger, the otter, the European polecat, the wild cat, the deer and etc. Within the park territory are part of the most remarkable bat caves in Bulgaria. The old deciduous forests are the most important habitat of rare Bechstein's bats and barbastelle bats. So far, in the territorys are established 22 species of bats of 33 for Bulgaria. Two of them are listed as rare in the Red Book of Bulgaria / 1985; 20 are included in the "Red List of Threatened species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature" (IUCN); Protected by the Biodiversity Conservation- 21 species.

There have been identified 1231 species of invertebrates, like the degree of cognation defined as poor given to the overall wealth of the groups. Endemic species are a total of 58, including 28 Balkan and 18 local species. Nature park "Vratsa Balkan" is one of the important areas for butterflies in Bulgaria.

The park is included in the national ecological network ‘’Natura’’ 2000 under both directives CEC - Habitats and Birds.

Nature landmark "Dark Hole" - an area of 1.0 ha. The cave "Dark Hole" was declared a nature landmark by order № 2810 / 11.10.1962 of (MFFI) (state gazette 56/1963). Opened in order to preserve the richest cave fauna in Bulgaria (94 species, including 17 troglobites) and one of the largest deposits of calcite and Aragonion crystals. Located near the station Lakatnik, Sofia region. It has a length of 7,000 m and a displacement of + 33 / -21 m. There is water in the cave.

Nature landmark "Vratzata" - area: 2.0 hectares has been declared a nature landmark to protect and preserve the distinctive rocky landscape and the rocky habitats of bird, important species of vascular plants, a historic fortress of the Second Bulgarian Kingdom. The territory is located in the gorge of  Leva. 2 km.  south of the town Vratsa on the way to Zgorigrad and Ledenika. It represents the nature rock formations. The highest (400 m.) steep limestone cliffs of the Balkan Peninsula, and for this altitude and in Europe. In  the natural landmark are the remains of a medieval fortress ‘’Vratitsa’’ ( X-XII century).

In the area of the ‘’ Vratzata ‘’ is the impressive and beautiful rock mass- one of the most popular sites for climbers in our country - a place for national and international competitions in mountaineering. Annually in ‘’Vratzata’’ we host national and corporate competitions in which hundreds of climbers check their skills and prowess. Several times  Vratsa was host of international competitions.  The competitors were from Russia, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Italy and others.

Nature landmark "Ritlite" - area 123.1 ha. Declared a protected nature site of national significance in order to preserve the unique rock formations - nearly four parallel vertical cliffs with a length of 200 m. The rock formations on the left bank of the river Iskar, above the village Lyutibrod. Remains of an ancient village Korintgrad (Koritengrad) - Early Christian basilica - V-VI century, "St.. George "- X-XII century.

Nature landmark "New cave" - area of 0.5 ha. It opened to preserve the distinctive cave formations. The cave is located on the territory of the State Forestry Mezdra (otd.95 / d, e) in the village of. Lyutibrod west of "Ritlite" in Cherepish rocks.

The protected area "The Valleys" – bufferof the reserve "Vratsa Karst" - area 754.2 ha. A strip that surrounds the reserve from the northeast throughout its length and southwest of the northern areas of the reserve.

Protected area "Vola" - area 96.4 hectares. Declared a protected nature site of national significance in order to preserve the distinctive landscape and conserve the place of death of the poet - revolutionary Hristo Botev. The protected area is located 2 km. southwest from the top "Okolchitsa" - death place of Hristo Botev. Represents a trough  surrounded by the peaks- Chamber and Long cliff.

Okolchitsa peak: North and East, 1060 m altitude. The start is equipped with two ramps for delta planning, the runway for paragliders is stony. The place to start is the road, the area is near the historical place Okolchitsa, nearby there are beds and a restaurant. This is one of the most attractive places for delta gliding, not only in Bulgaria but also in Europe.

Protected area "The eyebrow" - area 59.7 ha. The area is declared to protect a deposit (either for Bulgaria)of the plant Kelererov tsentrantus (Centranthus kelleri), a Bulgarian endemic and relict and territory with a characteristic landscape (rock wreath and talus) rocky habitats of birds. It is a rock wreath with loose limestone scree.

Protected area "Stone Pine" - area 160.0 ha. The area is declared to protect and preserve the old beech forest with seed origin of karst terrain with steep slopes. It covers the area of the springs of the river Leva the waterfall ‘’ Stone Pine ‘’ and beech forest. It's connected with the history of mining - in the beginning of the last century was founded a section of miners from the mine "Plakalnitsa."

Protected area "Lakatnishki rocks" - an area of ​​82.5 hectares. Declared a protected nature site of national significance in order to preserve the characteristic landscape and rock formations, caves, birds, bats, rich cave fauna, important species of plants, including and only confirmed population of the Bulgarian endemic species Silene velcevii. The area is located on the left bank of the river Iskar, between its tributaries and river Opletnenska Proboinitsa against station Lakatnik.  The traditione of torchlight procession is held here. The place is "The cradle" of Bulgarian mountaineering - equipped are many tours of varying degrees of difficulty. Here are the Dark Hole Cave and Cave Razhishkata. At the foot of the cliffs is one of the largest karst springs in the country Zhitolyub.