Reviving the Yantra: steps towards barrier removal in Bulgaria

This first project in Bulgaria that offers set of barrier identification activities aiming to provide necessary data and analyses for smooth pre-demolition work and successful demolition of barriers in Yantra river basin.


The Yantra River, a tributary of the Danube, boasts a catchment area spanning 7862 km2 and an average discharge of 47 m3/s. Following the decline of the Soviet industry, significant improvements in the river’s ecological state have been observed. However, the ecosystem faces a critical threat from fragmentation. The Yantra River basin is home to a diverse array of fish species, totalling 64, with 55 being native. Historically, mass fish migration from the Danube occurred in the lower and middle courses until the 1970s. Notably, the basin harbours numerous rare species, such as Kessler’s gudgeon, Danube whitefin gudgeon, and Balkan loach. These species often have restricted ranges and face challenges in colonizing other suitable habitats due to fragmentation. Angling is popular in the area, while the region’s infrastructure remains relatively sparse. Notably, most river stretches within the basin are designated as Natura 2000 sites.

At a glance

Project typeBarrier identification and prioritisation
Project statusLive
Focal speciesEudontomyzon mariae, Acipenser ruthenus, Anguilla anguilla, Rhodeus amarus, Romanogobio kesslerii, Romanogobio vladykovi, Romanogobio uranoscopus, Barbus barbus, Barbus petenyi, Aspius aspius, Vimba vimba, Blicca bjoerkna, Abramis brama, Alburnus sarmaticus, Pelecus cultratus, Leucaspius delineates, Chondrostoma nasus, Leuciscus idus, Cobitis elongate, Cobitis elongatoides, Cobitis strumicae, Sabanejewia balcanica, Sabanejewia bulgarica, Misgurnus fossilis, Salmo labrax, Lota lota, Cottus cf. haemusi, Gymnocephalus schraetser, Zingel streber, Zingel zingel, Barbatula barbatula, Unio crassus, Astacus astacus, Austropotamobius torrentium

Project context and opportunity

Bulgaria’s existing barrier database is scarce and outdated, posing challenges to effective dam removal initiatives. Unclear national regulations, legal gaps, lack of experience, and limited public awareness have deterred environmental NGOs and public authorities from engaging with the issue.

To address these challenges, the project aims to establish a reliable database, prioritise barriers, identify legal obstacles, and provide specific ecological, technical, and financial evidence to support dam removal initiatives. By engaging with key stakeholders, the project intends to introduce the dam removal concept and foster a collaborative approach towards overcoming existing barriers.

The project team believes that their efforts will benefit the Yantra catchment and serve as a model for similar initiatives nationwide. While they anticipate facing challenges unique to Bulgaria, they are committed to overcoming them and setting a precedent for successful dam removal projects in the country.

Project aims

To achieve its objectives, the project will first develop a comprehensive inventory of barriers, followed by a prioritisation process. This will involve selecting the top 10 barriers based on ecological significance, feasibility, and cost-efficiency criteria. These selected barriers will then undergo hydrobiological studies, focusing on fish and macroinvertebrates.

For the three barriers shortlisted for potential removal in the near future, the project will develop conceptual and technical demolition designs and obtain price quotes. A legal overview will also be conducted to identify gaps in existing regulations and establish a dam removal procedure instruction.

To facilitate the preparatory phase, the project aims to engage with key stakeholders, including barrier owners, state authorities, and local communities. This collaborative approach will ensure that all relevant parties are involved in the process and contribute to its success.