Beglika area is at the heart of Batashka Planina – one of the highest and wildest parts of the Rhodope Mountains. The name “Beglika” dates back to the times of the Ottoman Empire, when once a year Yuruk shepherds used to gather in the area to pay authorities the belgik tax (a tax on sheep and goats). In summer the vast pastures in this part of the mountain used to be covered with huge herds. In fact, it is thanks to this historical background that we can enjoy these pastoral meadows filled with colorful herbs.
The preserved natural heritage of Beglika and Batashka Planina is something we should all be proud of and try to keep for future generations.
Most of the area is covered with natural coniferous forests, consisting mainly of spruce and pine trees. The age of these forests is 80 years on average, but in some parts is over 150 years with certain species reaching 200 years. The region, especially the valleys in the upper course of the Devinska Reka river, is rich in wonderful meadows and pastures – a legacy of the past, when the area was home to the Yuruks: nomadic shepherds who came to spent the warm months of the year here. In order to free up more land for grazing, they set fire to the forests and the burned out areas transformed into the picturesque meadows we know today.
Thanks to the forests that cover most of the territory of the mountain, this part of the Rhodopes abounds with invaluable sources of water – the Chepinska, Devinska, Gashnya and Stara Reka, which are major tributaries of Vacha and Maritsa Rivers, begin their course here. It is because of these water resources (which would not have existed without the forests) that one of Bulgaria’s biggest hydroelectric power cascades was built here – the Batak Hydropower System. This cascade system includes the dams of Shiroka Polyana, Golyam Beglik, Beglika, Blatoto, Kerelova Reka, Toshkov Chark and Batak whose waters are harnessed in three power plants – Batak, Peshtera and Aleko Konstantinov and then used for irrigation in the Pazardzhik-Plovdiv Plain. The waters of Batashka Planina are also a major source of drinking water in the region. The towns of Velingrad, Sarnitsa, Dospat, Borino, Devin, Ravnogor, Nova Mahala, Batak, Rakitovo rely on them. In fact, it is with the construction of the Batak Hydropower System in the 1950s that Golyam Beglik “came into being” – the dam whose sunsets, mystic mists and picturesque scenery gather us every year.
Besides a source of water, Beglika’s forests are also home to almost all of the large mammals typically found in Bulgaria. Of course, of special interest are the carnivores like brown bears, wolves and foxes. Red deer, roe deer, chamois, wild boars, otters, pine martens and stone martens can also be seen here. Brown trout – a species native to the country – live in the rivers, which since the construction of the dams are also home to chubs, Mediterranean barbels, rudds and perches. The birds are also represented by some fascinating species – the area’s old forests still offer refuge to one of their most mysterious inhabitants – the capercaillies. Their songs can be heard only in spring – their breeding season. Other notable species are the three-toed woodpecker and the boreal owl, which are in Bulgaria’s list of rare and protected species. The presence of large bodies of water has also attracted birds that are not so typical for the area, like pygmy cormorants, herons, ducks and black storks.
Medicinal plants and herbs are the region’s other treasure – in June and July its meadows get strewn with fragrant herbs. There are 120 plant species with different medicinal properties in the area of Beglika. The region is also the only part of Bulgaria where one can find Rhodopean lillies and shrubby cinquefoils.
In order to preserve the rich natural resources of Beglika and Batashka Planina, four nature reserves and many protected areas have been created in this part of the Rhodope Mountains. The Mantaritsa, Beglika, Dupkata and Kupena Reserves conserve natural pine and spruce forests, while the protected areas called Samodivska Polyana, Batlaboaz, Chatama, Stoychovo Poltse, Meandrite na Reka Ribna, Kaval Tepe, Studenata Chuchurka, Slancheva Polyana, Toshkov Chark, Karadzha Dere and Batashki Snezhnik impose mild restrictions that allow (to a reasonable extent) human activity that doesn’t destroy the landscape. Besides that, almost the whole area of Batashka Planina falls within the range of the European ecological network NATURA 2000 under the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. Since 2010 there has been an idea for the creation of Batashka Planina Biosphere Reserve – a new form of nature conservation, which allows strict conservation regimes along with softer approaches to protection, a form that should result in a balanced and sensible management of the region’s natural resources.