Assoc. Prof. Georgi Alexiev,
Institute of Geography, BAS
Chairman of the IGU National Committee of Geography
Dear colleagues,

I have the honour and pleasure to invite you on behalf of the National Committee of Geography and the Institute of Geography, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, to participate in the International Scientific Conference "PROTECTED KARST AREAS - STATE, PROBLEMS, PERSPECTIVES", which is to be held on 18-21 October, 2005 in the town of Shumen, Bulgaria.

The karst phenomena and processes are among the most pronounced natural events in Bulgaria. For more than 55 years the karst and karst geosystems have been by tradition one of the priority objectives of specialised research, conducted by the Institute of Geography. Their importance can be proved by the fact that only during the last 15 years more than 15 projects have been developed, financed on competitive basis. They deal with different aspects of the contemporary karst studies. The Institute of Geography actively collaborates with institutions from other countries in this field and the international cooperation, in which it is involved, tends to extend.

Many of the karst terrains and components in Bulgaria are either economically significant or are within the boundaries of protected areas and, hence, are considered to be a natural asset. Therefore, the detailed karst investigations, recently carried out by the Institute of Geography, are closely related to the efficient use of natural resources and to the quality of life in the country's karst regions. Besides, special attention is paid to the surveys, aimed at optimization and management of the protected karst areas. A glaring example is the fruitful cooperation with the Nature Park Office Administration "Shumensko Plateau", which led to the organisation of this conference.

The fundamental political and economic reforms in Bulgaria, which have been under way over 15 years, reveal new perspectives for the prosperity of the nation. The transformations are often slow and difficult, especially as far as the up-dating of the regulation basis and the introduction of the principles of sustainable development are concerned. During the period of transition, the highly vulnerable karst objects quite often are threatened by unregulated human activity or by ill-considered, primitive business. Particularly endangered are the caves - this marvel of nature Bulgaria is proud of.

As geographers, we are professionally responsible and aware of the aforesaid problems. That is why, an open scientific discussion on the state and management principles of the specific karst areas, is a timely initiative. The results of it will be very important for the Bulgarian public administration in a period when Bulgaria is going to integrate with the EU. This explains our great interest in the rational nature use and karst areas' protection on a global scale.

We shall be grateful for any ideas and suggestions presented at this conference. I hope they will constitute the base for the future cooperation in the sphere of karst studies and sustainable development of karst regions.

I shall be happy to say to you 'welcome' to Bulgaria and Shumen in October, 2005.