Putting conservation into practice in Greece

The career of biologist-zoologist Martin Gaethlich has focused on promoting the conservation of Greece’s natural environment, initially as a researcher in biology and environmental management at Athens University, and currently as adviser (since 2002) to Deputy Environment Minister Rodoula Zisi and as a member of the board of the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature. A Greek with German roots, Gaethlich has a deep awareness of the value of the Greek landscape, its flora and fauna, and the satisfaction that can be gained by those who strive to conserve it. «Greece is still lagging behind in the implementation of a number of EU protocols on environmental protection but one has to recognize some important steps that have been taken,» he told Kathimerini English Edition. He believes one of these has been the establishment of 27 agencies (two by presidential decree in 2000 and 25 by laws passed in 2002) to administer areas of natural beauty, including areas in the European Union’s Natura 2000 network. Despite being designated as protected areas, none of these had management bodies, a board or a management plan to ensure that regulations were being implemented. Now these 27 areas, including national parks, have been provided with the framework for proper management. The boards include NGO members, both national and local, with at least one from an environmental organization, as well as from universities and technical colleges. Greece’s first national park was founded in 1938; since then 10 national parks, two marine parks and several reserves and protected areas have been established but no overall strategy had ever been formulated to put conservation into practice. The main thing, according to Gaethlich, is not just to have an area designated as protected, but to actually take steps to ensure it is properly managed. «Designation is not the same as protection. The aim is conservation and appropriate management to achieve protection. Designation is simply an instrument. There need to be people on site to ensure that the law is enforced, and management boards to establish plans and ensure they are implemented. This has begun to happen and, thanks to funds from the Third Community Support Framework (CSFIII), they will be accelerated. It is difficult to protect 27 areas just with national funds. But the problem, of course, is what happens after these CSF funds stop in three years time,» said Gaethlich. «The first challenge is not to lose these areas in a sea of bureaucracy. The second is to establish an instrument to ensure viability for the future,» he said. In order to solve the problem of funding after 2006, the [public works] minister, Vasso Papandreou, has proposed a special fund for conservation of the natural environment and protected areas. Having nature reserves that really do conserve the natural environment would be a great achievement in itself, but the state of the rest of the countryside often leaves much to be desired. «My fear is whether these (protected areas) are to be ‘heaven’ and the rest ‘hell.’ Through EU regulations and directives, there has to be a horizontal approach to conservation and biodiversity throughout all sectors, including fishing and agriculture, so that spaces between protected areas become bridges between them. Even within protected areas, there should be a core area which is the focus of conservation, but also a second and even third buffer zone as links between the protected and the outside area where some activities can be allowed under a different legislative regime. «Each case is different and should be treated on its own. That is why specific management plans are needed for the rest of the countryside. I believe the best instrument for this is the EU directives which should specify what can be done in each and the criteria to be used,» he explained. «I believe we are getting there, although not enough is being done in practice, especially after the enlargement of the EU. People should be demanding more.»