A national park is born in the Pindus range

The North Pindus National Park, an expanse of 2,000 square kilometers lying between Epirus and Western Macedonia, is Greece’s largest protected area, following a joint ministerial decision signed a few days ago. The ruling specifies two protection zones within the park and a peripheral zone to ensure the sustainability of the area’s natural resources. The park includes the two rare ecosystems of Pindus and Vikos-Aoos, which are in need of protection, and a multitude of cultural heritage monuments. The area is rich in water resources, being the source of the Aoos, Voidomatis and Venetikos rivers and the catchment area for the Mesovitikos, Vardas and Zagoritikos tributaries of the Arachthos River. The district belongs to the prefectures of Ioannina and Grevena. It comprises six distinct social and geographical entities without clear administrative boundaries but with strong social ties and a common history – Zagori, Konitsa and Metsovo in Ioannina prefecture, and the Vlachohoria, Kopastaraion and Sarakatsanon villages in Grevena prefecture. The local economy is based on tourism, stock farming and timber felling, while products of certified origin are starting to claim a considerable share. Most of North Pindus is already protected under national, European Union and international law since, apart from two national parks, it also contains eight areas in the Nature 2000 network, two special bird life protection zones, two sites of exceptional natural beauty, 11 wildlife refuges, 64 traditional settlements, numerous listed monuments – most of which are Byzantine or post-Byzantine – and countless arched stone bridges. Nonetheless, it lacked a unified management and operation system to protect the area and to promote it effectively. Studies conducted 15 years ago noted the need for a national park in the area. A special environmental study in 2002 collated data from previous studies and proposed a joint ministerial decision to establish the North Pindus National Park. The proposal was discussed by local municipal councils and then by the prefectural councils of Ioannina and Grevena, with outside organizations and the public expressing their views as well. It was not easy to reach a compromise as there were many conflicting demands and disagreements. The Environment Ministry is working on the final clauses of the joint ministerial ruling, which is intended to improve the quality of life for Pindus residents without hindering their daily activities. For instance, the ruling does not change the present situation in the park in relation to stock raising, farming, timber felling, forestry management, and the trade and manufacture of local products. But it does not allow large hotels, poultry farms and hydroelectric projects. The ruling promotes small-scale tourist accommodation, local products and, in general, development that respects the environment. Approval has already been given through the Third Community Support framework for the construction of agri-tourism facilities. The regulations for the national park, combined with a series of measures favoring modest business activity, lay the ground for thoroughgoing protection and promotion of the area. The extensive dialogue that preceded it well indicates the ministry’s intentions and efforts to secure the broadest possible consensus for the decision to establish the national park. The completion of this lengthy process signals the beginning of the decision’s implementation, the foremost objective of which is sustainable development. (1) Stavros Kaloyiannis is deputy minister of the environment, town planning and public works.

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