New national park rushed in

As the European Commission prepares to take legal action against Greece for failing to protect areas of natural beauty, the government said yesterday that it was designating a large tract of western Greece and several Ionian islands as national parkland. The Public Works Ministry said that the new park would encompass the lagoons and wetlands between the Acheloos and Evinos rivers in western Greece. The rivers are some 40 kilometers (25 miles) apart at most points, and the park will include the lagoons near the historic town of Messolongi, as well as the Acheloos delta. Last month, the Council of State ruled that a project to divert 600 million cubic meters of water a year from the Acheloos, Greece’s second-largest river, to the heavily farmed plain of Thessaly should be canceled due to the lack of proper planning. The park will also encompass the Echinades islands, which are a group of 25 mainly rocky islets between the mainland Akarnanika mountains and the larger island of Ithaca and not far from the Acheloos estuary. Combined, the two areas are home to some 259 species of birds, 26 types of mammals, 40 forms of marine life and over 30 rare native plants. As a national park, the land will be governed by strict rules which regulate activities within its boundaries. Certain practices will be permitted, such as the scientific study of the area’s ecosystem and preservation work. Meanwhile, Brussels is unhappy with Greece’s slow progress in designated protected areas and intends to haul the government before the European Court. In response to a letter from Synaspismos Left Coalition MEP Dimitris Papadimoulis, the EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said that Greece did not have the legal framework in place to protect areas of natural beauty.