The Big Forest comes to life

The forest that runs along the Nestos River in Greece’s northeastern corner, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, is regaining its former stature. As it regenerates it will again become a source of life for communities near one of the country’s largest flowing bodies of water, re-establishing a delicate balance between man and nature. In the early 20th century, Kotza Orman – the Big Forest – covered 12,000 hectares. Slowly, however, it contracted, and by the early 1950s it was down to 7,200 hectares. Most of it has since gone to waste and only 250 hectares now remain, yet it is still the largest expanse of riverside forest in Greece. Area to double A two-year plan is in process to protect what remains of the forest, to reinstate its natural vegetation and to promote sustainable tourism in the area. Jointly run by the Kavala forestry authority and the Goulandris Natural History Museum Greek Habitat-Wetland Center (EKBY), the project is funded by the European Union and the Greek Economy Ministry. It is due for completion in late 2006. The first stage includes revising the existing forest management plan; designing a visitor management plan so as to determine recreational activities and deal with problems arising from the pressures of tourism; and conducting a study of the natural vegetation. The next stage entails putting in new plants and maintenance work on plants and soil, installing an irrigation system, and putting up fences to deter grazing and uncontrolled access to vulnerable parts of the forest. The final stage involves establishing a management plan to highlight the forest and promote the area as a site of special ecological, aesthetic and recreational interest. In the pipeline is a 4.5-hectare environmental park, a simulated forest and an outdoor educational and recreational laboratory where visitors can come into direct contact with all the trees, shrubs and climbing plants in the forest as well as those that have disappeared. Walking tracks, explanatory signs, info kiosks, outdoor activities for children and adults, and service areas will make the park a safe and comfortable place for visitors to get to know the riverside forest and see the need for it to be protected and properly managed. The two existing visitor reception centers will get attention. The one on the west bank of the river needs more material, while the one on the opposite bank is not yet in operation. The project will also highlight the importance of rivers and the vital role they play in the survival and development of human communities. It will make a significant contribution toward improving the standard of living and boosting the local economy by means of building sustainable tourism. And it must inform and educate both local communities and visitors about the need for the protection and sustainable use of a significant part of Greece’s natural wealth. (1) Spyros Dafis is a professor at the University of Thessaloniki.

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