Evros National Park an ‘ecological disaster’

Any place where illegal construction is ignored, where unexplained forest fires break out and which the authorities describe as a route used by illegal immigrants and perhaps drug smugglers, where the law is systematically violated by fishermen, livestock breeders, farmers and hunters can hardly be characterized as «protected.» Yet this is the situation in the Evros River Delta wetland, protected by the Ramsar Convention and classified as a Mediterranean Special Protection Area. This might explain why Greece was conspicuous by its absence from this year’s ninth meeting of states signatory to the Ramsar Convention, the first international convention on the protection of wetlands that has been held over the past week in Kampala, Uganda. And to think that the Evros Delta was one of the three regions that was taken off Ramsar’s black list in 1999 as it was judged to be satisfactorily protected. In contrast, for the past 15 years the other seven wetlands in Greece included in Ramsar have been on the Montreux Record, a list of areas at risk because of a lack of protection measures – yet another poor record for Greece. According to a letter sent recently by the Evros River Delta National Park Management to the Environment and Public Works Ministry, an ecological disaster is taking place in the area. According to the park’s management, the delta is protected «only on paper, while zoning and land use provisions have never been implemented.» The management claims that about 500 «huts» have been built in the Evthygrammisi and Topsi areas, many of them more akin to holiday villas, while the police have been nowhere in sight. Meanwhile, given the close proximity to the Turkish border, illegal activities are rife. There are almost no checks on poaching and «hundreds of hunters from all over the country rent the ‘huts’ so they can hunt whatever and whenever they like.» Inadequate inspections and unimplemented laws on grazing restrictions have encouraged livestock breeders to build stockyards without permits and to graze their animals in areas where it is strictly forbidden. So overgrazing has led to a deterioration of the landscape and disturbed birdlife. In the central and northern part of the region, intensive cultivation has led to pesticides leaching through to groundwater. Meanwhile, amateur fishing, also banned, has spread throughout the delta region. As if that was not enough, the park’s management charges that unrestricted tourism has also affected the protected areas. As usual, all of the above have been the result of roads and drainage channels being built illegally, as well as the effect of fires on reed banks and scrubland. As a result, the total wetland area has decreased and salinity has increased, while the quality of the water and flora have deteriorated. The effects on populations of threatened species are already evident. There has been a reduction in fish reserves; since the 1970s, there has been a 50 percent reduction in the number of birds that winter in the area and a 90 percent reduction in the number of birds that live there all year round. Still a chance Indifference to the situation in the Evros Delta has continued for decades. «The Greek Ramsar Regions – A Parody of Protection and Conservation» was the title of a recent WWF leaflet. WWF Greece’s director, Dimitris Karavellas, told Kathimerini that even if the country’s environmental policy escapes censure in Kampala, the situation in the wetlands will not change. «The example of Lake Koroneia is fairly well known, but it should not be necessary for an entire ecosystem to break down to get us to talk about it. The Evros Delta still has a chance to recover and that is a good reason to protect it, while there is still time.»