National parks not protected

Almost 24 percent of Greece has been registered with the European Union as protected areas of natural beauty but authorities are doing very little to actually safeguard the sites, environmental experts told Kathimerini yesterday. Greece has registered 23.86 percent of its surface area with the EU’s Natura 2000 program as being filled with special areas of conservation (SAC) and special protection areas (SPA). Currently, Greece has 239 SACs and 151 SPAs. However, only 27 of these areas have come under a formal protection plan that was created three years ago. Experts say that even these areas are not properly looked after. «For most of these national parks, no management plan has been drawn up yet so they are essentially unprotected,» Professor Panayiotis Dimopoulos, head of the Management of Natural Resources and Environment Department at the University of Ioannina, told Kathimerini. «Since 2003, most of the bodies set up to manage these areas have been caught up in procedural matters and have have done no actual work,» Dimopoulos added. «There are funds but there is a tremendous delay in getting work done because the relevant authorities do not provide any support,» said Despina Vokou, an ecology professor at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. Natura 2000 is a network of protected sites which represents areas of the highest value for their natural habitats and species of plants and animals which are deemed rare, endangered or vulnerable in the EU. «When you have an area that is very important ecologically and you have not made clear what is allowed and what is banned, you could easily end up with a road running through a natural reserve for wild birds and destroying the ecosystem forever,» said Dimopoulos, speaking after a conference in Ioannina on ecology and biodiversity. He said the law stipulates that scientists who specialize in environmental matters should head the bodies responsible for managing the protected sited. However, according to Dimopoulos, the government has allowed people who are not experts in the field, such as local mayors, to head the organizations.

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