Largest national park in the country soon to be a reality

A large swath of the countryside near the Albanian border, covering three mountain ranges and extensive virgin forests that are a refuge for thousands of species of plants and animals, will soon be part of three national parks comprising a unified environmental protection area. At least it will on paper, for although the decision to form the National Park of Northern Pindos – which will include Mt Tzoumerka, Mt Peristeri and the Arachthos Gorge – was officially declared in 2004, the second step, setting up the organization itself, is to be announced shortly. The third step, establishing a national park on Mt Grammos, is still pending the clearing of land mines dating from the Second World War. When completed, it will be the first time in Greece that environmental protection has been linked with preserving architectural heritage, as there are plans to institute strict regulations for preserving the traditional character of local villages and settlements. The drafting of the presidential decree on the park is in the final stages and will soon be approved and submitted to the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court. According to the terms of the decree, the national park will include the central and western Pindos range (prefectures of Arta, Ioannina and Trikala) and two Natura areas. It will be divided into three sections, according to the degree of protection provided: * Region of absolute protection – the Arachthos Gorge, the upper reaches of the Kalarrytikos River with its gorges and tributaries, the Pachtouri-Athamania area and the area linking Peristeri and Tzoumerka (Tsouma, Plastari, Koutsoro). The primary goal in these areas is to conserve the existing condition of the natural environment and protect it «with the fewest possible human activities.» Visitors will be permitted under certain conditions and for the purpose of scientific research. Hunting will be forbidden. * Regions for the preservation of local ecosystems and species – the main range of Tzoumerka, Kakarditsa and Peristeri, where traditional activities will be permitted as long as they do not harm the environment. * Peripheral zones – the southwestern and southeastern parts of the Tzoumerka range (including parts of the eastern foothills of Mt Xirovouni), part of the Arachthos Gorge and the area west of Mt Peristeri. No industry is permitted in this zone, nor large-scale livestock or poultry farming, large tourism facilities or waste-treatment plants. Any enlargement of existing settlements within the 10 municipalities and eight settlements inside the park’s boundaries is permitted on a limited scale «on the condition that these will not harm the ecological and cultural characteristics of the region and subject to the approval of the management body.» Small guest houses (up to 30 beds) and mountain refuges are also permitted. The creation of a green swath of country from the prefecture of Kastoria to Arta was envisioned by Deputy Environment Minister Stavros Kaloyiannis. «We wanted to provide a new strategy for low-impact development of the area and at the same time establish the framework for existing activities such as livestock and poultry breeding, as well as the framework for infrastructure (such as an abattoir at Pramanta) so that local products can be certified and acquire the label of appellation of origin,» he said. «The next step is low-impact tourism with guest houses and small hotels that will blend in with the environment.» According to Kaloyiannis, over the next two months, when Mt Grammos has been cleared of all land mines, the third national park will be established, completing the Pindos protected area. «Then we will be able to implement interstate accords on the environment that were recently signed in Albania, where a national park has been established on its border with Greece. That way we can implement unified policies on the environment of the region.» The Tzoumerka National Park will acquire a management body to oversee the implementation of the provisions in the presidential decree and the protection of the area in general. «We have already secured funds for the management body from the Fourth Environment Action Program,» explained Kaloyiannis. «As for the management bodies for the rest of the protected areas, most have already begun, are recruiting staff and are already active. That is our ultimate goal, to protect these important regions in practice, and not just on paper.»

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