On holiday with the vultures

Over the past 10 years, the World Wide Fund for Nature-Greece, in cooperation with the local municipality, has been running an ecotourist enterprise in the beautiful Dadia forest for small groups lodged in simple guest houses. Despite the lack of an official coordinating and administrative agency, for which the Environment Ministry has persistently refused to draft a presidential decree, since 1992 there has been a flourishing ecotourist facility at Dadia, northeastern Greece. There’s nothing else to compare with it elsewhere in Greece, and it has come to serve as an example of what ecotourism means in reality. Native stands of pine forest, unique in Greece, cover the greatest part of the reserve, the habitat of rare predatory birds that people come from all over the world to see. A WWF International campaign begun in 1979 to save Greece’s predatory birds led to the proclamation of a Special Protection Area in 1980, which included a ban on logging, one of the main economic activities in the area. It was then that ecotourism was suggested as an economic alternative, a concept that was almost unknown in Greece at that time. Naturally enough, it has not been all plain sailing. After about 12 years’ delay and bureaucratic obstacles, measures were finally implemented to provide the local population with economically compensatory benefits. For Dadia had another thing in its favor – hospitable inhabitants who are proud of their area and not only ready to pitch in and help, but patient enough to wait for the visitors to start coming. During the interim, they largely abided by the restrictive measures on land use, and initial objections to the ban on logging gradually receded when the benefits of ecotourism started to become evident. Some logging still continues, but in places indicated by the WWF as being not only not harmful, but actually beneficial to the forest. The first task was to build feeding stations for the birds – fenced-in areas in the forest where rangers would leave dead animals for the vultures to feed on – and observation posts. Special equipment was bought, two local people hired as rangers, barriers set up on roads into the forest and work begun on observing the birds and guarding their food. The feeding stations and observation posts have become the main attractions as it is one of the few places where protected species can be observed in the wild. Later on, the WWF’s ecotourism center opened outside the village of Dadia, providing accommodation and an information center on the flora and fauna, including videos. At an observation post two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the center, visitors can observe birds through a telescope. Visitors keep to well-marked footpaths through the forest so as not to disturb wildlife or fragile plant habitats. There are special activities for children and a bicycle rental service, as well as detailed maps of all forest paths. Soon horse riding and mineral baths will be added, along with a conference hall and observation center. Why Dadia has been a success ADVANTAGES – Ecotourism was never seen as a goal in itself, but as complementary to conservation work. So priority has been given to the protection and monitoring of the biotope. – Local residents have been enthusiastic participants in the scheme. Young people quickly became participants in both the environmental protection and ecotourism projects. Generally, people in Dadia are hesitant about major investments. They also prefer to stay in the area rather than move to the cities. – The WWF’s scientists are on the site permanently, coordinating the work and acting as informal management, something the State has taken advantage of in order to avoid its own responsibilities. PROBLEMS – The lack of an official administering body is the main reason why Dadia cannot be accredited by the Pan Parks, and why there is no definite unified policy. – The lack of scientific methods in administration, such as those that are used around the world. The body of an unidentified man was found in a forest near Kapandriti, north of Athens on Thursday, bearing multiple stab wounds. The man was aged about 25, about 1.85 tall, heavily built with straight, dark brown hair. Police believe the murder was a settling of accounts.

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