Natura areas lacking protection

Most areas of the country included in the European Union’s Natura program are actually entirely unprotected as the state has failed to determine what land use is permitted or forbidden and has formed only a handful of committees to oversee these precious biotopes, environmental experts have told Kathimerini. «Natura areas are essentially unprotected due to a lack of political will,» said Margarita Arianoutsou, an eco-biologist from Athens University. She said each zone should have a nucleus, which would enjoy total protection, with zones radiating outward where certain activities and use of land would be allowed. The 371 Natura-protected areas include the Evros Delta, Lake Koroneia, Mount Parnitha, the Prespes Lakes and the National Marine Park of Alonissos. But the existing 27 organizations oversee just a third (87) of these, experts say. The remaining 284 Natura areas are only protected on paper. «Most Natura areas have not been delineated or divided into zones,» said Theodota Nantsou of WWF Hellas. The classification of an area as «Natura-protected» is no guarantee that it will be shielded from natural or human intervention, Nantsou said. «A case in point is Mount Parnitha, where nothing has been done to minimize the risk of forest fires,» she said. «We should not have to wait for the destruction of a protected area before we take measures,» she added. Environmental experts agree that special studies are crucial but the implementation of these studies is even more important and in this area scientists should cooperate with local authorities. «This will ensure that measures are taken that are acceptable to all and that the word Natura does not provoke skepticism among local communities.» An area that does not fall under the Natura umbrella but whose unique natural beauty has fueled protests from environmentalists objecting to illegal construction is the island of Santorini. A special study aimed at curbing illegal building on the island has yet to be signed by the Environment and Public Works Ministry, Kathimerini has learned. Sources say that much local construction has ignored restrictions.