The European Natura 2000 network is the largest network of protected areas in the world. For Greece, it is one of the most important tools for protecting the areas of the highest ecological value, but also to conserve plant and animal species threatened with extinction.
The Natura 2000 network simultaneously protects habitats, animal species and plant species. In Greece, the Natura 2000 network consists of 446 sites, which cover approximately 28% of the country’s land and 20% of the country’s marine surface area.
Natura 2000 sites are selected exclusively based on scientific criteria, with the aim of ensuring the long-term conservation of the most valuable and endangered species and the most important types of habitat in Europe. The sites are selected and proposed by the Member States of the European Union. The European Commission analyses, evaluates and approves these proposals.
In Greece, the Natura 2000 network offers protection for a total of 299 plant and animal species, 177 bird species and 89 types of habitat. This is a valuable protective 'umbrella', as Greece, despite its small size, is one of the richest countries in biodiversity in the European Union and globally. In parallel, the country’s biodiversity exhibits very high rates of endemism in various groups of species such as snails (64.5%), freshwater fish (53.9%), orthoptera (35.8%), plants (23%), etc.
For our country, where the sea characterises and influences every aspect of our lives, the network of marine sites of the Natura 2000 network has even greater value. With the addition and integration of a series of new marine sites in 2017, the extent of the Natura network was enhanced significantly. Through these sites, the network provides us with the opportunity to protect very important and rare marine species, such as the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), cetaceans (whales and dolphins), sea birds and unique and valuable marine habitats, such as Posidonia meadows, coral reefs, and red corals.
Effective protection of these sites – apart from benefiting marine biodiversity – will have a positive impact on the conservation of fish stocks, thus also contributing to the sustainability of fisheries, a very important sector for our country’s island and coastal communities. In parallel, these sites can emerge and become a key attraction for low-impact and high value forms of tourism and thus further support the sustainable development of local communities.
To this end, we work systematically in the marine protected areas of Zakynthos and Gyaros to show that the protection of nature can go hand in hand with sustainable local development. In addition to being an obligation for our country, preserving the health of our seas – Greece’s most valuable natural resource – is perhaps the most important priority for ensuring a more sustainable future.
However, Natura 2000 is not just a network of protected areas. It recognises that humans and nature perform better when they work together. In fact, in many cases, human presence is considered an integral part of nature within the Natura 2000 network. Thus, it should be managed in a way so as to ensure the compatibility of sustainable human activities with the effective protection of species and habitats.
We know that the protection and management of ecosystems and biodiversity can be a cost-effective and sustainable way to strengthen the resilience of our societies against climate change. In parallel, the management of the Natura 2000 network can ensure that nature continues to provide us with food, water, safety and all other valuable ecosystem services. In this way, despite the fact that the Natura 2000 network was created with the aim of protecting biodiversity, its effective management proves to be very beneficial and crucial for humans as well.
The Natura 2000 network can contribute decisively towards addressing the global crisis of biodiversity loss, it can act as a powerful defense against and response to climate change, and as a model for a more balanced relationship between humans and nature, which we so desperately need.
We monitor the legislative initiatives affecting the operation and effectiveness of the Natura 2000 network, just as we do systematically for all nature protection issues in Greece. We intervene in the public dialogue, we participate in public consultations, we collaborate with other environmental NGOs and entities, and we submit proposals with a view to the institutional shielding and effective management of the Natura 2000 sites.
At the same time, since 2018 we have participated in the LIFE-IP 4 NATURA Project, which has a duration of 8 years, and which is actually the first integrated LIFE Project ever to have been approved for Greece. Among the goals of the Project is the overall improvement of the operation of the Natura 2000 network in Greece and the country’s compliance with the relevant European legislation.
Within the context of the Project, in which a total of 11 partners participate under the coordination of the Ministry of the Environment and Energy, WWF Greece is responsible for the implementation of specific actions, such as mapping and analysis of those involved in the Natura 2000 network (stakeholder analysis), training of executives of the competent public services as well as the users (capacity building), implementing a Panhellenic campaign to inform and raise awareness (awareness campaign), distributing Project results and monitoring of the socioeconomic impact of the Project.
At the same time, however, participating in other actions in collaboration with the other Project partners, we were responsible for preparing the Action Plan for the Karpathos frog (Pelophylax cerigensis), which is species endemic to Karpathos.
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