Greece, National Strategy for Wetland Resources

[This is a reprint of the English version of the Greek National Strategy for Wetland Resources (October 1999), as provided to the Ramsar Bureau for this purpose by the Ministry for the Environment, Physical Planning, and Public Works.  -- Ramsar Web Editor.]




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Executive summary




1.1. Scientific findings


1.1.1. Definition and types of wetlands


1.1.2. Wetland functions and values


1.1.3. Greek wetland resources today


1.1.4. The problems of Greek wetlands


1.1.5. Underlying causes of the problems faced by wetlands


1.2. The legal framework


1.3. The existing strategic framework


1.3.1. National policies


1.3.2. Supranational and international strategic documents


1.3.3. Legislative acts that form strategic frameworks


1.4 General principles of the national strategy for wetland resources




2.1. General objective of the national strategy for wetland resources


2.2. Specific objectives




3.1. Specific objective 1: Designation of the most important wetlands of the country as protected areas and their management


3.2. Specific objective 2: Prevention of wetland degradation resulting from projects and activities


3.3. Specific objective 3: Implementation of sustainable management practices in all wetlands of the country – rehabilitation and restoration of wetlands


3.4. Specific objective 4: Integrated management of water resources in the hydrological basins of wetlands and in small islands


3.5. Specific objective 5: Promotion of scientific research on the management of wetlands and dessemination of results


3.6. Specific objective 6: Study and use of economic incentives for the preservation of wetlands


3.7. Specific objective 7: Monitoring of important parameters for the wetlands management - inventory


3.8. Specific objective 8: Information, environmental education and awareness about wetlands


3.9. Specific objective 9: International co-operation in areas of wetland resource management




4.1. Formulation and adoption of national policies that concern wetlands


4.2. Projects and actions to promote the protection of Greek wetlands


4.2.1. Delineation, submission of maps and temporary legal protection of wetlands of international importance


4.2.2. Wise use


4.3 Removal of three wetlands of international importance form the Montreux Record of the Ramsar Convention


4.4 Identification and description of types of wetlands


4.5 Hydrological and meteorological data base




5.1. Bodies that will implement the actions of the strategy


5.2. Dissemination and promotion of the strategy


5.3 Evaluation of the progress of implementation of the national strategy for wetland resources


ANNEX: Legal framework for the protection of wetlands


ANNEX: References to strategic orientations and previous efforts to formulate a strategy for wetlands or the natural environment of Greece





This strategy has two scopes. On the one hand, it fulfils our country’s commitment, as a contracting party to the Ramsar Convention, to draft its own strategy for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. On the other hand, it expresses the country’s final strategic choice for wetlands, as shaped by the existing strategic framework (ch. 1.3).

The experience of other countries has shown that wetland problems are tackled more successfully through a national strategy with specific objectives and actions. Thus, the benefits expected from the strategy are:

  • development of a single framework of reference for positive actions undertaken anywhere, that is, co-ordination of the actions of various services and bodies at the planning stage in order to avoid fragmentary measures or overlapping of positive actions and therefore unnecessary expenses, and to ensure integrated management of wetland resources
  • contribution to the integration of the dimension of sustainable management of wetland resources in sectorial policies
  • informing other ministries and bodies involved in development, Local Government and private investors, about national priorities as far as wetland resources are concerned, in order to avoid preparing economic development plans for wetlands that might not be compatible with the conservation of all wetland values
  • facilitatation of joint (in co-operation with other countries) confrontation of wetland problems at a European level or, in general, at the level of smaller or larger geographical areas

In Greece, the main structural elements of such a strategy are scattered throughout various State documents and reports that concern more general management issues for the abiotic and biotic environment, both man-made and natural.

The input used for drafting the national strategy is constituted mainly of (11)*:
1. scientific findings about the functions, the values and the problems of wetlands
2. the legal framework that binds the Greek State, as determined by national legislation, international conventions and community acts
3. various national, Community and international documents that recommend the existing strategic framework
4. a set of basic principles associated with ecological ethics, national requirements and scientific approaches and that are considered as a priori acceptable by the majority of Greek citizens.

The strategy that is shaped by this input ensures more numerous and important benefits for the highest possible percentage of citizens and especially those living in the Greek rural areas.

The abundance of initiatives, at the national, European and international level, to halt degradation and manage wetland resources, the natural environment, landscapes and biodiversity in general in a sustainable way, proves how critical a moment it is for all countries to undertake decisive actions for the protection of nature. By combining the rationale behind all these initiatives it becomes apparent that the sustainable management of wetlands can only be achieved through strong political will, integrated development planning and generous investment in human and financial resources.

The objective of this document is:
a. to describe the input for preparing the national strategy for wetland resources
b. to set general and specific strategic objectives
c. to specify the actions required for the implementation of these objectives.

While drafting this document, consideration was given to the principles laid out in the "1997-2002 Ramsar Strategic Plan", that was presented at the 6th Conference of the Contracting Parties in Brisbane-Australia, in March 1996, and to the "Venice Declaration on Mediterranean Wetlands" (MedWet project conference, Venice, June 1996).


1.1. Scientific findings

1.1.1. Definition and types of wetland

The Greek term for "wetland" ("ygrotopos") is relatively recent and was devised in order to provide a translation for the English word wetland (word-for-word "wet ground" or "wet land"), which also has a history of a few decades only.

As a scientific term, the word wetland indicates collectively any area that is covered seasonally or permanently by shallow water or that is never covered by water but has a humid substratum (soil, sand, etc) during a long period of the year. Wetlands are fresh water, saline or brackish shallow lakes and shallow rivers, marshes, lagoons, springs, peatlands.

According to the official definition of the Ramsar Convention "wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or atificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tides does not exceed six meters". According to the same Convention, wetlands are also "riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of water deeper than six meters at low tide lying within the wetlands".

Individuals whose primary concern was to protect migratory aquatic birds formulated the Ramsar definition 28 years ago. Until now, it has not been necessary to amend it despite the fact that it contains certain weaknesses. For example, the number and type of wetlands that it mentions is limited. In order to overcome this weakness, the countries that have ratified the Ramsar Convention, at their fourth meeting in Montreux-Switzerland, in 1990, approved an extensive list of types of wetland (Table 1) to which the Convention refers. This record may be considered as a complement to the definition.

Table 1: Classification system for types of wetland approved by the 4th meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention in Montreux, in 1990.

Marine and coastal wetlands

1. Marine waters – permanent shallow waters less than six meters deep at low tide; includes sea bays, straits
2. Subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grasses, tropical marine meadows.
3. Corral reefs.
4. Rocky marine shores; includes rocky offshore islands, sea cliffs.
5. Sand, shingle or pebble beaches; includes sand bars, spits, sandy islets.
6. Estuarine waters; permanent waters of estuaries and estuarine systems of deltas
7. Intertidal mud, sand or salt flats.
8. Intertidal marshes; includes saltmarshes, salt meadows, saltings, raised saltmarshes, tidal brackish and freshwater marshes.
9. Intertidal forested wetlands; includes mangrove marshes, nipa marshes, tidal freshwater marsh forests.
10. Brackish or saline lagoons with one or more relatively narrow connections with the sea
11. Freshwater lagoons and marshes in the coastal zone; includes delta lagoon and marsh systems.

Inland wetlands

1. Permanent rivers and streams; includes waterfalls.
2. Seasonal and irregular rivers and streams
3. Inland deltas (permanent)
4. Riverine floodplains; includes river flats, flooded river basins, seasonally flooded grassland, savanna and palm savanna.
5. Permanent freshwater lakes (over 8 ha.); includes large oxbow lakes
6. Seasonal freshwater lakes (over 8 ha.), floodplain lakes
7. Permanent and seasonal, brackish, saline or alkaline lakes, flats and marshes
8. Permanent freshwater ponds (below 8 ha.), marshes and marshes on inorganic soils; with emergent vegetation waterlogged for at least most of the growing season
9. Seasonal freshwater ponds and marshes on inorganic soil; includes sloughs, potholes, seasonally flooded meadows, sedge marshes.
10. Shrub marshes; shrub-dominated freshwater marsh, shrub carr, alder thicket; on inorganic soils.
11. Freshwater marsh forest, wooded marshes; on inorganic soils
12. Peatlands; shrub or open bogs, fens
13. Forested peatlands; peat marsh forest
14. Alpine and tundra wetlands; includes alpine meadows, tundra pools, temporary waters from snowmelt.
15. Freshwater springs, oases
16. Geothermal wetlands.

Man-made wetlands

1. Water storage areas; reservoirs, barrages, hydroelectric dams, impoundments (generally over 8 ha.)
2. Ponds including farm ponds, stock ponds, small tanks (generally below 8 ha.)
3. Aquaculture ponds; fish ponds, shrimp ponds.
4. Salt exploitation; salt pans, salines.
5. Excavations; gravel pits, borrow pits, mining pools
6. Wastewater treatment; sewage farms, settling ponds, oxidation basins
7. Irrigated land and irrigation channels; rice fields, canals, ditches
8. Seasonally flooded arable land

1.1.2. Wetland functions and values Wetland functions

Wetlands are ecosystems in which multiple natural functions (or processes) occur. Not all these functions are performed in all wetlands and sometimes they are performed to a different degree, at a different time and in a different way. The functions of a wetland, just like of any other ecosystem, are not fulfilled independently but in an interactive way. The primary factor however that determines the way in which a wetland functions, is its hydrological regime. Understanding the wetland’s hydrology should be the first concern of those who deal with its conservation and management (13, 23).

Wetland functions are (13):

  • Recharge of underground aquifers

The vertical (or even horizontal sometimes) movement of water towards an aquifer results in its replenishment. Many geological and hydrological factors determine whether this function will be fulfilled in a wetland and to what extent, or whether the opposite will occur. That is, the replenishment of the wetland by water from the aquifers, which is not a rare occurrence. Both functions are very interesting, particularly for countries such as Greece where water is considered as a "scarce resource" already.

  • Modification of flood phenomena

The presence of wetlands in a hydrological basin can modify a flood in two ways. Firstly, by reducing the total volume of floodwater and secondly, by reducing flood peaks. In other words, they can render the flood less torrential. In this case, wetlands function as regulatory tanks. The total volume of water may be reduced because wetlands can store a certain quantity of floodwater.

  • Entrapment of sediments and other substances

Water that ends up in wetlands contains various substances, either diluted or in suspension. Some of these substances do not affect organisms directly but they have a nutritional value for the organisms or are toxic for them. Certain wetlands that receive flowing water, reduce flow velocity, particularly those that have dense vegetation (e.g. reedbeds). This facilitates sedimentation of depositing materials. Moreover, a wetland can break up substances or remove some of them from the system, through complex processes. Wetland vegetation plays a primary role in all these processes.

  • Storage and release of heat

Water has a very high heat storage capacity. This unique property of water makes oceans and deep lakes act as heat reservoirs because during the warm period of the year wetlands store heat and release it during the winter. Shallow marine areas, shallow lakes, marshes and even wet soils of course, fulfill the same function, to a lesser extent. As a consequence, the differences in air temperature – winter/summer and day/night – are much less important over or next to areas where water dominates than far from them.

  • Absorption of carbon dioxide

The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has begun to increase during the last 200 years i.e. since the industrial revolution. It has been assumed that part of the total amount of carbon dioxide produced has been "trapped" by the hydrosphere, which acts as the main regulator of the atmosphere’s content in carbon dioxide. Wetlands constitute about 6% of the hydrosphere. In view of the global warming phenomenon, the importance of this function is obvious.

  • Binding of solar radiation and support of food chains

Various autotroph organisms bind solar radiation in wetlands. Differences between wetland ecosystems, in simple terms of primary productivity, are very important and are due mainly to differences in the availability of nutrients. Certain marshes with reedbeds are among the most productive wetlands. Net primary productivity is the basis of secondary productivity, i.e. the productivity of the ecosystem in heterotroph organisms (consumers). Trophic webs in wetland ecosystems are often more complex than those found in terrestrial ecosystems and in deep-water ecosystems. Wetland values

Values are services and goods that wetlands offer to Man. Wetland values are not independent of one another. Usually, the improvement or the degradation of one value results in the improvement or the degradation of one or more of the other values. The multiple uses of wetlands is a common cause of conflict among users. Moreover, values are not equally important in all wetlands. However, there is no wetland that has no important value for all people or for a group of people, currently or in the future (13, 23).

Wetland values may be (13):

  • Biological (Biodiversity)

The term biological diversity or biodiversity expresses the variety of life forms existing in an area and/or generally on Earth (genetic diversity, species diversity and ecological diversity). Biodiversity has supported and supports Man’s existence. It is a "potential" natural resource, a timeless value without frontiers. Man’s food originates from wild species of plants and animals cultivated and reared. Apart from food, plants and animals cover many other needs, e.g. clothing, transportation, housing, health and recreation. The industrial uses of plants and animals, and also microorganisms are countless. Apart from genetic improvement of species that have been domesticated already, biodiversity is a pool of resources for satisfying more needs in the future. Wetland biodiversity is a remarkable part of Earth’s biodiversity. Many species of plants and animals that depend on wetlands are also of direct economic importance. Species diversity in a wetland ecosystem is affected by abiotic factors and especially the hydrological regime and the physical and chemical properties of water and the substrate. Above all, the biodiversity of a wetland is the result of countless interactions between the parts that form the ecosystem. Best possible knowledge of these interactions leads to successful management. The value of biodiveristy is supreme to all other ones. Therefore, biodiversity should not be affected by the use of other values.

  • Water supply

Water supply is considered as the most important value use of wetlands. Covering the continuously increasing water needs of Greece will depend increasingly on surface water rather than ground water. The protection of wetlands from unwise management and pollution could be based on a single argument only: they offer drinking water both directly and indirectly by replenishing underground aquifers.

  • Irrigation

Practically all Greek freshwater wetlands, natural and artificial, are used for irrigation to a certain extent. The role of irrigation in agricultural production and development is extremely important and uncontestable. However, if one considers the experience of four decades and current knowledge of the multiple values of wetlands, one concludes that the use of the irrigation value of wetlands has not been without adverse impact for the other values. The protection of wetlands that are used as sources of irrigation water should include measures against pollution. The use of water that is free of harmful substances and pathogenic microorganisms protects the health of farmers and consumers and contributes to the sustainability of arable land.

  • Fishing

The main types of wetland that fulfil the conditions for ensuring satisfactory populations of marketable fish are lagoons, lakes (natural and artificial) and rivers. Sound management of the ecosystem and special care for fish populations can yield very important fish production. Apart from fishing, wetlands are used for intensive aquaculture that causes problems in the functioning of the ecosystem. The richness and the composition of the fish fauna of a wetland are secure proof of its good state. Apart from economic benefits, when fishing is performed wisely, it contributes to their protection as well. This is because the existence of fish populations of high market value, presupposes a healthy ecosystem with very high quality of water and aquatic vegetation that provides sufficient spawning sites and protected wintering grounds.

  • Animal farming

Many wetlands offer rich grazing material for cattle, sheep and goats during a long period of the year. Livestock have constituted part of the animal community of Mediterranean wetland ecosystems for thousands of years, having contributed to a large extent to their structure and evolution. This effect remained stable until today. Recently however, two trends have appeared. In certain wetlands the number of grazing animals is increasing whereas in others it is decreasing. When changes in grazing patterns are not the result of a special management study, they can cause undesirable changes in vegetation and the ecology of the area in general. On the contrary, controlled grazing may constitute a valuable management tool in a wetland area.

  • Felling

A wetland has a felling value if its vegetation can provide materials to be used for timber or other purposes (paper pulp, baskets, mats etc). In general, wooded wetlands in plains have the greatest felling value. In particular, concerning reedbed management securing a smooth performance of wetland functions, constitutes a scientific problem that can be solved after many years of experimention. As for riparian forests, they are so scarce and small that the main objective of their management should be the protection of natural functions whereas wood harvest should be very restricted.

  • Hydroelectricity

With the exception of a few lakes situated at a high altitude, rivers that cross mountain areas, usually have a hydroelectric value. Hydroelectric power is considered as a clean form of energy. However, the dams that are constructed for the use of this value have adverse impact such as the destruction of natural vegetation, change of landscape and hydrological regime in downstream areas, reduction in deposited sediments at river estuaries etc. Hydroelectric dams usually serve irrigation purposes as well. They should be integrated in the more general framework for the water resources management of a large area or the entire country. Moreover, the mitigation of the economic, social and ecological impact for downstream terrestrial and wetland areas, and the coastal fisheries economy should be included in the cost of the dam.

  • Salt extraction

The concentration of sea salt in specially prepared coastal areas – saltworks - is an ancient technique. For a very long time, salt has been used in Man’s food and today it is used as a raw material for a variety of industrial purposes. Mediterranean saltworks harbour a rich avifauna. In Greece, the saltworks of Messolonghi and Kitros Pierias are well known for their ornithological importance. Many saltwork companies in other Mediterranean countries, and in Greece as well, co-operate with ornithologists so that salt extraction is as far as possible compatible with the conservation of wild fauna.

  • Sand extraction

Sand is one of the inorganic materials transported by a river that is used widely in the construction business. Extraction rights belong to the State that concedes them to the closest communities or to private individuals. The use of the sand extraction value should be totally controlled. Any illegal sand extraction harms natural vegetation and fauna. Sand extraction in rivers, when carried out in a controlled and planned manner, does not constitute a problem. There are some lakes however, where sand reserves are finite. In these lakes, it should be examined carefully whether the system allows for the extraction of sand without giving rise to adverse impact.

  • Scientific value

Increasingly, wetlands attract the interest of scientists. As a result, the values and functions of wetlands are better documented. Scientific issues such as inventorying, classification, evaluation, monitoring of wetland ecosystems, biodegradation of organic matter, paleoecology, biodiversity, use of wetland habitats, hydrological period etc constitute important areas in which scientific efforts are being made. As regards the positive and negative effects (especially positive) that wetlands have on other types of ecosystems and reversely, information is insufficient. However, the interest in wetlands as distinct ecosystems is increasing at an important rate.

  • Educational

Wetlands occupy a dominant position in Environmental Education that is becoming increasingly important. Wetlands are considered particularly attractive areas for training in Environmental Education, because of their high scientific value and the fact that one can observe more and faster changes in images, sounds and events than in terrestrial ecosystems. Familiarisation with a wetland and its study gives children the opportunity to form a picture about the water cycle, the nutrients cycle in nature, trophic relations between species etc, and also the adverse consequences of ignorance or avidity.

  • Cultural

The cultural value of a wetland consists of its relations with mythology, history, archeology, religion, folklore and literature. Traditional economic activities related to agriculture, fishing, home handicraft, building etc constitute a part of this value also. These elements of our traditional culture should be recorded and their importance should be studied. At some point in time, relevant knowledge may prove to be useful both for our everyday life and for the management of wetlands.

  • Recreation

Passive recreation activities include bird watching, photography, landscape admiration etc. Active ones include activities and sports that are related to water (such as sport fishing, sailing and swimming) or the surrounding terrestrial area (such as cycling or riding). Mass tourism is likely to threaten the wetland ecosystems if priority is given to active recreation rather than other uses. Eco-tourism is based mainly on nature and landscapes of outstanding natural beauty, the observation of wildlife and archaeological and historical monuments. But eco-tourism also requires careful planning and organisation in order to minimise disturbance that it will cause to the natural environment and to ensure that it will contribute positively to the local economy.

  • Flood control

All our riparian wetlands in which natural vegetation has been left unharmed – a rare occurrence – have a flood control value. All torrents that cross urban areas have a high flood prevention value, and human lives and property are threatened by confining them. Examples of wetlands in Greece that have an important flood prevention value are Lake Karla in the past and artificial Lake Kerkini today.

  • Erosion control

Riparian wetland vegetation has among other an erosion control value because it retains the soil and diffuses the erosion forces of flowing water and waves. In many parts of the world it has been observed that coasts are being eroded to an alarming degree by sea waves following the alteration of coastal wetlands. Studies and estimates that have been made along the coasts of certain deltas in Macedonia justify a certain concern.

  • Improvement of water quality

Wetlands can improve water quality by removing pollutants through natural processes. This does not mean that it is wise to use our natural wetlands as recipients for pollutants. We should learn from our natural wetlands and construct artificial ones so as to increase their capacity to improve water quality and to use them for the treatment of effluents.

  • Improvement of climate

The milder climate that prevails in wetlands and the peripheral zone, as compared to areas that are far from wetlands is beneficial for all inhabitants (e.g. heating requirements are less important in wetlands). Farmers in the peripheral cultivated zone benefit particularly because they have a wider choice of plant species. Exhaustion and damage to plants from freezing weather and heat waves are rarer and not very important. Pollinating insects that are very important for the fruit-bearing potential of certain species are more numerous near wetlands than far from them. From the point of view of climate, wetlands not only have a local but also a worldwide value because of the role that they play in trapping carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

1.1.3. Greek wetland resources today

The most complete inventory was drawn up in 1992-93 by EKBY with the support of the central and prefectural services of the Ministries of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works and of Agriculture, in co-operation with specialised scientists and environmental organisations from all over Greece. According to this inventory (26), our country’s wetland resources consist currently of small and large wetlands or groups of wetlands that cover about 2 million stremmata. The number and area of the wetlands, by type of wetland, is shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Abundance and area of Greek wetlands by type of wetland (26)

Type of wetland Number of areas % of total number Area(hectars) % of total area Length (in km)
Deltas 12 3.2 68030 33.58  
Marshes 75 19.8 5832.6 2.88  
Lakes 56 14.8 59767.3 29.50  
Lagoons* 60 15.9 28766.5 14.20  
Springs 17 4.5 133.1 0.06  
Estuaries 42 11.1 4264.6 2.10  
Reservoirs 25 6.6 35823.5 17.68  
Rivers 91 24.1 - - 4268
TOTAL 378 100.0 202617.6 100.0 4268

* Lagoons in estuary systems are not considered as separate wetlands

The inventory includes forms that have been completed for 378 wetlands, which contain information on the site, the area, the most important biotic and abiotic features, the values, the uses, the threats, the legal status etc. It is estimated that together with certain smaller wetlands that it was not possible to inventory in that phase, their number reaches or exceeds 400.

Because of the type of landscape and the dry and warm climate of Greece, these resources are very important economically and this importance is increasing continuously (increase in water requirements, global climate change etc).

Compared to other more economically developed countries, the quality of Greek wetlands is generally high.

1.1.4. The problems of Greek wetlands

During the 20th century, starting from the 1920s, and especially the mid 1960s, approximately 2/3 of the wetland area of Greece was drained (13). Losses concern mainly marshes and certain lakes and rivers. At the time, drainage had been deemed necessary to confront the important problems of malaria, flooding, the supply of irrigation water and the acquisition of more areas for cultivation. In addition to drainage, other interventions were made (e.g. confinement of riverbeds, clearing of natural vegetation, construction of dams). Thus, for example, the main factors that led the Greek state into implementing large scale land reclamation projects in the plain of Serres, from 1928 to 1936, were the refugee problem during the years that followed the Asia Minor disaster and malaria that was seriously afflicting the population (3).

Currently it is established that a lot of drainage and other interventions were mistaken because not only did they not yield the expected economic and social benefits and secondly, they led to the loss of values that at the time were unknown (27). For example, the final drainage of the very important, from an ecological and economic point of view, Lake Karla in 1962 did not contribute as much as expected to flood protection because the necessary additional projects were not implemented (27). Moreover, the loss of the wetland caused environmental problems, e.g. transport of pollution through the drainage tunnel to the Pagasitikos, depletion of underground aquifers and deterioration of extreme climatic conditions in the area, such as frost that affected crops more often. The new areas reserved for cultivation were encroached to a large extent and the expectations for attributing agricultural land to the landless were satisfied only partially (27). It should be noted that the way in which Greek wetlands were treated did not differ from the way the were treated in other parts of the world, even in countries whose national economy was not very dependent on wetland resources.

Whereas today Greek wetlands continue to be threatened to a certain degree by drainage, at the same time, the local populations of certain drained wetlands not only express wishes for restoration (e.g. lakes Karla, Lanza, Mavrouda) but also implement such plans.

Currently, Greek wetlands continue to be threatened by alteration of their functions which means degradation of their values, despite the fact that certain positive step in the direction of their sustainable management have started already within the current decade.

Out of the 378 wetlands included in the "Inventory of Greek Wetlands as Natural Resources" (26), information about the factors of degradation was available for 291 of them. These parameters were qualitatively graded as of high, medium or low importance. The high and low importance degradation parameters were grouped into four impact categories (28), namely, into factors that cause:

  • change of the hydrological regime (special causes are river diversion, dam construction or other constructions for retaining and storing water, irrigation networks)
  • depletion of wetland resources (special causes are drainage, sand extraction, clearing of natural vegetation, over-pumping, illegal hunting, illegal felling, over-fishing)
  • change in water quality (due to agricultural, industrial and domestic pollution)
  • loss of wetland area (special causes are the expansion of cultivated areas, road construction, tourism and recreation, housing development)

The elaboration of relevant data showed that (28):

  • Change in hydrological regime affects about half the springs and 40% of rivers. The main reasons for this are irrigation networks and the construction of dams that serve the increased water needs of modern agricultural practices. Obviously irrigation networks cannot be abolished because agriculture depends on irrigation water. However, more efficient water resource management could ensure more water for natural ecosystems (28).
  • Depletion of wetland resources was observed in about 40% of the deltas, natural lakes and aquifers, but not in the other types of wetland. Within this impact category, illegal hunting (in about 13% of wetlands) is the dominant factor. This occurs despite the fact that prohibited zones and similar regulatory provisions have been instituted in many areas because insufficient guarding encourages the numerous hunters to trespass. Pressure from hunting is particularly high in deltas because they host a large number of migratory or wintering birds. In about 12% of wetlands, a clearing problem is observed, and over-pumping, which affects about half the springs, is just as serious a problem. These problems are due to increased demand for agricultural land and irrigation water. Over-pumping of underground water is due to increasing water supply and irrigation needs (28).
  • About half the wetlands appear to have water quality problems, mainly because of agricultural pollution and pollution by urban effluents. Pollution of agricultural origin appears to be an important factor, and so does the extensive use of agrochemicals. Efforts to reduce agricultural pollution require the implementation of special measures approved at political level. Again, deltas are the type of wetland affected most (about 50%) by pollution of agricultural origin, and lakes and rivers follow. Such wetlands receive surface run-off from neighbouring cultivated plains. Inefficient operation of waste treatment plants (especially in small towns) and the fact that no tertiary waste treatment is carried out, cause problems of increased organic load in receivibg water bodies and consequently the deterioration of water quality in several wetlands (about 16%). The types of wetland that present this problem more often are coastal wetlands, deltas and estuary systems, because their wider areas are usually the most densely populated, either permanently or seasonally because of tourism (28).
  • Loss of wetland area affects about 60% of marshes and half the deltas and estuary systems. The extension of agriculture is a cause that has been known for a long time. More recently, housing development has been added to the causes. Lakes and deltas are threatened most by the extension of agriculture, and coastal wetlands are most subject to pressure for housing development (construction of country houses and tourist infrastructure) (28).

1.1.5. Underlying causes of the problems faced by wetlands

Based on the presentation of the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, adopted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (19), the deeper causes of the problems of Greek wetlands are as follows:

a. Lack of markets and ownership titles

Lack of markets is actually the lack of a domestic market (and insufficient information about the market abroad) for i. products that have been produced in a sustainable way either by the primary sector (e.g. agriculture, farming, fishing, apiculture), or by the secondary sector (e.g. certified products from industries that conform with strict environmental rules, objects made of wood, cane or matting originating from systems that are managed in a sustainable way) and ii. soundly planned and organised eco-tourism and sports and recreation activities (tertiary sector services) (21).

Wetland areas in Greece belong mainly to the state. Despite this, municipalities, communities and private individuals own a small percentage of land, in the peripheral zones of wetlands in particular. Moreover, only recently has work commenced on the National Cadaster. As a result, certain illegal actions are facilitated, for example, encroachment of wetland expanses following burning of natural vegetation or a drop in the water level of a lake, are facilitated. Work has now begun, as was mentioned above, and it has started in the wetlands of international importance.

b. Shortage of information

Shortage or lack of information is in fact the lack of a constant flow of information towards central services about what happens in wetlands. It also means insufficient informing of decision-makers; lack of information on sustainable practices in hydrological basins, unsatisfactory awareness of the public at large and of specific community groups, and finally lack of knowledge on certain purely wetland issues and inadequate forecasting about the effects of management practices or other protection-promotion projects for wetlands. The above result in erroneous management, observed in the past and currently, both in our country and worldwide. Such operations are, e.g. the importation of foreign genetic material, inappropriate fisheries regulation, inappropriate hydro-period, encouragement of eco-tourists without sufficient study and infrastructure, inappropriate management of reedbeds, incorrect grazing and felling regulations).

Other types of damage could have been avoided if there was sufficient knowledge. These are linked to the clearing of wetland forests for cultivation that was proved to be unprofitable, the improvement of certain pathogenic and other soils that provided nothing to farmers and the drainage of coastal wetlands that acted as a "shield" against salting of underground water etc. Many such actions led rapidly to economic damage for inhabitants who had expected to benefit.

c. Institutional weaknesses

Insufficient financial subsidies for sustainable practices, and consequently the lack of real encouragement for inhabitants of wetland areas to adopt these practices constitute a basic institutional weakness. Some progress has been made in this area with the implementation of Regulation 2078/92 EC. Moreover, the way in which the institution of Environmental Impact Assessment operates at a European level sometimes affects wetlands adversely, because the cost-benefit ratio of development projects is only estimated occasionally. In Greece, for example, only in a few cases has economic damage downstream been considered in the estimation of the cost of a dam construction project.

Deficiencies and difficulties also result from the administrative organisation of responsibilities at central, regional and prefectural level, as regards the evaluation of Environmental Impact Assessment studies. Of course, the fact that all projects and activities carried out in protected wetland systems (e.g. Ramsar, NATURA 2000) are environmentally assessed by the central environment services of the Ministry for the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works is positive.

An institutional problem arises from the fact that no legally consolidated management co-ordination schemes for the most important wetlands have started operating in our country yet. Thus, the responsibilities of public services involved in the management of wetlands (services of the Ministries of the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works, of Agriculture, of Development, of Merchant Marine, of Health and of others, partially and in specificl cases), are not always sufficiently co-ordinated. The institution and operation of wetland management schemes is expected to bring about positive results for sustainable use and therefore conservation of wetland resources.

Existing legislation on the protection of the environment in Greece is in general satisfactory. The detection of any weaknesses is a difficult task that exceeds the objectives of this document. An example of a clear weakness in environmental protection legislation in general and wetlands in particular is the absence of provisions for compulsory restoration of damages caused by the illegal activities of natural or legal entities. Thus, whereas penal and administrative sanctions are foreseen for those who cause damage to the environment and, in certain cases, mechanisms for haltingdamaging activities, it is not at all self-evident that competent services or the entity which caused environmental damage are obliged to carry out remedial interventions to restore the damage, even if this damage is very serious.

d. Weaknesses in the implementation of legislation

Insufficient guarding and policing to avoid illegal interventions, and the often encountered "impunity" status quo. In general, the lack of a mechanism for the observance of legislation on the one hand and environmental terms set for projects and activities (INSPECTORATE), facilitate individuals or social groups in violating regulations and protection measures continuously. Thus, wetlands may be affected by illegal hunting, disturbance by uncontrolled access of visitors to sensitive areas, illegal release of pollutants, illegal clearing of reedbeds, encroachment of public land, illegal housing and legal but unwise change in land use in order to serve the interests of social groups that are indifferent to the conservation of all other wetland values apart from the one that is of economic interest to them.

In conclusion, the problems of Greek wetlands, as described in ch. 1.1.4. are due, on the one hand to the above deficiencies and weaknesses, and on the other hand are the result of past policy measures, the practice of primary sector activities (agriculture, farming, fishing), secondary sector activities (industry, manufacture) and third sector activities (tourism, transport, provision of services). These policy measures either considered the use of wetland resources as being costless or clearly underestimated the cost thus allowing for a non-sustainable use of wetland resources. This consists in their short-term and exhaustive exploitation, the objective being to maximise short-term economic benefit or even to reduce or eliminate some of the other wetland values due to the unwise use of some of them. Various grants, the existence, growth or decline of specific markets for specific products (market forces), tax regulations and allowances for infrastructure and equipment have served as tools-incentives for this exploitation.

Thus, these policy measures should be amended based upon the conclusions of consolidated worldwide research, according to which integrated sustainable management of wetland resources ensures not only more benefits for more people today and in the future but is also scientifically feasible.

Currently, two opposite trends can be identified in Greek society as regards wetland resources (and environmental issues in general). The first one will lead to a continuation or even deterioration of wetland degradation due to the persistence of existing non sustainable activities and, in certain cases, the addition of new ones. The second trend will lead to the halting of degradation through an increasing number of research, educational, training and awareness projects, and institutional improvements and economic support for the adoption of sustainable practices. In general, the first trend overrides the second one although in certain wetlands there are signs that the gap has started to narrow (11). The positive trend is supported also by the State through a series of projects and activities in important wetlands (see ch. 4).

1.2. The legal framework

The legal framework considered for drafting the national strategy for wetlands is sufficiently broad. It consists of Greek legislation, community acts and international conventions (15, 17, 32) and is presented in Annex A. Basically, given their broad orientations and objectives and the large number of actions that they foresee, some of these pieces of legislation constitute strategic frameworks. For this reason, they are described in ch. 1.3.: " The existing strategic framework".

1.3. The existing strategic framework

The framework for drafting the national strategy for wetland resources consists of documents of strategic content about the environment and natural resources that have been produced by competent services at central level, and documents that have been produced by international and non-governmental organisations and larger international working groups.

Specifically, the European Union policy should be considered as expressed through the 5th Action Plan of the European Community for the environment and sustainable development and especially the document entitled "Wise Use and Conservation of Wetlands".

Certain legislative acts are mentioned also in the existing strategic framework for the reason explained in ch. 1.2. above. Moreover, bibliographic references of strategic orientations and previous efforts to formulate a strategy for wetlands or the natural environment of Greece in general, is presented in Annex B together with a brief discussion.

The most important relevant measures with which the National Strategy should be compatible are the following:

1.3.1. National policies Greek Environmental Policy

The objectives of Greek environmental policy, as mentioned in the National Report that was drafted especially for the "Conference on Environment and Development" that was organised by the United Nations and took place in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, are as follows:

  • The maintenance of the equilibrium of natural ecosystems
  • Sustainable use of natural resources
  • Sound conservation and management of natural systems and biodiversity with special emphasis on coastal systems, wetlands and islands.
  • The integration of environmental dimensions in all development policies that concern the various sectors of activity
  • The consideration of environmental education and public awareness as first priority activities
  • The promotion of the collection and dissemination of information

For the natural environment in particular, the same report mentions that special priority should be given to the following issues:

  • Effective management and protection of protected areas and the extension of their boundaries
  • Rehabilitation of degraded natural areas
  • Zoning of activities
  • Safeguard of a balanced co-existence of man-made and natural ecosystems
  • Prevention of forest fires and soil erosion
  • Wise use of materials and techniques in agricultural production
  • Protection of habitats and species
  • Special measures for wild fauna National policy for wetlands

The national policy for wetlands is not an "independent" and narrow subject. It is part of an integral functional entity that includes the conservation of biodiversity, sustainable management of natural resources, care for the landscape and cultural heritage, and physical planning.

During the past decade, the Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works has shown particular interest in the country’s wetlands. For example, the fact that the procedures of the National Cadastre has commenced from the wetlands of international importance is a national choice. Moreover, the interest shown by the Ministry of Environment is proven by the implementation of study, infrastructure and equipment projects for wetlands of international importance. These have been carried out or are being implemented through the 1st and 2nd CSF. The promotion of legislative acts for their protection and the establishment of their management bodies also constitute proof of political will.

The main features of the Policy on Wetlands, for the 1995-2000 period, are expressed by the following measures:

  • Prevention of degradation through effective control of projects and activities that are potentially harmful to wetlands, through environmental impact assessment studies (EIA)
  • Evaluation of wetlands based on European Union criteria at a national level and proposals for inclusion in the NATURA 2000 European Network (Directive 92/43/?EC)
  • Monitoring of water quality in large rivers and coastal areas
  • Survey of properties situated in wetlands and peripheral zones as part of the National Cadastre
  • Protection measures and financing actions that constitute a priority for the conservation of wetlands (this is achieved through the elaboration of Specific Management Studies (SMS), the institution of legislation such as Joint Ministerial Decisions (JMD), Presidential Decrees (PD), regulations etc.)
  • Financial support for the implementation of agri-environmental (sustainable) management measures in agricultural areas that are adjacent to wetlands
  • Promotion of research, monitoring and wise management of wetlands
  • Promotion of environmental education and public awareness.
  • Integration of the concept of multiple wetland values in sector policies for fishing and tourism
  • Recreation or even rehabilitation- restoration of wetland ecosystems
  • Promotion and active support for international co-operation for the sustainable management of wetland resources in the Mediterranean basin

Existing policy has been adopted by the Ministry for the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works in co-operation with the Ministry for Agriculture. As most actions are carried out with financial support, they have to be approved by the Ministry for National Economy. Moreover, the applied policy is conforming to a large extent with the relevant policies of the European Union and has been harmonised with their philosophy. National policy for water resources – Proposed Community Water Framework Directive

Despite the fact that considerable progress has been made as regards the confrontation of single issues, existing European policy for water had remained fragmentary until recently, both as regards its objectives and the means of implementation. In order to produce a single legislative act that would approach water management in an integrated way, in February 1997 the European Commission, adopted a Proposed Water Framework Directive, which endeavours to:

  • widen the range of protection of water resources to all waters, underground and surface
  • achieve or maintain a "satisfactory status" for all waters by the year 2010
  • approach water resources management at the hydrological basin level
  • co-ordinate all measures adopted that concern specific problems and sectors, that target the achievement of specific objectives and determine the relationship between measures based on emission limit values and quality standards
  • ensure realistic monetary valuation of all services that are related to the use of water (and especially water supply and collection-treatment of effluents and waste), by the year 2010
  • increase the participation of the public and interested bodies in water policy, promote further transparency with its resulting positive consequences in ensuring its implementation
  • consolidate and complete past fragmentary European legislation on water (seven existing Directives will be abolished upon its implementation)

The Council has not adopted this Directive yet. Despite this, since 1997, continuous negotiations are being carried out within the European Council (and between the Council and member states of the EU), and the European Parliament regarding the final content of the Directive. This is due to the fact that numerous commitments will apparently ensue from the implementation of this Directive, and their fulfilment will require time, financial resources, investment in human resources and technical infrastructure, and re-definition of institutions and laws. In other words, it will be necessary to change the orientation of water policy in order to achieve protection of the quality and quantity of water, and eventually fulfil the objective of sustainable management of water resources, since, for the first time, the broader environmental - ecological dimension of water resources is considered in the legislative rationale in such an systematic manner.

The national policy for wetland resources is under preparation, based on the above Directive, because the need for redefining of existing policy is clear. In other words, the environmental, social, economic, institutional and political parameters of water management will have to be re-defined.

Greece has already expressed its great interest in the subject, through its active participation in the relevant consultations. Priorities set for the drafting of a new national water policy are:

  • the confrontation of the problem of vague, defective, fragmentary or overlapping activities in water management
  • the institution and activation of management bodies for water resources (with a flexible legal form)
  • monitoring of qualitative and quantitative indicators in protected areas

The new policy will be drafted in cooperation with the Ministries of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works, of Agriculture and of Development mainly. The elaboration of a national strategic plan and the organisation of sustainable management of water resources will be proposed by the State for implementation under the 3rd CSF. Draft management plan for the country’s water resources

In order to approach the subject of water resource management, at a national and regional level, the Water Potential and Natural Resources Directorate of the Ministry for Development, in co-operation with public sector bodies (National Polytechnic School, Geological and Metallurgical Research Institute and the Centre for Research and Programming) has elaborated a special study. In the introduction to the document it is noted that the study constitutes an attempt to approach a management programme for water resources that aims at the support of development policy, as expressed through the existing 2nd Community Support Framework projects (1995-1999) and contributes to the development of water resources and the protection of the environment (18).

The hydrological and hydrogeological status from the point of view of quality and quantity, and their developmental identity is presented for most of the country’s water districts (except for those of Macedonia and Western Peloponnese). The balance between offer and demand for water currently and in the future is estimated, and the problems, possibilities and prospects within the framework of the area’s development objectives are recorded. Based on this data, proposals for policies and actions concerning the management of water resources may be formulated for each district. Moreover, the study points out inter-district relations (similarities, dependencies), in order to determine the main lines of management policies in areas with common features. Finally, the study approaches water resources management at a national level and at the same time examines to what extent sector development policies are compatible with available water resources and to what extent they contribute to an increase in the economic efficiency of water resources (18).

1.3.2. Supranational and international strategic documents Ramsar Convention: 1997-2002 Strategic Plan

The mission of the international Ramsar Convention is the conservation and wise use of wetlands by national action and international co-operation as a means to achieving sustainable development throughout the world.

The 1997-2002 strategic plan is a 26-page document, adopted at the 6th Meeting of the Contracting Parties in Brisbane-Australia, in March 1996. In the introduction to the document it is stressed that there is a need to integrate the conservation of wetland biodiversity in sustainable development. The general objectives of the strategic plan are expressed below (6):

1. To progess towards universal membership of the Convention

2. To achieve the wise use of wetlands by implementing and further developing the Ramsar Wise Use Guidelines

3. To raise awareness of wetland values and functions, throughout the world and at all levels

4. To reinforce the capacity of institutions in each Contracting Party, to achieve conservation and wise use of wetlands

5. To ensure the conservation of all sites included in the list of wetlands of international importance (Ramsar List)

6. To designate for the Ramsar List those wetlands which meet the convention's criteria, especially wetland types still under-represented in the List and trans-frontier wetlands

7. To mobilise international co-operation and financial assistance for wetland conservation and wise use in collaboration with other conventions and agencies, both governmental and non-governmental

8. To provide the Convention with the required institutional mechanisms and resources

The above objectives are distinguished into operational objectives, which in turn are analysed into actions

The technical guidance of the Ramsar Convention on the one hand for a) the planning of wetland management and b) wise use, which its has given to the Contracting Parties, and on the other hand, the range of possible actions that it challenges them with, through the Strategic Plan, provide valuable orientations for the implementation of this strategy. The MedWet initiative

The MedWet initiative commenced at the beginning of the 1990’s, under the aegis of the Ramsar Convention and with the support of the European Commission, as a pilot attempt at co-operation at many levels, among governmental and non-governmental bodies and persons. The objective was to contribute to the conservation of Mediterranean wetlands.

During the Symposium that took place in Grado-Italy in 1991, it became apparent that the wise use of wetland resources, to the benefit of current and future generations, is a huge challenge and requires:

  • action at all levels – local, national and regional
  • co-ordinated, long-term efforts that should last at least twenty years
  • participation of all those interested, i.e. international and supra-national authorities, governments, public services, Local Government, environmental organisations and individuals

For the implementation of the above, the MedWet 1 initiative was financed by the European Union (?U, LIFE) and actions were carried out in 1993 - 1996, focusing on the following sectors:

  • Inventory of wetlands, mapping and monitoring, for the Mediterranean basin in particular
  • Management, including the relevant legislative and administrative issues
  • Training of actors involved in the management of wetlands, from decision-makers to technical field staff
  • Information and public awareness
  • Use of the results of scientific research for management purposes

Moreover, an international network of scientists and managers was set up, which was reinforced by links of common aspirations, trust and friendship.

In order to extend MedWet actions to five Mediterranean countries that are not members of the EU (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Greece participated in MedWet 1), the MedWet 2 project was initiated in 1996 with the participation of Albania, Algeria, Croatia, Morocco and Tunisia. Furthermore, a new subject was added, namely, the social and economic aspects of the use of wetland resources the objective being to improve management also.

MedWet 3, an important project, with a budget of 15.5 million dollars and with a five-year duration (1999-2003), that concerns activities in wetland and coastal systems in Albania, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Palestine and Tunisia, has been approved by the Global Environmental Facility and is under implementation. These activities constitute the continuation of MedWet 1 and MedWet 2. At the moment, the corresponding national action plans are at the preparation phase and at the same time a regional structure is being developed.

MedWet 4 consists in wide co-operation during a three-year period (1998-2000) between the Biological Station of Tour du Valat, Wetlands International and EUROSITE. This project, that begun within the framework of implementation of the 1997-2002 Ramsar Strategic Plan and aims at the conservation of Mediterranean, Black Sea and Caspian Sea deltas, includes exchanges of wetland managemers.

Finally, in October 1996, in order to promote and evaluate the implementation of the Mediterranean Strategy for Wetlands, MedWetCom, a Ramsar Secretariat initiative, was set up. MedWetCom is composed of governments, the European Commission, the Bern and Barcelona Conventions and international organisations. At the second meeting of MedWetCom that took place in Valencia-Spain at the end of January 1999, the results of MedWet 2 were presented and the implementation of the Strategy for Mediterranean Wetlands was discussed. The Strategy for Mediterranean Wetlands

This is a 18-page document that was approved by the representatives of Mediterranean countries, the Ramsar Secretariat, environmental organisations, scientific institutions etc, who participated at the Conference on Mediterranean Wetlands in June 1996 (250 specialists).

The general objective of the strategy is "to stop and reverse the loss and degradation of Mediterranean wetlands as a contribution to the conservation of biodiversity and to sustainable development in the region" (22).

The eight general objectives are to a large extent similar to those of the Ramsar Strategic Plan and those of this strategy. Sustainability: European Community 5th Action Plan for policy and action for the environment and sustainable development

The 5th Action Plan seeks to achieve a more stable balance between socio-economic development on the one hand and resources and the regeneration capacity of nature on the other.

To achieve this, seven priority sectors have been defined which include sustainable management of natural resources (soil, water, natural areas and coastal zones) (9). This plan constitutes a pioneer approach to development and environment issues because:

  • it focuses on activities that cause environmental degradation and the exhaustion of natural resources instead of waiting for problems to appear
  • it endeavours to constitute a reason for changes in existing tendencies and practices that harm the environment so as to ensure socio-economic prosperity and development for future generations
  • it aims at the achievement of these changes in social behaviour, through the fullest possible participation in accordance with the spirit of joint responsibility, of all sectors of society including Public Administration, public and private companies and the public at large
  • it determines the extended means that may be used for achieving the objectives of the plan.

Furthermore, it sets the general strategic objectives (till the year 2000) for habitats, coastal zones, the quality and quantity of water and biodiversity, many of which are in progress currently.

For wetland resources in particular, a special Communication of the European Commission has been issued (see Wise use and conservation of wetlands

This is a 59-page document, published in 1995, that constitutes a "Communication of the Commission of the European Communities to the Council and the European Parliament". The following is mentioned in its introduction:

"This Commission Communication provides a strategic basis for such a policy aiming at the sustainable use of wetland resources and the conservation of their functions and values for future generations".

Clearly, the Communication is governed by the familiar notions that had been adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention, including the member states of the European Union. It should be noted that the terms wise and sustainable use are considered as synonyms.

The general objectives of EU policy for wetlands, as expressed through the communication, are (4):

  • no further loss of wetland area
  • no further degradation of wetlands
  • wise use of wetlands
  • rehabilitation and restoration of wetland functions
  • international co-operation and actions that promote wise use and the conservation of wetlands

The European Commission recommends to its member-states to express their national policy for wetlands by considering this document, approved by the Council of Ministers of the European Union in 1996, as a basis. Pan-European landscape and biodiversity strategy

At the Conference "Environment for Europe" (Sofia, 24 April 1995), the ministers for the environment of 55 European countries adopted the said strategy, as an innovative approach to prevention, arrest and reversal of the process of degradation of the values of biodiversity and landscape diversity in Europe. The strategy, which also refers to Europe’s support to the Biodiversity Convention, reinforces existing measures and determines additional ones to be adopted during the coming twenty-year period.

The general objectives of the Pan-European landscape and biodiversity strategy are (7):
  • To substantially reduce the threats that biodiversity and landscape diversity in Europe are confronted with,
  • To increase their resistance and resilience,
  • To enhance the ecological cohesion of Europe as a whole,
  • To ensure participation of the public in the protection of European biodiversity and landscape diversity.

Wetland ecosystems (classified in three categories, i.e. coastal and marine ecosystems, rivers and related ecosystems, inland water ecosystems) constitute an important part of the strategy. Necessary actions, with which this strategy agrees in principle, are divided into four consecutive action plans of a five-year duration, and allowance has been made for the process through which the success of the strategy shall be evaluated. Mediterranean Conservation Strategy

This is a document that was drafted by the Secretariat of the Mediterranean Programme of the Worldwide Fund (WWF) and is accompanied by a 1996-2001 Action Plan (24). The natural environment is divided, for operational reasons, into thematic units "Forests", "Fresh water", "Seas and coastal areas". Moreover, issues that concern the environment in general, i.e. tourism, environmental economics, trade in wild life, energy and transport, agriculture and environment are also examined. For each one of the thematic units, the current situation and threats, government and sector policies, the experience of WWF and its current activities, involved and benefiting parties and the outline of the Action Plan are described. These actions are analysed in more detail and their cost is estimated in the Action Plan. Many well-timed actions that aim at the management and the protection of wetlands are discussed under thematic units "Fresh water" and "Marine and coastal areas" and are in agreement with the actions proposed in this strategy.

1.3.3. Legislative acts that form strategic frameworks L. 2204/1994 ratification of an international convention on biological diversity

The international Convention on Biological Diversity was signed in Rio de Janeiro-Brasil on 5th June 1992 and was ratified by our country in April 1994. The conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use of its constituents and a fair and equal share of the advantages that will ensue from the use of genetic resources constitute its general objective (5).

The convention commits our country to many relevant obligations, such as for instance the recording of its biodiversity, the monitoring of its condition, the identification of threats, supranational co-operation wherever necessary, implementation of measures to conserve biodiversity in-situ and ex-situ, promotion of related scientific research projects, technical education and training, information and public awareness and other actions (34). Moreover, official co-operation has been established between the Convention and the Ramsar Convention for more complete handling of issues of mutual interest.

Obviously, given that wetlands are ecosystems with a rich biodiversity, many of the units of actions foreseen by the Convention directly concern wetlands. Article 6 foresees, on the one hand, the development by each contracting party, of national strategies, plans or projects for the conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity. On the other hand, it foresees the best possible integration of conservation and the sustainable use of biodiversity in relevant sector and cross-sector plans, projects and policies. Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and wild fauna and flora

Despite the steps taken by each ?U country in order to protect the natural environment, the general situation of a specific number of habitats and species is deteriorating progressively and this may lead to an irreversible loss of biodiversity in the EU.

In order to prevent deterioration of the conservation status of the natural environment, Directive 92/43/EEC foresees the setting up of a European ecological network for member states of the EU. This network will comprise and will link areas in which habitats and endangered species of plants and animals are present: the NATURA 2000 Network.

By June 2004, member states are obliged to specify officially areas selected as Special Areas of Conservation, for the European Ecological Network NATURA 2000. At the same time, special management plans are being drafted for each area. The Directive states that each member-state of the EU is responsible for the conservation of natural types of habitats and species together with their niches, which are mentioned in Annex I and II to the Directive, to a satisfactory degree of conservation by the institution of special management measures. The design and implementation of these measures should proceed with the informed participation and the consent of local bodies and those who are interested directly (1, 30).

All wetlands of international importance situated on Greek territory, and many other wetland areas that include types of wetland and species quoted in the Directive, have been included in the national list proposed by our country. Directive 79/409/EEC on the conservation of wild birds

This Directive concerns the conservation of all species of wild birds that live and move within European territory and deals with their protection and management.

It approaches the conservation of birds as a contribution to the fulfilment of Community objectives for the improvement of the quality of life, harmonious economic development throughout the Community and the consideration of European space as a continuous entity. Moreover, the protection measures that it proposes are placed in a broader natural resources protection and management framework. Thus, the following are foreseen (29):

  • the preservation, conservation or rehabilitation of their biotopes
  • special conservation measures that concern the biotope of annex I species (those that are in most need of protection), and migratory species that are encountered often
  • the creation of a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs), in which member states are obliged to guarantee the integrity and safeguard of bird biotopes
  • the prohibition to kill, capture and hold birds, destroy nests, collect and hold eggs and intentional disturbance, particularly during the breeding period
  • the prohibition of trade in live or dead birds and parts of them
  • special regulations for hunting

The need to protect wetlands, particularly those of international importance, is mentioned specifically (article 4, par. 2). All our country’s SPAs (52 areas) are included on the national list of areas that constitute the NATURA 2000 Network. In general, it can be said that the vast majority of important Greek wetlands, together with the species and the habitats that they include, whether of international importance or not, have been placed on the list of areas that are candidates for inclusion in the Network. Council Regulation 2078/92 on agricultural production methods compatible with the requirements of the protection of the environment and the maintenance of the countryside

The way in which agricultural activities are carried out and especially certain intensive methods of production that have been used during the past decades, cause serious problems such as the degradation of soils, pollution and over-use of water resources, and a decrease in biodiversity.

The Council Regulation 2078/92 foresees the implementation of projects that encourage farmers to apply environmentally friendly agricultural production and farming methods (31).

These projects foresee economic support for farmers who wish to participate in them. Methods and practices that the Regulation considers environmentally friendly (and supports financially), are determined as follows:

  • Important reduction in the use of fertilisers and agricultural pesticides
  • Extensive cultivation and production of fodder
  • Extensive animal production
  • Production methods that contribute to the protection of the environment & natural resources, conservation of natural space and the rural landscape
  • Preservation of abandoned land
  • Long-term set-aside
  • Management of land for public use and access by the public
  • Awareness and training for farmers on matters related to the implementation of the Regulation

Clearly, the implementation of the above agri-environmental measures in areas surrounding wetlands, and in the wider hydrological basin, can contribute to a large degree to reducing degradation caused by agricultural activities. The Ministry of Agriculture has submitted already to the EU, a draft proposal for a project aimed at the protection of particularly important wetlands (NATURA 2000 Network areas).

1.4. General principles of the national strategy for wetland resources

The strategy should be governed by certain basic principles (11, 7) that are formulated below. These principles ensue from objective conclusions of scientific research, and the laws that bind the Greek State and pre-existing policy documents. The National Strategy should be compatible with these documents but it should moreover respond to the specific aspirations and needs of Greek society.

1.4.1. Wetlands are collective social assets. Their management is not a matter that concerns their owner exclusively (e.g. state, local government body, co-operative, private individual) but is determined by their character as collective social assets.

1.4.2. The conservation of wetlands as collective social assets is a basic constitutional order and it is the State’s responsibility, within the framework of conservation of the natural environment.

1.4.3. No other wetland area should be sacrificed in the future because Greece has lost two thirds of its wetland area already during the twentieth century (13). In cases where it is economically and technically feasible, efforts to rehabilitate, restore or create wetlands should be made in order to setoff the losses.

1.4.4. Sustainable management of wetlands may be achieved only through the integration of the protection of natural resources in general, and wetland resources in particular, in sectorial development policies for the primary, secondary and tertiary sector.

1.4.5. Certain competencies related to management and promotion can be transferred by the State through contracts with non-governmental public utility type bodies, provided the broadest possible participation and public interest are guaranteed.

1.4.6. Continuous demographic decline in rural areas is one of the most serious problems confronted by the nation today. For this reason, management measures required for the conservation of a wetland should not affect the lawful financial interests of local inhabitants but, on the contrary, should include measures to increase their income and improve their quality of life.

1.4.7. Wetlands cannot be protected without being used, nor can they be used forever without being protected from unwise methods of production and radical changes in land-use. Certainly, the economic values of small parts of wetland should (for scientific and conservation reasons and for the regeneration of certain species etc) be excluded from any use.

1.4.8. Wetland systems, just like any other natural systems, should not be considered as isolated ecosystems that are not affected by the surrounding area, but as sub-systems of a broader system that is governed by a single management philosophy. Consequently, various factors such as sustainable practice of human activities in the peripheral zone, the hydrological basin or the wider area, the conservation of groups of wetlands, their size and the distance between them etc, play an important role in the conservation of their functions and values as a whole.

1.4.9. Wetlands are dynamic systems that evolved and continue to evolve along with the presence of Man and the way in which Man has used them. Modern technology has offered people ways of using wetlands that are threatening to them. But technology could offer methods of sustainable use.

1.4.10. The conservation of biodiversity cannot be achieved if efforts concentrate on levels of life organisation below that of the ecosystem. All efforts to conserve a species or a group of species should be incorporated in an integrated effort that includes the entire wetland system and, ideally, the entire hydrological basin. Moreover, the conservation of wetland biodiversity may be promoted in the long run through a network of wetlands that are managed in a sustainable way only.

1.4.11. Great differences exist as to the level of scientific knowledge (both in Greece and internationally) on the various wetland issues. Areas in which knowledge is insufficient are not fully known. Therefore, a special study is necessary to identify deficiencies and propose improvement in knowledge, training and broader diffusion of knowledge. The input of knowledge and experience from other countries cannot but be considered as an aid to the development of Greek know-how and not as a substitute for it.

1.4.12. Knowledge and experience gained about the sustainable management of a wetland should be diffused rapidly in order to avoid the same mistakes and save time and money. Apart from this, scientific networking of wetlands contributes to correct choices as regards management and development. Networking should be even more efficent between wetlands that are part of a wider geographical functional web.

1.4.13. The creation, rehabilitation and restoration of wetland functions are not necessary only in order to mitigate mistakes of the past and increase the national wetland capital. They yield other just as important benefits, e.g. increase in our knowledge of the natural functions of wetlands, creation of new employment opportunities, a "tool" for making the public aware of all wetland values.

1.4.14. The creation of a certain type of co-ordination body is one of the preconditions for achieving efficient co-ordination. The structure and operation of the body will differ from one wetland to another, but in no case should it be rigid and bureaucratic. The body should be comprised of representatives of organisations that are involved in management (which, in general, should maintain their competencies), users and other interested parties if participation of the latter is deemed necessary for specific matters.

1.4.15. Social support for measures to protect wetlands should be sought, through information and awareness campaigns about wetland values for the general public and specific social groups. However, whereas this way of promoting the sustainable management of wetland resources may bring about very positive results for certain social groups, for others, e.g. user groups, effectiveness is limited and should not be overestimated. The user who is aware will cease to care if he is not furnished with sufficient technical assistance and even specific financial support for him to adopt sustainable practices.

1.4.16. A forecast of the trends that ecological changes in Greek wetlands will follow may save resources that will be needed in the future for remedial measures. Apart from a few research efforts that have been made in certain deltas, Greek society knows nothing about the natural changes that lakes and coastal ecosystems will undergo during the next decades. Moreover, no predictions have been made about the effects of new human activities that are likely to develop in a few years (e.g. possible drastic increase in the number of visitors along the coastline of Macedonia and Thrace).

1.4.17. Various forms of participation of environmental NGOs (whose actions are based on a sound scientific basis) in matters of planning and implementation of positive actions and the determent from unwise actions are important and may be rendered even more effective.

1.4.18. The problems of a wetland cannot and should not be isolated from local, regional, national and international problems that concern the use of water and soils and the employment of human resources, especially in rural areas.

1.4.19. Development projects and activities that are expected to have impact on wetlands should be examined as to their utility and should follow the relevant processes of preliminary authorisation and Environmental Impact Assessment. Even if the ways in which the said projects cause this impact cannot be determined precisely, appropriate mitigating measures should be taken.

1.4.20. Alternative sites should be chosen for the execution of projects that are likely to affect important wetlands, so that these wetlands may not be threatened by alterations. In areas where the proposed projects constitute a primary national requirement and where ecological damage is unavoidable, appropriate protection measures should be taken to counterbalance the adverse impact.

1.4.21. The cost of prevention and control measures and measures to reduce adverse impact, and the responsibility and the cost of remedying ecological damage that has occurred already, should burden the person who is liable.

Proceed to sections 2-4

Summary Presentation of the National Strategy for Wetland Resources

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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