THE NATURA 2000 NETWORK
BIODIVERSITY PROTECTION STATUS IN
George Anasontzis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Since the beginning of the last century the Greek populations of
animals and plants, as well as those of the other European countries, seem to
decline. The main reason is apparently the deterioration of their natural
habitats originating from the intensification of human activities. Such
activities are agriculture, industry, forestry, energy production, tourism
development and transport. The protection of species populations has been
related to the conservation of biodiversity.
The word “biodiversity” was widely used during and after the Rio
Convention in 1992. However, it was known long before as an expression of
the diversity of life found in a specific site. Biodiversity has more than one
level of organization. The first one is that of genetic diversity, referring to
the range of genotypes of a species. In Greece, its position, its variety of
climates, its geophysical status leads to a great genetic diversity. Hellas also
has a great value of species biodiversity – i.e. the number of species and
individuals, the biomass and the dominance of some species – the highest of
all the Member States of the European Union. The third level is the habitat
diversity, the number of links between the species, which permits or makes
necessary, in order to protect one species, to support all the others linked
with it and thus, the whole community. Then, it’s the landscape diversity,
the number of landscapes in an area including those created by human. Each
level of biodiversity depends on the survival of the other. Therefore, severe
caution should be given to the conservation of all levels of biodiversity,
especially in Greece, where its value is too high and the danger of loss is
Until the year 1992, the biodiversity of our country neither was
adequately recorded neither protected. However, there have been established
several areas under special protection of the law, which were considered to
include habitats, fauna and flora of significant interest and danger of
extinction. Such areas were supposed to be the estuaries and the lakes,
habitats for pelicans and other rare aquatic birds and stations for migrating
birds, forests, like the one of Dadia, where 28 of the 38 birds of prey were
found and beaches, where sea turtles lay their eggs. On the other hand, the
6000 species of plants in places all over Greece support the great diversity of
flora, most of which is endemic, while 12% to 15% of them are threatened.
The reason is thought to be the fragmentation of the Greek continent and the
enrichment of the flora with plants from Anatolia – Asia Minor – and from
the north – Central and Northern Europe.
The kind of areas mentioned above, which were protected by the law
of the state, were named as National Parks, Aesthetic Forests, Natural
Monuments, Wetlands, areas of special natural beauty and Marine Parks
(Table A). Especially, the wetlands and their significance were recognized
by the Ramsar Convention in 1971.
TABLE OF PROTECTED AREAS OF GREECE
10 National Park
19 Aesthetic Forests
14 Natural Monuments
7 Game Reserves
2 Marine Parks
10 Wetlands of international importance
2 Areas of global inheritance
25 Areas of Bird Directive (included in other groups)
2 deposits of Biosphere (included in National Parks)
TABLE A. Areas already under protection by the Greek law.
The Presidential Decree 67 of 1981 indicated 800 species of plants –
10% of the Greek flora – and 200 species of animals as species under strict
protection. Any human activity against these species is inhibited. However,
little is done to ensure this. Thus, they are still in danger from the human
illegalities. Another reason could be that these species are not well known to
the local societies, because of being stated in the Latin language. So,
accidental mistreatment is always a probability.
Several international agreements have taken place in order to secure
the preservation of the wild life, such as the Ramsar Convention (1971), the
Bonn and the Bern Conventions, the one for the Preservation of the
European Wild Life and Natural Biotopes and the Protocol for the especially
under protection Mediterranean areas. Also, the conference of Washington,
the Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES)
and the International Agreement for the Wild Cultural and Natural
Inheritance. Though, none of these achieved a satisfactory level of
protection for the wild life.
As it is obvious from all the above, despite the fact that the will to
preserve the nature and to harmonize its survival with human’s interests
existed since those years, considerable law background was scarcely applied,
usually because of the contradiction between the interests of the government
and those of the local habitants. Even if the relative law was enacted, the
same reason was the obstacle for its implementation.
THE NATURA 2000 PROJECT/ DIRECTIVE 92/43/EEC
Since conservation projects in many European countries were not as
effective as they should be and the habitats and populations of the species of
European interest were continuing to decline, the European Council decided
that a particular Directive should be given to all the countries to become
adapted as a National law and applied under the supervision of the European
The aim is to prevent any upcoming loss of biodiversity and this is to
be done by the means of an ecological network of Special Areas of
Conservation. This is called the Natura 2000 network. It should also be
mentioned that this network covers or is willing to include the Special
Protection Areas and the Important Bird Areas, even those which were not
included in the list created after the Bird Directive 79/409/EEC.
The Directive consists of 5 annexes. These are the habitat (I), the plant
and animals of community importance (II), the criteria for selecting sites of
community importance (III), the species of community importance in need
of severe protection (IV), the species whose taking in the wild and
exploitation could be subject to management measures (V) and the
prohibited killing methods and transport modes (VI) annexes. Each one of
them was composed after every state sent its own list with data thought to be
worthy for the European biodiversity. However, each country worked and
keeps working only with the first two of them.
During the first three years of the Natura project, that means from
1992 to 1995, the members of the European Union had the following
a. Record the habitats and species existing in the Directive Annex
I and Annex II.
b. Complete a list of areas where the above habitats and species
are found, using scientific methods and presenting their land
area and population characteristics.
c. Using the criteria of Annex III and the presence of certain
Annex I habitat types and Annex II species at the same site, the
limited extent, the bird life, the important plant and animals
and the national and international protection level, group the
sites in three categories (TABLE II)
Criteria for the Annex I habitats Criteria for the Annex II Species
Representativity Population Size
Relative Surface Population Density
Conservation Status Degree of Preservation
Possibility of Restoration Possibility of Restoration
Global Assessment Degree of Isolation
Table I. Summarized content of Annex III.
Category A Category B Category C
Significant biodiversity Unjustifiable for
Habitats and species not
(not unique habitats or immediate inclusion in
species) the network
Great biodiversity Smaller representation
(Annex I and II)
Other important Greek
Table II. Categories in which the sites proposed have been grouped.
This phase of the Natura project started in Greece in June 1994 and
lasted at the end of March 1996. It was conducted by the Greek Centre of
Biotopes and Wetlands, along with the schools of Biology of University of
Athens, Thessaloniki and Patras. The project was funded 75% by the
European Union and 25% by the Greek State.
It was the first record of such a large scale and in agreement with the
philosophy of the Directive, which was characterized by the categorizing of
the types of habitats and the species of plants and animals of European
Community interest. Other efforts that could not, however, be of assistance
to the Natura Project are shown in the following table III.
Records of species or habitats carried out before the Natura Project
Registry of sensitive ecosystems of the Project of Direct Recognition
Ecological recognition projects of the Subministry of Youth (1983-85)
Protection projects of Ramsar, the Marine Park of North Sporades, the
Gulf of Lagana at Zakynthos and the Forest of Dadia (1984-95)
CORINE project – Biotopes of European Commission (1984-90)
Record of Greek wetlands by the Museum of National History of
Goulandris and the Greek Biotopes/Wetland Centre (1994)
Record of Important Areas for Birds, Greek Ornithological Society
PhDs, other projects and reports of Greek Universities and Research
Table III. Other recordings of biodiversity before the Natura 2000.
Total No No of Total No No of % Total %
Priority Priority Priority
Habitats 255 91 110 26 43 28.6
Animals 199 27 76 10 38.2 37
Plants 433 164 39 26 9 16
Table IV. Summary table of habitats and species in Greece, in comparison with
the Annexes I and II.
Over 100 scientists worked together for the first phase of the Natura
Project. The results, which are shown summarized in the table IV, were the
recognition of 110 kinds of habitats of Annex I, 39 species of plants and 76
species of animals of Annex II. It should be noticed that about 14% of the
Greek animal species and 66% of the Greek plant species are considered to
be priority ones. Based on the distribution of these habitats and species,
there have been recorded 296 sites, divided in the three categories, with an
area of 3.000.000 ha, including marine and freshwater areas. The land area is
calculated to be a percentage of 18.2% of the total area of the country. The
distribution of the sites in the administrative regions of Greece is shown in
the figure I.
Figure I. Distribution of the sites in the administrative regions of Greece.
A point that should be mentioned is that most of the proposed sites
were already under the protection of the Greek or international law. The
majority of the sites under protection had been considered as National Parks.
National Parks are divided to the core, where no human activity is permitted
and the peripheral zone where certain traditional activities are not forbidden.
There are 10 National Parks proposed for the Natura Network, all category
A sites. The National Monuments include isolated trees with significant
botanical, ecological, aesthetic, historical and cultural value. There are 11
category A and one category B Natural Monuments proposed. Moreover, 10
Aesthetic Forests – i.e. sites with aesthetic interest, used for recreation – are
category A sites and two are category B. Also many Game Reserves, Game
Breeding Stations and Controlled Hunting Areas have been proposed for the
Natura network with varying priority. Several are protected as Ramsar sites,
as Biogenetic Reserves, as sites registered by the Barcelona Convention and
as Biosphere Reserves. Finally, there is a Marine park established in North
Sporades for the protection of the existing populations of the monk seal
Monachus monachus, and another one is on the way to become established
in Zakynthos for the protection of the nesting areas of the sea turtle Caretta
Habitats and species not included in the Annex I and II.
Annex I and II were composed after a meeting, taking place just
before the Natura project started. Representatives from all the European
member States proposed the habitats and species that each country
considered as important for the conservation for its own biodiversity. Most
of the habitats and species were either typically protected by the Greek law
either registered to an international convention. Especially, as far as it
concerns the species, the Red Data List was widely used.
However, the proposition made was not accurate for the rich Greek
fauna and flora, because of the ignorance of the Greek governmental team
participating in the meeting. So, the scientists that studied the species of
Annex I and II, encountered in Greece, also added others that were
considered by them to be important for the biodiversity. The motivation was
either the Red Data List, an international convention (Bern, CITES, Bonne),
the endemic factor or other reasons stated.
The habitat types not included in the Annex I are the following.
Coastal sand, shingle and rocky habitats.
a. Embryonic dunes with Ipomoea stolonifera and Elymus
farctus, found in Samos and Rhodes, being in that way
rare in Europe.
b. Dunes with Limoniastrum monopetalum and
Zygophyllum album adjacent to the sea on the islets of
Chrysi and Koufonisi in the Libyan Sea.
c. Communities of Centauera spinosa, typical in the
d. The Cichorium spinosum community on the rocky coasts
of Dodekanisa and Crete.
Karstic dolines with freshwater communities; Scanty vegetation
rare only or Crete or in Greece. Occurring on the mountains of
Reed Beds; The water-fringe vegetation of fresh and brackish
water of the wetlands of mainland Greece; Community of
Greek fir (Abis cephalonica) forests; Endemic Greek species
forming pure or mixed forests with Pinus nigra ssp. pallasiana.
Quercus forests; Q. pubescens, Q. cercis (mainland), Q.
coccifera (S. Greece), Q. dalechampii (N. & C. Greece).
As far as it concerns the plants, of the total 6,200 species estimated to
be found in Greece, only 39 were included in the Annex II. Therefore, the
Greek working group of researchers added a total of 837 Other Important
Species (i.e. the species that were not included in the original catalogue) of
the 1852 of the total Other Important Species that were added by all the
European States after the end of the first phase. These plants were included,
apart from the reasons mentioned before, because they were either Balkan
endemics or subendemics either rare in Greece, represented only by few
populations. The distribution of the important plant species is described in
Figure II. The distribution of Other Important Plant Species.
The richest site is the one on the mountain Taygetos, with a cover of
54000 ha and an altitude of 600 to 2407m and vegetation mostly of heath,
maquis, garigue, phrygana, alpine grassland and deciduous forests. 147 of
the 190 important species are endemics of Greece and 21 of these 147 are
local endemics. The second richest site is the National Park of mountain
Olympus, with an area of 4450 ha and an altitude of 1100 to 2917m. The
dominant species are the alpine grassland and coniferous forests. 56 of the
187 important species are endemic, counting the 21 local endemics.
Figure III. Motivation of the important plant species of the richest sites in Greece.
Bi. Greek endemics, Bii. Local endemics, C. International Convention, D. Other reasons
Fauna in Greece is one of the richest in Europe due to its geographical
position, its innumerous islands, the fluctuation of the sea level, the karstic
nature of the substrate and the fact that the glaciers did not approach during
the ice periods of Earth life. Even though most of the fauna species are
included in the Annex II of the Directive, there are certain categories that
have not been well represented. Invertebrates are one of the least represented
group. There are 25000 species, with 2000 of them endemic, while only 33
of them have been included in the various Annexes and moreover, some
habitats of them have been excluded. In the proposed sites, 1183 species
have been recorded as Other Important Species not included in the Annexes.
The distribution of them in the several groups of the Animal Kingdom is
shown in the figure IV.
Figure IV. Other Important Species in each animal group.
All the proposed sites were acknowledged by the National
Biotopes/Wetlands Centre to several Ministries, such us the Agriculture, the
Defense and the Development and the General Secretary of Public Works
and were analysed by the accountable working team of Ministries of
Environment and Agriculture.
This working team concluded to the National List, which is composed
fundamentally by the sites already under the protection of the Greek Law or
of an international convention. Moreover, there have also been proposed
sites, which have been through environmental studies or sites which have
already funded projects running. Finally, in the national list there are
wetlands, forests and coastal, mountain and island ecosystems with
To sum up, 264 sites have been proposed, 52 of them being already
SPAs according to the Bird Directive 79/409/EEC. The total area is
2.750.000 (including sea, land and freshwater areas). The land and
freshwater areas are about 16.5% of the total area of the country. In figure V,
all the finally proposed sites, along with their category are noted on the map
Figure V. Map of the finally proposed sites for the Natura 2000 Network
The second phase of the project ending in 1998 consisted of the
creation of the List of Sites of Community Importance. This list is drawn up
by the European Committee, after the appreciation of the national catalogues
according to the criteria of Annex III. At this point, it should be noticed that
in the case that the priority sites represent more than 5% of the total area of
the country, the criteria could be implemented less strictly in some cases.
Greece, with the percentage of 16.5% belongs to this category.
Until July 2004, the Member-States will define the Special Areas of
Protection and the activities for the conservation and the restoration of these
sites. In addition, they have to determine the borders of the sites as well as
the zone of the core and the peripheral one.
This has not been completed yet, in Greece. On the contrary, it is still
in a very primitive stage, as well as in most European countries (figure VI).
However, human activities and deeds, probable to have negative effects in
the region, should be and have to be examined thoroughly by the state,
before getting started.
For the completion of an activity, there should be provided detailed
data on it and the opinion of people in charge of the conservation and
management of the environment of the Ministry of Environment and the
Ministry of Agriculture. In case the activity or deed is absolutely necessary
for the public interest and no alternative solutions exist, the state has to take
all the possible measures to compensate for it. Either way, every decision
should be announced to the European Committee.
After an area is defined as Special Area of Protection, it is essential to
determine the subjects under protection and their requirements. The site
should be thoroughly examined and described as far as it concerns the type
and area of each habitat and the species and their population. In this way, a
conservative purpose is set and the suitable measures are proposed. The site
is then placed under several laws of the state and measures are taken
referring to the environmental planning, the agriculture, energy, tourism and
generally the economics policy in the specific area. It is important to
mention that the zonation of each area is more than necessary and this is
because the harmonization of the nature conservation and the human factor
of the region is top priority, as it was concluded by the Conference in Bath
(28-30 June 1998) – NATURA 2000 and People – A partnership (Table IV).
The core of the site should not be affected by any presence of human
activities, while the peripheral zone could be subject to a confined number of
activities. In that way, woodcutting should be restrained, as well as
agriculture (except from agricultural areas with high diversity, where the
SPECIAL EDITION NATURA 2000 NEWSLETTER / OCTOBER 1998
People are part of Natura 2000 and must be made to feel as though they
are members of the partnership from the beginning
The management requirements must be acceptable to the local people.
This will happen only if jobs and income are maintained.
Developments must be economically sustainable.
High priority must be given to communicating with the local people at all
People must be convinced of the value and importance of the measures.
The “bottom up” approach i.e. where the initiative is taken by people
from one or more local interest groups is more likely to succeed.
A balance is needed between economic, social and ecological interests.
Article 6 of the Habitats Directive provides an innovative mechanism for
management of change and a framework for the balancing of ecological
and socio-economic interests.
Management plans are excellent tools for dealing with change.
LIFE-Nature is an important catalyst for the setting up of projects.
Existing EC financial instrument are not fully exploited. They can be
complementary to each other but their use is often not properly co-
Other, long-term sources of funds should be used to ensure continuation
of the projects.
Resources must be committed to meet the costs of involving local people.
Table IV. Conference Proceedings of “Natura 2000 and People – A Partnership / Bath
28-30 June 1998.
methods of cultivation should not be changed), tourism should be or remain
mild, fishery should be controlled and supervised and mining should be
abandoned or prohibited. Especially for hunting, there has to be special
appreciation, since both the Directives 79/409 and 92/43 do not forbid it.
The funding of this phase, for the conservation projects is undertaken
by the LIFE Programme. In December 1998, the Commission decided to
extend it into its third stage from 2000 to 2004. The deadline for projects to
be funded in 2000 is the end of March of the same year, while for those to be
funded in 2001, it is the end of October of 2000. However, the LIFE
programme cannot fund in long-term perspectives. Another funding source
could be the agro-environmental regulation. In 1999, 94 projects were co-
financed with an amount of 64.5 million euro, provided by the European
Union, much more than those of the previous years. Only in Greece
8.000.000 euro have been granted in 1999 by the European Union and an
additional 16Mecu for the years 1996-1998. The projects having taken or
taking place since 1996 are presented in the following Table V.
PROJECT APPROVAL YEAR DURATION
Biotope of Ursus arctos 1996 1/1997 – 12/1999
Larus audouinii 1996 3/1997 – 12/1999
Phalacrocorax pygmaeus 1996 1/1997 – 3/2000
and Anser erythropus
Monachus monachus 1996 1/1997 – 12/1999
Management of 7 Special 1997 1/1998 – 3/2001
Lagoon of Pylos and Eurota 1997 4/1997 – 9/2000
Canis lupus 1997 1/1998 – 12/2000
Endemic Phoenix 1998 1/1999 – 12/2001
Ladigesocypris ghigii 1998 2/1999 – 11/2002
Gypaetus barbatus 1998 10/1998 – 12/2001
Kyparissia Gulf / Caretta 1998 4/1998 – 12/2001
Conservation of 1999 1/11/1999 – 1/1/2003
Tauropos Lake 1999 1/8/1999 – 1/8/2003
Mainalo Mt 1999 1/1/2000 – 1/1/2003
Rouva Forest in Idi Mt. 1999 1/8/1999 – 1/8/2001
Conservation of Grammos 1999 1/1/2000 – 1/1/2003
and Rodopi areas.
Actions for the conservation 1999 1/11/1999 – 1/5/2003
of the calcium peat lands.
Table V. Projects of Nature 2000 in Greece.
The progress made so far, by all the European States is shown in the
next Figure VI.
Figure VI. Progress made so far by the European States.
i. EKBY, Directive 92/43/EEC, The Greek Habitat Project Natura 2000:
An Overview, Thessaloniki 1996.
ii. EKBY, Amfibion, Issue 27, July-August 1999.
iii. EKBY, Amfibion, Issue 20, May 1998.
iv. EKBY, Amfibion, Issue 22, September 1998.
v. Conference Proceedings, NATURA 2000 AND PEOPLE – A
PARTNERSHIP, BATH 28-30 JUNE 1998.
vi. Ministry of Environment, The Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC and the
Natura 2000 Network.
vii. European Commission, Natura 2000 Newsletter, Issue 10, November
viii. European Commission, Natura 2000 Newsletter, Issue 2
ix. Europa Internet Site: Directive 92/43/EEC
x. Figures I-V taken by i.
xi. Figure VI extracted by vii.
Very special thanks to Prof. Maria Lazaridou, whose help was
irreplaceable and without her, Natura 2000 would remain as unknown as it
was before this study. I also thank George Chatzinikolaou for his co-
operation, as well as Miltos Seferlis of the National Biotopes/Wetlands
Centre for his assistance.