On 26 May 2001 a meeting was held in Kalloni to discuss plans for protecting the wetlands of the Gulf of Kalloni which (along with the wetlands of the Gulf of Gera and the Petrified Forest of Sigri-Eressos) have been selected as part of the European Community's Natura 2000 programme. Invited speakers and topics included:


'International Protocols concerning the Protection of the Environment' - E Vlaxos


'The Valuing of the Natural Environment of the Islands' - A Troumbis


'Farmlands and Culture and Protection' - L Loulidis


'Borderland Militarization and the Protection of Nature' - I Spilanis


'Report on the Program to Protect Prespa' - M Malakou


'Hotel Development in Conjunction with the Environment' - N Xouxoutas


'Farming in Conjunction with the Environment' - A Makrellis


At the end of the afternoon, the 'Plan for the Protection of the Wetlands of Kalloni as Part of Natura 2000' was to be presented by X Mandylas and N Kardakari.

The morning program got started late and was soon interrupted by some 200 angry residents of Parakoila concerned about their property rights. The late arrival of Minister of the Aegean Nikos Sifonakis introduced a note of calm and rationality into what had been a rather heated discussion. Sifonakis asserted that while "grandparents and great-grandparents" might have known how to live in greater harmony with the natural environment, the problems caused by illegal and unregulated olive oil and cheese factories were never addressed. The traditional farming situation began to change in the 1960s with massive emigration out of the Aegean islands. When the émigrés returned in the 1980s and after, everyone's dream was to own a hotel and build a villa on what had formerly been farmlands. If the unregulated and illegal building practices of the past 20 years are allowed to continue, Sifonakis asserted, islands like Santorini and Mykonos will have no remaining unbuilt land. Therefore, he stated, there must be regulation of building on the islands and the only authority with the power to do this is governmental. (The Minister has recently begun to put in place measures designed to address this situation.)

By the time the 'Plan to Protect the Wetlands of Kalloni' was presented in the afternoon, the atmosphere had calmed considerably. In the discussion that followed individuals expressed their concerns about their property and were informed that their interests would be taken into account. The petitions signed by visiting birdwatchers and others in the spring were presented at the meeting. It was noted that the Mayor of Kalloni had donated the area between the Kalloni Saltpans and the sea in the area between the two rivers to the local horse riding society for the purpose of horseracing. The authors of the 'Plan to Save the Wetlands of Kalloni' noted that as this area is part of the fragile wetland its use for horseracing is not appropriate. It was agreed to hold further discussions of the proposed wetland protection plan.

A seasoned environmentalist who observed the proceedings commented that progress was made and the opposition to environmental protection by local property holders was to be expected. This person believes that now that the locals have had their say, the plan is likely to be implemented. In the ensuing months, there has been a great deal of local and national press coverage of the 'Plan to Protect the Wetlands of Kalloni', which is being touted as a model plan that could be adapted to protect other areas of Greece.

The current situation is that the 'Plan to Save the Wetlands' has been sent to the Ministry of the Environment and Land Planning where it will be reviewed, modified if necessary and funding assigned. This process will take time; it is expected that it will be signed and implemented within the next two years. Meanwhile the new measures implemented by the Ministry of the Aegean on building and development should ensure that the areas within the zone covered by the plan will be protected.

As for the donation of land to the horse riding association, the Mayor and the parties involved are searching for another location for horse racing festivities that take place annually in June. Whether another location will be found in the next year is uncertain, but no further bulldozing will occur, as the racecourse is already in place.

Report submitted by Carol Christ, resident of Lesbos.

Page last updated:30 Aug 2003



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