Greece has decided to ban all construction on six “pristine mountains” in order to stop the overexploitation of the environment of recent years.
The decision was announced during a press conference on Tuesday evening by Minister of Environment and Energy Kostas Skrekas and Deputy Minister Giorgos Amyras.
The officially-declared ‘pristine mountains’ are Lefka Ori (White Mountains) in Crete, Mount Saos in Samothrace, Smolikas, Mount Tymfi and Mount Chatzi in Epirus, and Taygetos in the South Peloponnese.
The protection plan is based on a study by the Biodiversity Conservation Lab of the University of Ioannina — and the ban includes the construction of wind farms.
Greece is the first European country to establish the concept of “pristine mountains,” the two ministers announced.
Definition of pristine mountains
A “Pristine mountain” is defined as a roadless area with a perimeter zone of one kilometer. In these areas, the opening of new roads and construction of other human interventions that alter the natural environment is now prohibited.
Also prohibited is the expansion of existing roadworks, while existing projects and structures and their maintenance are not affected as long as they are legal.
In addition, the marking, restoration, maintenance and improvement of existing mountaineering and hiking trails is allowed, but without the use of motorized access and provided that the interventions will be implemented with natural materials.
Projects and interventions that are implemented due to emergencies such as earthquakes, floods, natural disasters, fires, etc., are allowed, provided that care is taken for the restoration of the environment afterward.
Ecotourism can be developed in any area of interest in terms of biodiversity and landscape aesthetics, contributing to maintaining or creating incentives for the transition to green economic activity, such as organic farming, promotion of traditional products and so on.
Pristine mountains contribute to the conservation of natural biodiversity, prevent the entry of alien species, provide migration routes and intermediate stops for birds and other animals, capture carbon dioxide and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
In addition, they maintain the connectivity and integrity of the ecosystem, offering leisure, education and scientific knowledge to citizens.
Finally, pristine mountains regulate and protect the benefits of the ecosystem: clean water supply, erosion control, healthy soil, air quality, climate regulation, crop pollination, and high resistance to pest epidemics.
Aim of Greece’s Environment and Energy Ministry
The aim of the Ministry is to avoid the fragmentation of the earth, i.e. the division of natural ecosystems into pieces by the construction of roads and artificial surfaces.
Fragmentation has direct consequences for the loss, confluence and isolation of species habitats, population decline and local species extinction and ecological degradation.
It is noted that the segmentation index of Greece is half of that of Europe, but it is increasing rapidly.
Greece was in first place in the increase of artificial surfaces in Europe in 2015, while construction sites and roads consume more land in Greece than elsewhere in Europe.
As Amyras pointed out, roads are therefore considered one of the main causes of biodiversity loss and degradation of ecosystems worldwide, especially when entering natural ecosystems and formerly undisturbed areas.
Species’ habitats are shrinking, populations are isolated, and wildlife mortality from vehicle collisions on the road network is increasing.
At the same time, all the ecosystem benefits associated with the soil, such as degradation or the nitrogen cycle, are lost, as the soil is sealed and converted into artificial soil.
The six mountains designated as Pristine
Mount Chatzi is part of the Pindos mountain range and constitutes the southernmost boundary before Agrafa town and the Valtos Mountains.
Tymfi is in the northern Pindos mountain range and lies in the region of Zagori in Epirus. Tymfi forms a massif with its highest peak, Gamila, at 2,497 meters (8,192 feet).
Smolikas, in the Ioannina regional unit, stands at a height of 2,637 meters above sea level. It is the highest of the Pindus Mountains, and the second-highest mountain in Greece after Mount Olympus.
Lefka Ori is a mountain range located in Western Crete, in the Chania prefecture. It occupies a large part of the center of West Crete.
Mount Saos (or Fengari, “Moon”) is the tallest mountain on the Aegean island of Samothrace with an elevation of 1,611 meters (5,285 feet).
Taygetos is a mountain range in Southern Peloponnese. The highest mountain of the range is Mount Taygetos, also known as “Profitis Ilias,” or “Prophet Elias.”